In 1974, Maya Moran and her husband purchased a dilapidated Frank Lloyd Wright house in Riverside, Illinois. She has since spent the intervening years rescuing and restoring that house, acting as contractor, maintenance woman, decorator, furniture designer, gardener, curator, and tour guide. In Down to Earth, Moran tells how she resurrected the 1904 Tomek House, transforming it into both a home and a showplace, and describes in vivid detail its impact on her life.
Historian Robert Twombly notes in his foreword, "This is the first book about a Prairie house by someone who lives in one, the first about restoring a Wright residence, about renewing his landscaping. It is the first to reveal the tribulations, responsibilities, and frustrations (as well as the joys, rewards, and stimulations) of caring for such a place, that is, of living inside an early work of Wright’s art. And it is the first to describe how [Wright’s] ideas transformed the lives of real people. It is a book, therefore, about the union of theory and practice."
Illustrating her story with nearly ninety photographs and with Wright’s preliminary renderings and site and floor plans, Moran describes not only an early Frank Lloyd Wright Prairie house but also the people who have lived in it and the town in which it is located. The first owners, Ferdinand and Emily Tomek, are as important to the story as is the village of Riverside itself. One of the first planned suburbs in the United States, Riverside occupies a unique position in the history of landscape architecture.
Moran compellingly shows how Frank Lloyd Wright continues even now to influence the inhabitants of the Tomek House: as she puts it, she has designed gardens and furnishings the "Wright way" in keeping with the harmony and spirit Wright imbued his dwellings. Through her discussion of all aspects of living in the Tomek Housefrom struggling with drainage problems to appreciating its fine acoustics and the magic of its play of lightshe convincingly conveys an intimate understanding of the house.
Reflecting on her years residing in a Frank Lloyd Wright Prairie house, Moran writes, "We were unaware of the heavy responsibility we had assumed and did not suspect that after our labors a work of art would reemerge. Little did we know that it would take many years, with Wright looking over our shoulders. Little did I know that it would become a love-hate affair, for the first seven years were most trying (though slowly the repose and beauty of the house began to captivate me). I had no inkling that ethics would play a role in maintaining, owning, and being owned by a Wright house. Nor did I have any idea of the varied sacrifices the house would demand. We certainly had no idea that a Wright boom was coming and with it a stream of visitors, or that our lives would be enriched in many ways."