Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright are major figures in American architecture. Sullivan, Wright's architectural mentor, hired the younger man in 1887 as a draftsman to assist with producing construction drawings for the Auditorium Building (1887–1889) in Chicago. As a junior draftsman, Wright also assisted with residential commissions such as the James Charnley House (1891–1892).

The Charnley House, which has long been recognized internationally as a pivotal work of modern architecture, stands as evidence of the extraordinary power of Sullivan and Wright's creativity in collaboration. With the Charnley House, Sullivan rejected the historical details common to Victorian architecture in favor of abstract forms that later became the hallmarks of modern architecture.

It is a sign of Sullivan's admiration for Wright and a testament to their friendship and working relationship that the senior architect allowed his draftsman to become involved in the design process at all. The exterior of Charnley House is a virtually unadorned brick and limestone facade that commands its corner location. The dramatic interior of the house is dominated by an atrium that soars from the first floor hall to a skylight two floors above. The house is symmetrical in plan, with one room located on either side of the central atrium on each floor. The ornament found throughout the interior and exterior of the building reflects both Sullivan's love of sinuous plant forms intertwined with underlying geometric forms and Wright's variations of these themes.