There in a heartbeat

For more photos of this tiny house in the mountains by Bearth + Deplazes, go to their website and click on "Projeckte" and choose "Wohnhäuser". Then click on the 5th little square in from the left . . . Why is this so difficult?!

When the owners leave after a weekend stay, this little house closes up tight, like a little cube with a peaked roof. Sliding doors complete the two sides which, when the residents are there open to expose a lovely, sun-soaked but sheltered space. With quite a view. . . sigh. – GF
photo Ralph Feiner

Adventures in the Modern House Real Estate Market

About a week ago I got an email from someone I don’t know and who only gave his initials but who has been looking to buy a modern house in the New Canaan area. The correspondence has been short and almost telegraphic but it’s been interesting in that it gives the immediate perspective of someone who wants to buy and seems to know what he’s doing.

The first email he sent me was about the Round House, in Wilton. Here’s the email, in its entirety:

HI: I've been doing a bit of research on this house and am trying to figure out why it hasn't sold. It looks stunning. Do you have any info above and beyond the broker's hyperbole?


To which I responded (in its entirety):

I'm afraid I don't know anymore than I've written.

Apparently the warmth of my reply prompted him to write again. A couple of days ago I received this:

I was at the round house -- a broker took us there and it was BUTCHERED! A real travesty inside. Outside is still fantastic, but for some reason two foul homes are situated right behind it ….

Anyhow, we passed on it.

I replied:

bummer about the round house.

what about johansen's bridge house, on louise's lane

And he said:

our broker actually wanted us to see it today, but I didn't like the brochure -- didn't like the feel of it and the rooms weren't to our liking.

It's also $5M which is high...

Saw the Philip Johnson house [i.e. the Alice Ball House] today as well but were totally underwhelmed to say the least.

It's very tough.......we are very particular.....any leads/ideas?

He also asked me about a house on Ponus Ridge Road, designed by Willis Mills, to which I responded:

I have a bit of info about that Mills house (I had to write a paragraph about it for the 2004 modern house day brochure …) . At the time I spoke to mills's son. Mills built it for himself and his family. When I saw it, in 2004, it was owned by the two guys who now own the hodgson house that johnson designed (across from the glass house); they might still own the mills house two. A good friend of mine redid all the cabinets in the kitchen of the mills house. It's nice enough although not my favorite among new canaan places.

… I guess if you're going to spend a few million dollars on a modern house, you'd better get what you want. But of course modern houses were all built to satisfy specific clients, so to buy one now, your wants have to match what the original client's wants were.

He responded:

to give you an idea about myself -- I bought a 1928 home in the Pacific Palisades in Los Angeles and fired all of my contractors redid the structural engineer's plans. This was the first house built on the Old Getty Museum mountain -- I took it back to perfection and every single exposed screw, hinge, knob etc. is period correct.

So I do not want to redo another house, but may have to. Having said that, I want something relatively easy to live in and clean modern lines etc.

As of yesterday, he said, he's working with Gillian DePalo of William Raveis and is optimistic. We'll see how it turns out. -- ta

Category: Live Here Now

There are a few houses I keep in a mental file that I could walk into and immediately call home. Some I have physically been in (I have told architect Alan Goldberg on more than one occasion that his own house in New Canaan feels so right to me, it's hard to leave when the other guests do). Others I see online or in print. There's that elusive combo of comfort and delight that makes me to just want to stay. . .

Here's another one, from Swedish architects Claesson Koivisto Rune: No.5 House. Nothing fancy – it just "talks to me." They also design some prefabs, one of which looks like it will be on my Live Here Now list – the Folded Roof House, found under 'In Progress'. Claesson Koivisto Rune is a multi-talented, multi-disciplined group; there is a lot to see on their site. – GF

Not sure what to make of this

Our readers may have picked up on my Swiss-leanings, but here's something can't quite wrap my mind, OR my emotions, around. Do I like it, or do I not really like it? I don't think I hate it . . . but could I live in it? Take a look at Vetch Architectur's earth houses, and tell me what you think.

From the website:

With his [Peter Vetcht's] technology (sprayed concrete constructions) he manages to create building shells which encompass maximum space volume with a minimum of surface area, an ideal form for energy saving. These constructions eschew right angles and their spatial diversity overcomes the the monotony of traditional normed designs. They remind us of Antoni Gaudí's organic forms as well as Jugendstil architecture.

OK - I can dig that.

Compared to traditional residential houses built on the ground, the aim of building an earth house is another: Not to live under or in the ground, but with it. If ground and house are separated, a house is built “into the air”, resulting in the loss of heat and humidity, and the exterior shell of a building loses lifespan. The earth-house concept uses the ground as an insulating blanket that efficiently protects it from rain, low temperatures, wind and natural abrasion. An earth house does not have to be built under the ground, it can be placed onto naturally grown terrain. The earth house is a flexible construction which can be built according to the wishes of its owners, fulfilling the need for individuality, environmentally friendly construction and energy saving.
Yup, got it.
The structural engineering of an earth house provides for an organic design requiring spatial sense and creativity. Earth house architecture brings to mind habitable sculptures, incorporating artistic claim and sculptural quality.

Hmmm, well, if you say so . . .

Earth houses by Peter Vetsch are based on the interpretation of an environmentally conscious, ecological and progressive architecture. They stand out due to their closeness to nature and allow an experience beyond the usual four walls and their right angles. The earth house concept uses its surroundings as an advantage – the surroundings are not adapted to the building, the house is shaped in order to preserve the natural environment.
Well. I have to say I like the interiors very much, when they are spare and white and you feel the swoop of the the verticals meeting the horizontals . . . and, ooooh those fireplaces! And they must be quite beautiful in the snow. I can't help imagining this is the architecture of present-day, well-to-do trolls! – GF

Update: Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling

The Museum of Modern Art's Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling show opens in just 11 days. Some of the five, full-scale contemporary prefabricated houses are completed by now, and a couple are wrapping up to meet the opening date of the show on July 20th.

I've enjoyed reading the journals kept by the architects of each house and by the members of the curatorial staff at MoMA who are working on the exhibition. Today's New York Times has a teeny slide show, which isn't very informative, here. Best of all, if you have the time, are these videos from MoMA. Fantastic.

It takes something very special indeed to get me into NYC on a steamy summer day, but this might just be the thing. Or maybe I'll wait 'til Fall, when the heat and the initial crowds subside. – GF

keeping regional architecture current: the good and the not-so-good

I've always been interested in how indigenous architecture evolves, is reinterpreted and reconsidered for contemporary living.

It is maddeningly frustrating to me how new houses in our area, (not necessarily mcmansions), are constructed – I can't bring myself to say "designed" in this case – to simulate a New England farmhouse, or a "Colonial". Everything about these new houses is wrong: proportions, placement on the land, window size/shape/placement.

Example: The two top photos are of houses almost directly across the street from each other in our town. The house in the top photo replaced a sweet, if terribly dilapidated, 19th century farmhouse. The house in the next photo shows a house of possibly slightly older vintage which was recently very simply renovated. The contrast between the original and the newly-constructed is so obvious. Why is this when there are plenty of examples of the real thing all around us?!

This contemporary Swiss "farmhouse" villa in the Jura region, fits so beautifully into the architectural vernacular as well as the landscape. It is very different in many respects from the old houses of the area (which makes sense, as it no doubt houses only humans and not also their livestock and farm equipment), but in the big ways – materials used, how it looks as if it belongs on the land, etc. – it is a successful and natural extension of the regional design. It's designed by the firm Geninasca Delefortrie, in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. – GF