A Chain of Events on the Landscape

img_8125-1

The Glass House

Yesterday, I visited the Philip Johnson Glass House

in New Canaan, Connecticut. Now owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, The Glass House was the home and on-going project of modern and post-modern architect Philip Johnson for fifty-six years. Besides its most famous structure, the property comprises forty-nine rolling acres with thirteen additional structures.

Each is divine.

img_8123

The Studio

Despite having lived in traditional dwellings all my life, I have admired modern design since my under-grad years. While I didn’t extend my initial four-year degree in interior design another two years for a degree in architecture, I remember that we students were divided between Beaux-Arts and Modern.

img_8122

Studio Interior: Johnson sat at left, directly under the cone-shaped skylight.

We design devotees didn’t argue in the quad but instead, consistantly produced drawings that announced our alligience. My drawings had Chippendale furniture against stark white walls paired with Josef Albers paintings. I was put in the Modern camp somewhat against my will. I couldn’t articulate my dilemma of aesthetic alligence then, but I can now: I belong where ever the conversation between old and new is happening. And it’s happening at the Philip Johnson Glass House.

img_8121

Part of Johnson’s large architectural reference library in the studio.

What I love about this property and the buildings it includes, is the sense of repetition, or what the guide called, “twins but not twins.” Similarities in form both classical and modern, are found everywhere.

img_8135

The bathroom is the only enclosed, and therefore, private-structure inside the Glass House.

img_8133

On the drive approaching the house, a stone wall negotiates with a tree.

At the back of the Glass House are the Pavilion in the Pond, a folly, and Monument to Lincoln Kirstein, a climbable sculpture. The Pavilion is three-quarter scale and I immediately wanted to sit in it.

img_8117

A close friend of Johnson’s, LIncoln Kirstein was a poet, founder of the Society for Contemporary Art, the developer of a literary magazine, and instrumental in bringing George Balanchine to New York where he eventually founded the New York City Ballet.

img_8114

View from the interior of the Pavilion in the Pond

img_8099

The Glass House invites. When I was inside I felt drawn to walk outdoors. When I was outdoors, I wanted to walk back in.

Our guide indicated that Philip Johnson designed the landscape and structures to be a “chain of events on the landscape,” and I felt that. The land and structures, similar but dissimilar, are in constant conversation with each other.

img_8128

Detail of the radiant heated brick herringbone designed floor.

img_8129

Interior of the Sculpture Gallery

The conversation continues.

Advertisements

A Homeowner’s Fairy Tale

WHEN I WAS A LITTLE GIRL, I IMAGINED WHAT IT MIGHT BE LIKE TO LIVE IN A CASTLE OR A TOWER OR A MAGICAL FOREST.

from-book

Our fairy tale cottage as it appeared in the 1920s

I tried to imagine myself as a princess. I tried really hard, but it never worked. Somehow in my fantasies I was always the assistant to the princess. I attribute this to my peasant ancestry.

Since I was relegated to be the right hand of the princess, the position included suitable lodgings. I would be able to visit the castle or tower or magical forest as often as I pleased, yet I would live in a cottage. The cottage was my childhood bedroom.

I remember commandeering my mother’s broom and sweeping away real cobwebs. I used my cardboard kitchenette where I cooked faux dinners and drank plastic glasses full of disappearing toy milk. My dolls had bunk beds with knitted blankets that they straightened every morning before eating their breakfast. Because our house was a ranch my fairy tale cottage had two stories. I mentally placed a staircase in my bedroom closet and staged regular entrances and exits from “upstairs.” Importantly, unlike our real house, my imaginary cottage would have a fireplace, which of course, was the bureau.

I am embarrassed to say how long I kept this up. So I won’t. (I was nine.)

I have never outgrown my cottage fantasy. I have always wanted a not-too-big home. Nothing excessively showy (although a little sparkle is appreciated) and conversely, nothing too rough like a cabin. Someplace snug, but not cramped. Someplace with charm.

After living in eleven other places, my fairy tale dream came true. But in the true story, no princess bestowed it. Instead, it fell magically in my lap.

house

Clockwise from top left: Once the attached shed, the addition houses the new kitchen downstairs and master bedroom upstairs. The doorway from the original part of the house to the kitchen. The previous homeowner left me this fall display of gourds, pumpkin, and bittersweet. The back of the house. That large window on the top floor is where my desk sits.

Once upon a time a couple in their forties with three teenage sons were approached by the mother of a neighbor. “Please, I want to buy your house so I can live near my daughter,” she said. 

The couple felt sympathy for the grandmother and although they had no place else to go, they quickly agreed. The next day, the couple met their fairy god-mother (see: Mary the real estate agent) at a house for sale in the next town. It was white (the woman’s favorite) and had a porch, a barn, two stories, and woods that abutted a forest. When the woman entered the master bedroom she was drawn to a large window that overlooked the backyard. Nearly touching the window was a large lilac bush with a blue jay in it; two of her favorite things. She imagined a writing desk in that very spot.

“This is home,” she said. Her husband had the same idea when he saw how much fun he would have with his leaf blower on three acres. “This is home,” he said. The couple looked at no other house. The fairy godmother said, “It’s meant to be yours.”

Due to the fairy godmother, the sale went through easily despite hurdles that resembled walls and the family moved in. Then the woman held Thanksgiving and Christmas while writing a book and kept writing all the way through New Year’s while existing on cereal and red wine.

So, there you have it. I’m here and have spent the last year writing and not working too much on the house. I worked in the yard enough to get two bouts of poison ivy but that’s for another post.

Hallway

The original living quarters was a Cape with one and a half stories and three bedrooms under the eaves. The front door has been replaced but the floors are the original chestnut. The children kept tearing holes in their socks requiring the regular swinging of a hammer and nail-setter. This is one of two staircases in the house.

Staircase

I especially love the post-medieval English pediment details on the underside of the upstairs landing. I’ve painted nothing so far in this space. I haven’t finished listening to what the house wants.

Unmade Beds

Just upstairs are the twins’ bedrooms. Unlike my childhood dolls, this pair of fifteen year-olds don’t often make their beds.

This is a true-life fairy tale, after all.