Credit: Derek Swalwell (2018)
Credit: Derek Swalwell (2018)

The first comprehensive history of the world-famous Edith Farnsworth House will be published to coincide with the site’s 20th anniversary as a public space.

The Edith Farnsworth House: Architecture, Preservation, Culture (Monacelli, June 2024) tells the story of the property’s development from an experimental farm owned by a newspaper magnate to a nature retreat anchored by a masterpiece of modernist architecture.

A brief timeline of the property shows that there is indeed plenty of intrigue surrounding the site, including its curious origins as an agricultural research center and a litigious relationship between client and architect, as well as ongoing efforts to restore and preserve the historical landmark.


Dr. Edith Farnsworth, a kidney disease specialist, buys a 9-acre site in Plano, Illinois, from Colonel Robert R. McCormick, the owner of the Chicago Tribune who had used the property for agricultural education and research. Farnsworth commissions architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe to design a weekend country house.


The Farnsworth House, or the "Fox River house” as Farnsworth referred to it, is completed and gains attention for its innovative design. The house reflects Mies’ "less is more" philosophy, seen in its clean lines, expansive use of glass, open spaces, and an emphasis on simplicity and functionality. Despite gaining widespread acclaim as an architectural achievement, the house was the source of a contentious legal battle between Farnsworth and Mies. She accused him of cost overruns. He counterclaimed that costs escalated due to her change requests during construction.


Farnsworth retires to Italy, ending her nearly two-decade use of the house.


Farnsworth sells the property to British property manager Peter Palumbo, who buys more acreage and landscapes the site with paths and a collection of modern outdoor sculptures.

Credit: Jon Miller (1985)
Credit: Jon Miller (1985)


Palumbo opens a temporary visitor center on the property.


Palumbo lists the property with Sotheby's for auction. The National Trust for Historic Preservation and Landmarks Illinois raise funds to purchase it. The sculptures are removed, but the trees have matured, creating a park-like landscape.


The National Trust for Historic Preservation takes over daily operations of the Edith Farnsworth House.


The lower terrace of the house, ravaged by flooding, is rebuilt. Other restoration work includes replacing original windows, the roof, and repairing the suspended plaster ceiling.


The house's name is officially changed to the Edith Farnsworth House to emphasize that it was commissioned by and for a woman client, unusual for the time.

May 2024

The Edith Farnsworth House celebrates its 20th anniversary as a public site.

June 2024

A new book by Chicago-based author Michelangelo Sabatino, professor of architectural history and preservation at Illinois Institute of Technology, chronicles the multilayered story of the house with “unpublished excerpts from Farnsworth’s memoirs, interviews with Peter and Hayat Palumbo and with Mies’s grandson Dirk Lohan, and lots of new research material about the site and surroundings — which are integral to the visitor experience,” Monacelli, the publisher, states.

A 20th anniversary celebration will be held June 11 in Chicago's IIT Crown Hall, also designed by. Tickets are available here.