n the spring of 1906 Griffin resigned from Wright's studio, and began a independent practice. What led to the break were a series of events. A year earlier, Frank Lloyd Wright and his wife Katherine went to Japan for five months. The often financially strapped Wright borrowed money from Griffin to take the trip and left the young man in charge of the office during his absence. Griffin took liberties with Wright's work while he was away. He completed several commissions and even substituted his own designs. Upon his return, Wright felt that Griffin had overstepped his authority and strongly reminded him of his subordinate role. Wright also attempted to repay his loan from Griffin with a series of Japanese prints instead of hard cash.
ngered by the Japanese prints foisted upon him, and finally aware that he would never be Wright's full partner, Griffin returned to Steinway Hall as an independent architect.
riffin started his independent practice with only one commission. It was to create the landscape design for the State Normal School, now called Northern Illinois University. But with his personality and ability to work with clients and developers, Griffin's practice grew. While some of his clients were as far away as California, Florida, Louisiana and New York, most remained in the Midwest.
n the fall of 1906, Griffin received his first residential commission after leaving Wright. It was to build a home on Chicago's northwest side for Harry Peters. For the Peters' House, Griffin used a plan that he had created in Wright's studio. The floor plan was based on Wright's concept of allowing rooms to flow into each other around a central fireplace. Griffin took this idea and reduced it so that it could be cheaply reproduced. This simple square design allowed the living and dining rooms to form an L-shape around a central fireplace. It was a complete break from the boxy rooms so prevalent in Victorian floor plans. The front parlor and back parlor were gone, and in their place was a democratic house. It was the first L-shaped or open floor plan.
y 1907 Griffin had become increasingly connected to real estate developers and contractors for whom he built speculative homes in the Chicago area. By using the simple open floor plan, Griffin could design a tract of unique houses that could easily be constructed. In 1909 Griffin provided plans for Russell Blount who was developing farmland on Chicago's southwest side. Blount constructed over thirteen Griffin houses in what is now called Chicago's Beverly Hills neighborhood of Ridge Historic District. Griffin's L-shaped floor plan allowed each of the designs to be constructed for around $1800. 104th Place has been renamed Walter Burley Griffin Place due to the number of his designs in the area.
hen Griffin had the luxury of spending more money on a building he continued to experiment with ideas from earlier designs. The Emery House in Elmhurst was the inspiration for a home designed for his brother Ralph in Edwardsville, Illinois. He applied the same techniques of breaking up the space vertically with split-levels. The Ralph Griffin House with it's striking geometric forms was quite a contrast to the grand Victorian homes on St. Louis Street in Edwardsville, Illinois. The house soon became the talk of the town.