Daphne, Christ-Janer, Landis Gores

The fellow at the MCArch blog doesn't post often but when he does he writes about choice houses new to the market and, as his blog title implies, from the mid twentieth century. The other he wrote about this terrific house, known as the Daphne residence, in Hillsborough, California. There are a lot more good pictures on his blog, here. And scroll down to see his post called "Who is Jack Viks?" He's also way into Neutra and has good stuff about him and his houses.

In our part of the world a house designed by Victor Christ-Janer, for himself, in New Canaan in 1949, just came on the market. Until I figure out how to get a photo off the realtor's site, here's a link. When Christ-Janer died last May, the Times wrote of him:

Like the far-better-known Marcel Breuer and Philip Johnson , Mr. Christ-Janer helped transform the town from a haven of traditional Colonial-style homes into an incubator for distinctive Modernist dwellings as well.

It also says he designed the New Canaan Post Office, which isn't particularly distinguished, and a market, which probably was Walter Stewart's, on Elm Street, near the train station. Its site says:

In 1957, Stewart's moved to our current location on Elm Street. The unique, concrete dome roof and extensive glass frontage were considered avant garde at the time.

Christ-Janer was also a developer who built a rather ugly condo development down the road in Vista, which is in Lewisboro, New York, and when Gina had her design studio on Main Street, New Canaan, 15 years ago, Victor was her landlord.

There's also a house on the market on Wahackme Road, in New Canaan, that was partly-designed by Landis Gores. His widow, Pamela Gores, told me that the house had been a rather undistinguished ranch but that the owners hired Landis to design a pavilion for it, as she called it. Here's the listing. -- ta

Mod Cape Cod

Seems like now would be a great time of year to visit Cape Cod and see houses that the Cape Cod Modern House Trust is working to preserve, especially if you sightsee by canoe, the way the author of the latest Design Within Reach Design Notes newsletter did. – GF

Photos from top:
Weidlinger House. Photo by Bill Burke, courtesy of Tom Weidlinger.
Weidlinger House. Photo by Maddeline Weidlinger-Friedli, courtesy of Tom Weidlinger.
Hatch House. Photo by Jack Hall, courtesy of Noa Hall.

Presidential Seating

We're not really sure what to do with this chair. Gina's aunt and uncle, who lived in our house before we did, bought it ages ago. It was designed by Hans Wegner and it's something of a Danish Modern icon but it's not really a living room chair, we don't need it in our bedroom, and we have only one so we can't use it at our dining table (the seat looks pretty shiny and it's highly possible that Gina's uncle, in is dotage. had it covered in Naugahyde). [NO! Not true – it is original, beautiful leather, and the only piece we have of theirs that isn't marred by careless everyday use. – GF]

But as I was clicking through our blogroll this morning, I learned on Mid-Century Modernist (which learned from the New York Times) that there is a use for the chair -- you sit in it attentively while waiting your chance to rebut. It's called the PPS 503 chair and nicknamed the Kennedy Chair. Of course if the 1960 election had turned out differently, it might have been called the Nixon Chair.

Feel free to add your own jokes about what the Obama Chair or the McCain Chair might look like. -- ta

Staying in a Wright House

Terry Teachout, an arts writer, spent a few days in Frank Lloyd Wright's Penfield House and then blogged about it. The post is here and although you have to read through the narrative of his entire trip, and more, to get to his impressions of the house, they're worth reading:

The Penfield House is one of six Wright-designed houses that can be rented on a short-term basis. It's located in Willoughby, a quiet suburb east of downtown Cleveland. The house isn't visible from the road--it's in the middle of thirty acres of heavily wooded land--and you have to look closely to spot the Cherokee-red gate which tells you that you've gotten where you're going. You push open the gate and drive down the gravel road, and all at once the house comes quietly into view, a simple two-story home built out of glass, wooden beams, concrete blocks, and light tan asbestos-and-concrete panels. Like all of Wright's Usonian houses, the Penfield House seems to melt into the landscape rather than dominating it. As you pass through the unostentatious entrance, you feel as though you're still out of doors, for one of the walls of the twelve-foot-high living room is made almost entirely of glass, and the ceiling and floor extend beyond the glass wall in such a way as to create the illusion that the house is wide open to the surrounding woodland. The Chagrin River is nearby, and Paul Penfield, the owner, has cut a trail through the woods, making it possible for guests to wander at their leisure. Even though the house is only twenty minutes from downtown Cleveland, the city feels as though it's on the far side of the world. One afternoon I sat in the living room watching the leaves fall, and a half-dozen deer sauntered through the yard as though I didn't exist. ...

[One definition of a true Manhattanite is a person who is still enchanted by deer.]

At night we drove into the city to dine and see shows, but we came back to the house as soon as we were done, for we knew within minutes of our arrival on Sunday that we'd want to spend as much time there as possible. Since both theaters were dark on Monday, Mrs. T and I spent the whole day and night at the house, leaving only long enough to buy groceries. After dinner we turned on all the lights, went outside, and marveled at its warm, unassuming beauty. Even though the Penfield House is a work of art in and of itself, Paul and his wife Donna have gone to considerable trouble to make it look and feel like a home, not a museum. I've never stayed in a more comfortable place, or a more soothing one. Some part of this comfort, I know, arose less from the house than from the circumstances of our staying there. To spend four days in a Web-free woodland retreat could scarcely fail to please an Upper West Side writer who lives in the middle of the hum and buzz of urban culture. But it wouldn't have been the same had we stayed in a log cabin or a McMansion, for the all-pervading orderliness of the grid that Wright used to generate the floor plan and architectural detail of the Penfield House is both relaxing and reassuring to the eye. Modern the house most definitely is, but not in the hectoring manner of the International Style. It is, above all, tranquil, a point of repose in a world of pandemonium, a place where you can hear yourself think--or, if you like, where you can think of nothing at all. Wallace Stevens wrote a poem called "Not Ideas About the Thing but the Thing Itself." Such self-sufficient things were the stuff of which our four days at Penfield House were made: falling leaves, train whistles in the distance, deer on the lawn, rain on the roof.
That's a good description of what appeals to me about the best modern houses I've visited. A good modern house is "tranquil, a point of repose in a world of pandemonium, a place where you can hear yourself think--or, if you like, where you can think of nothing at all."

Of course I have no idea what he's talking about when he refers to the "hectoring manner of the International Style." Bullying? Swaggering? Intimidating or dominating? The Gropius House in Lincoln, Massachusetts, is International Style and it's as warm and comforting as a New England farmhouse. Ditto for the Noyes II House, in New Canaan. I've never been in the Mandel House, which is down the road from where I work in Bedford Hills, but even if it were cold and austere, I have a hard time imagining how it would be hectoring.

Regardless. Impressions differ. Teachout's enthusiasms can be hard to take but I like his description of the FLW house. -- ta

Lecture @ The Aldrich

If you're in the area, The Aldrich Museum in Ridgefield, CT is hosting what sounds like an interesting lecture on Sunday, 26 October at 4pm. Non-member admission: $10, members free.

The architect Joeb Moore will present Conversations with Suburbia: Rethinking the Harvard Five. Moore is a principal in Joeb + Partners, Architects > l.l.c. in Greenwich, CT, an Adjunct Assistant Professor and former Assistant Director of the Undergraduate Architecture Department at Columbia University, and Studio Critic in the Graduate Housing Studio at the Yale School of Architecture.

As part of his talk, . . . Moore will discuss some of the underlying cultural and commercial relationships and historical trajectories between modernism, American mid-century modernism, and the private house during the twentieth century. He will link these trends and influences to his own recent work and research and then connect it directly with the New Canaan Townhouse, a private residence currently under construction in the town of New Canaan that attempts to continue the innovative design tradition of the Harvard Five and reframe the modernist/post-modernist, high culture/low-culture dialogue and debate in the post-ideological landscape of the twenty-first century.

Lecture or no, the Aldrich is a fine destination for an autumn weekend.

The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum
258 Main Street, Ridgefield, CT 06877
203.438.4519 www.aldrichart.org

Modern Damage Tour at the Farnsworth House

The National Trust says that Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth House, which flooded last month, is now open for special tours, with proceeds going into a fund to repair the flood damage.

There's information at
Farnsworthhouse.org and at the National Trust site.

The house, which is near the Fox River in Plano, Illinois, has flooded before, most recently in 1996, an event that the National Trust says caused hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage and took months to repair. This year, the Trust reports:

The Farnsworth House, fell prey to Mother Nature Saturday, September 13, and Sunday, September 14, as more than eight inches of rain fell in two days from Tropical Storm Lowell, immediately followed by the remnants of Hurricane Ike. Fox River waters rose two feet over the top deck, entering the Farnsworth House interior. Built within the flood plain of the Fox River in Plano, Illinois, the house is supported by columns more than five feet above the ground which proved not high enough as record breaking rain amounts brought the river more than fourteen feet above its normal level. -- ta

Shiny, shiny new



Read about the amazing, 90% energy self-sufficient new Monte Rosa hiker's hut at Inhabitat. The hut is one run by the Swiss Alpine Club which has accommodations of varying degrees of rusticity all along the country's extensive network of hiking trails.

Here's a website (in German or French only) devoted to the the project. The project was overseen by Andrea Deplazes, in his capacity of professor of architecture at Z├╝rich's ETH (Institute of Technology), and partner of one of my fave architecture firms, Bearth + Deplazes.

Where are my hiking boots?! – GF

Nathan Gluck, Modern Artist

Clicking through the modern design blogs, with their focus on houses and furniture and artifacts, it's easy to forget that there were people who lived and worked -- created -- entirely in the modern realm. One was our friend Nathan Gluck, who died in late September (Gina wrote about him here).

I met Nathan in the mid 1980s and knew him entirely in the context of the Federico family, with whom he was friends since the late 1930s. He worked at a place I had never heard of -- AIGA -- and created things that, to my narrow non-art-world eyes, were astonishing: paintings of quasi-mythological figures, 8 1/2-by-11 crayon drawings, postcards, photograms. He created his own greeting cards! I didn't realize people could or would do that. (He wasn't the only one doing it of course -- my future father-in-law in collaboration with my future mother-in-law produced his own, as did my future wife, my future sister-in-law, and a whole slew of their graphic artist friends.)

Almost everything we've seen of Nathan's was done on a small scale. They are colorful and deft and effortless, as if he knocked them out in the evening after finishing other tasks. He was immensely prolific and generous with his work -- it sometimes seemed that no sooner did he finish a drawing than he put it in the mail and sent it off. There's a drawing he sent to Gina's parents in 1950 of a girl carrying a bunch of balloons. "For Junior," it says and he must have mailed it just before Gina's sister, Lisa, was born and named. There's another -- a simple crayon drawing -- that he sent to us in 1993: "Snowy Owl for Elie," it says in his handwriting, our daughter Elie having been born that year.

Nathan created a lot a collages in his later years and showed dozens of them in a gallery on the Upper East Side in 1997. (We went to the opening one Saturday in late winter, as I remember it, and later visited Leo Lionni, the graphic artist and children's book author, in his apartment -- I remember seeing the cut-outs of the mice characters that he used to illustrate his books, like Frederic, piled in a tray on his desk.) The collages attracted attention and admiration. Here for example is what Nathan's good friend Luis de Jesus wrote:

It's hard for me to separate Nathan, the person, from Nathan the artist. The two were inextricably bound. Anyone who knew him personally can see his quirky, yet elegant sense of style, sharp wit, appreciation of language, music and the classics, and, above all, his oddball sense of humor reflected throughout his work. This is most apparent in the collages that he created beginning in 1995, during his 'retirement' period. It is in these works that Nathan finally found his unique voice, as if everything that he had ever collected over the years--all of the thoughts and ideas, competing influences and styles, tidbits of trivia and non-sense, recipes and scraps of ephemera--could no longer be contained and compartmentalized and simply exploded in a remarkable output of creativity. He leveled the playing field and everything became equal. It says so much about him as a person and an artist--honest, warm, unpretentious and a true original.

While I might disagree that Nathan "finally found his unique voice" in the collages, I absolutely agree that from what I knew of Nathan the collages are an expression of himself. We just happen to like his earlier work a bit better, perhaps because it seemed as if he were creating them for us -- which, in fact, he did. Steven Heller just published a good account of Nathan's life and career for AIGA (which I now know stands for American Institute of Graphic Artists), here. Note the description of Nathan's apartment, filled with art and artifacts. I visited him there twice and it had to be seen to be believed. His most valuable drawings were on the crowded wall but were draped with pages torn from magazines to protect them from the light. He showed me where he had an Andy Warhol piece -- U.S. currency -- that he had sold or given to a museum in exchange for a good copy that he hung on the wall instead. There was a phrenologic head from the 19th century that his father had given him, and which he gave to Gina last February when she and Lisa went to help him pack up for his move to San Diego.

Last week two institutions dedicated to Warhol's work took a death notice in the Times. (If you look at what's been written about Nathan recently, you see hints that he might have had more to do with Warhol's early art than is generally believed). Here's what it says:

GLUCK -- Nathan, gifted graphic artist and collagist, and Andy Warhol's commercial art assistant, died in San Diego on September 27, 2008 at the age of 90. Nathan's wit and unfailing generosity of spirit will be greatly missed by his friends and colleagues at The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts in New York and The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.

We almost always have one or two of Nathan's pieces on display in our house. Last week and this week the house is a Nathan Gluck gallery featuring our favorite works by an artist whose career spanned almost the entire modern era.

(Nathan's pictures, from top: A crayon drawing he did for our daughter soon after she was born; a greeting card, "Noel," from 1939 -- the image on the left is the front, the image on the right is the inside; a collage he created for our daughter; a painting, one of three similar paintings he did for Gene Federico in 1947.) -- ta


Photo from the current exhibition, ‘Le Corbusier: The Art of Architecture’ at The Crypt, Metropolitan Cathedral Liverpool.

It's the Pavillon Suisse, a student dormitory in Paris which was intended to resemble a ship on a sea of green landscape. Look at the contrast between the automobile and the building. This is 1930-32. – GF

couldn't resist . . .

Can't add anything to this. . . Very clever, LifeGoods! via swissmiss –GF

neat little boxes

David Jameson Architects in Alexandria, VA, designed these cute little boxes – uh, houses – as a family retreat on Hoopers Island.
“. . . the house is composed of several separate cabins that can be locked down or conditioned and inhabited as needed. Although the cabins are individual buildings, they are linked conceptually by their exterior metal cladding and the fact that all of the roofs are sloped but coplanar. A screened porch connects the three main cabins while providing a breezy place to relax. A wood deck extends from the main lodge towards the river, which creates access to the above-ground swimming pool and a platform for sunbathing.” – GF