Jens Risom in Dwell Magazine

We were happy to receive an email today from our friend, Helen Risom Belluschi, telling us that her father, the prolific, preeminent furniture designer Jens Risom, is featured in Dwell Magazine's September issue.

We were even happier to reach into the mailbox this afternoon to find our own copy of the magazine and to get our first look at this terrific looking chair Jens designed as part of a new collection scheduled to be released this fall for Ralph Pucci.

We last wrote about Jens in this birthday salute. At 93 years old he is still busy creating designs for furniture that are as inspiring as those he made 60 years ago. Go Jens!! – GF

(Does this chair – which makes me think of a very updated wing chair – actually have 3 legs? Very cool!)

Hey – You're Stepping on my Nose!

The rug tile company, Flor, is producing rugs using some of the witty images made over the years by Swiss-born graphic designer / photographer Fran├žois Robert. Robert has produced a couple of books of images of human-made objects that have discernable "faces" (Face to Face, which sold out in Europe and the U.S. and Faces published by Chronicle Books).

I see faces in all kinds of things, and I've know Robert's work in this vein for years, so I really get a kick out of this application. –GF

too big to take to the beach

This post is not about a house, or hardware, or a great architect, although its 1066 pages certainly include something about each of those.

It's hard to imagine that any subject has been passed over in Alan Fletcher's amazing book, The Art of Looking Sideways. Although it was published some years back – and, sadly, Alan died way too early at 74 years old, in 2006 – I am just getting around to reading it now.

In a filmed interview, Alan says the book is "for visually curious people" – not for those who are funny-looking, but for those who see past the obvious and delight in the connections they make there. It is deeply fascinating, and, although I know it's a bit of a cop-out, I'm going to excerpt directly from the publisher's (Phaidon) website which describes it well.

The Art of Looking Sideways is a primer in visual intelligence, an exploration of the workings of the eye, the hand, the brain and the imagination. It is an inexhaustible mine of anecdotes, quotations, images, curious facts and useless information, oddities, serious science, jokes and memories, all concerned with the interplay between the verbal and the visual, and the limitless resources of the human mind. Loosely arranged in 72 chapters, all this material is presented in a wonderfully inventive series of pages that are themselves masterly demonstrations of the expressive use of type, space, colour and imagery. This book does not set out to teach lessons, but it is full of wisdom and insight collected from all over the world. Describing himself as a visual jackdaw, master designer Alan Fletcher has distilled a lifetime of experience and reflection into a brilliantly witty and inimitable exploration of such subjects as perception, colour, pattern, proportion, paradox, illusion, language, alphabets, words, letters, ideas, creativity, culture, style, aesthetics and value. The Art of Looking Sideways is the ultimate guide to visual awareness, a magical compilation that will entertain and inspire all those who enjoy the interplay between word and image, and who relish the odd and the unexpected.

I noticed that the book is paginated by spread – that is, each page and the one facing it is designed and counted as a unit (which is how we graphic designers lay out books, magazines, and things that open up – creating facing pages that work together in a dynamic way to support the story being told). That one subtle consideration (the folios are, like, 4 point type printed in grey...) is huge to me: each spread is an idea to be absorbed altogether, independent of what precedes or follows, not read one page at a time. Like looking at an exhibition where each piece has its own power, but assembled with others makes an even greater statement.

I feel I could / should read this book now, and keep reading it forever. I knew Alan, and when I see his line drawings and his own unmistakable handwriting here – as 'real' to me as any foundry's typeface – I miss him and am grateful for the proximity to his brilliance that I enjoyed even briefly. – GF

Better hope it's a BIG check in the mail

Well designed window and door hardware, mailboxes – everyday items that execute their purpose with elegance and perfect functionality delight me, perhaps to a slightly excessive degree. . . This handsome mailbox caught my eye in the daily sale email I get from Design Within Reach.

A wall-mounted mail box: original price – $900, on sale for $450. What is with DWR? Great looking stuff, much of it, but I resent them billing themselves as affordable or within reach of anyone but wealthy design snobs.

I've always observed that every house in (yeah, you-know-where) Switzerland has either a cluster or single mailbox that is sophisticated and low profile, and virtually impossible to vandalize with a baseball bat (not that I've tried. honest.). Residents, I'm pretty sure, are NOT spending $900 OR $450 on their briefkasten! – GF

from top: DWR Line One mailbox, Blomus Signo letterbox, typical bank of Swiss briefkasten, antique built-in mailbox in Switzerland, terrific-looking stand-alone letterbox, our kids and mailboxes in front of the apartment we rent, typical rural or suburban American "expressionist" mail boxes

Chichester Road and Modern New Canaan

I've been taking detours down Chichester Road in New Canaan for almost two decades, just for the fun of it, the way you might stop into a museum every so often to see paintings you love. There are five modern houses on Chichester, and while I can't say they are the most beautiful modern houses in New Canaan, I'm absolutely sure there is no cluster of modern houses in New Canaan that are both so beautiful and so easy to see from the road.

It is because the houses are so visible and so beautiful, and because of the way they were developed, that I think Chichester stands as the epitome and symbol of Modern New Canaan, more so than the houses of the Harvard Five. The Harvard Five houses are terrific, but they are widely scattered and generally hard to see, and so they exist mainly for their owners, for participants in modern house tours and for readers of the large format books that the Harvard Five -- demi-gods that they are -- seem to inspire.

None of the houses on Chichester were designed by Harvard Five architects. On the contrary, the modern house neighborhood on Chichester is the work of two men -- John Black Lee and Hugh Smallen.

Lee and Smallen bought the land and they planned it as a subdivision of modern houses -- in fact, they required that the houses be modern. And then they designed four of the houses (a fifth, which was not part of the original subdivision, was designed by William Pedersen).

So when I think of Chichester's history, visibility and beauty -- its prominence in New Canaan -- I'm compelled to say that Lee and Smallen are seriously undervalued as important figures in New Canaan modernism. They've been overwhelmed by the adoration of the Harvard Five, which has left other good modern architects in New Canaan unjustifiably overshadowed, Lee and Smallen prominent among them.

Gina and I have always thought the house John Black Lee designed on Chichester (known as Lee House 2) to be probably the most beautiful house we've been in (the picture above, which I borrowed from the Modern House Survey, is of Lee 2). My one visit was on a humid day several summers ago, when I noticed a newspaper ad for a realtor's open house at one of the other houses on Chichester; it turned out to be Smallen's Becker House and as we drove to it along Chichester we noticed that there was an open house that day at Lee 2 as well, so we got to see both. Smallen's house was beautiful, Lee's both exquisiite and, it seemed from the short time we were in it, extremely livable. Here's what the Modern House Survey says about it:

Lee House 2 was designed by John Black Lee for his family after they had outgrown their first house on Laurel Road. Lee acquired the lot in 1955 ... and the house was completed in 1956. This lot was part of the twenty acres on Chichester Road that Lee and Hugh Smallen had purchased in 1954 to be subdivided into six parcels with the provision that the new houses built on the lots were of Modern design.

The other houses on Chichester are the Parsons House (with a garage designed by Lee) and the Smallen House, both designed by Hugh Smallen, and William Pedersen's Beaven Mills House. Take a slow drive down Chichester to check them out or, better yet, park and walk. It's a beautiful road and the history and context provided by the modern house survey makes it all the more interesting and reveals its significance. -- ta

Julius Shulman

Julius Shulman, photographer of modern architecture (California houses -- Neutra, Eames -- in particular), died Wednesday. He was 98! Here's his Times obit.

His ost recognizable image may be of Case Study House 22, which you can see here. (This appears to be death week on Modern House Notes.) - ta

Thank you, Edward Durell Stone, Jr. 1932 – 2009

Edward Durell Stone, Jr., son of modernist architect Edward Durell Stone, Sr., has died at the age of 76 in Florida.

Born in Norwalk, CT, Stone received his bachelor's degree in architecture from Yale and his master's in landscape architecture from Harvard. In 1960 he founded Edward D. Stone, Jr. and Associates in Fort Lauderdale, FL, which became one of the preeminent planning and landscape architecture firms in the world, receiving over 140 statewide, national and international awards. 3 different U.S. presidents appointed him to the Presidential Commission of Fine Arts. He seemed to focus on tourism and community-living projects in Florida, but had some pretty far-ranging projects as well, like helping design a panda preserve in China, working on high-end resorts in France, and other projects in the Caribbean and Europe.

But, being from Westchester County, NY, and having gone to SUNY Purchase for art school, I was most interested to learn that it was he who designed the sculpture gardens at PepsiCo's headquarters in Purchase, NY, over 30 years ago. Of course, his famous father designed the corporate headquarters itself.

Read what the NY Times wrote about the Donald M. Kendall sculpture gardens, and try to squeeze in a visit if you are ever in the area. We live only 35 minutes away, and I think I've only been there once! No excuse for that, as it is a really wonderful place – and free! – GF

Island Modern

Some time in the past 10 years or so, my friend and client from New Canaan CT, Donna Gorman started visiting Vieques, the island off Puerto Rico where the U.S. Navy used to play with their missiles and stuff. First, she brought home a funny-looking stray dog, and then another (even funnier-looking), from a subsequent visit. Finally, she brought home the title to a piece of property that she and her husband, Roger Johansson, would build a vacation house on.

A surface / textile designer by trade, Donna does nothing without terrific style, and their house is yet another embodiment of her vision: playful and bright, yet serene. Simple and practical, but with a sparkle. Modern, always, and – wow! – the house is fully solar-powered.

The house is featured in Metropolitan Home magazine's July / August 2009 issue. (Hey – that's Donna on the cover!) John Hix was the architect; you can see more of his work here.

Welcome Home, Donna, it's just beautiful! – GF

Photographer: Peter Murdock

I Feel Bad Complaining About Something that is Otherwise So Good But...

I love the New Canaan modern house inventory. The house descriptions are interesting. The information about who owned each house and when they owned it contains little nuggets of social history. The chronology and photos are useful.

But I have one small complaint and one bigger one.

The small one is this: The site would be easier to use if you could click through the houses in succession instead of having to click back to the main page each time you've finished reading about a house. A "previous/next" button would do it.

The bigger problem for me is this: It is hard to read. The type is too small and the contrast between type color and background color is too weak for my middle-aged eyes. Bigger might help, but a little darker might do it too (Gina will know for sure, but I think we're using the same type size on this blog, but it's darker and, to me, easier to read). Thanks. -- ta

The Glass House: Retold by Witold (Rybczynski)

Our friend from Atlanta, Joey Asher, kindly passed along this link to a short piece that appeared on Slate last week that includes couple of little anecdotes about Mr. Johnson and his house. It's author, Withold Rybczynski, has written about architecture for The New York Times, Time, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and is the author of many well-known titles like Home and A Clearing in the Distance. GF

Photo by Withold Rybczynski

New Canaan's First Modern House

I was under the impression that the house we live in, in Pound Ridge (which is next to New Canaan and which is nowhere near as well known as New Canaan is for modern houses, although there are dozens here), was built before any of New Canaan's modern houses.

But I was wrong. Sherwood Mills designed and built a house for his family in New Canaan in 1939, the same year as our house was designed and built, by John C.B. Moore (the Mills House is on the left, below). That's one of the things I learned while clicking through the new inventory of modern houses in New Canaan that went online last week.

Coincidentally, Moore lived in New Canaan for a number of years, although he doesn't seem to have designed any houses there. Moore's firm (Moore and Hutchins) did however design an addition to the New Canaan library and when I mentioned that to Mills's son when I had occasion to call him on the phone a few years ago, he knew of Moore and Hutchins and told me that he himself had also designed an addition to the New Canaan library. -- ta

French Cutie

This house by Franklin Azzi in Yport, France (in Normandy), is just so delicious. . . All that lovely wood and light and smooth open spaces in a neat, petite footprint. The windows and their hardware are so sophisticated – where does the water go when it sheds off those recessed skylights? Very clever. Can you imagine trying to get upper decks like those passed by your local building department? Seen on Materialicious (the most delicious!) and MoCo Loco. – GF

New Canaan Inventory

The folks at the Glass House have put the new inventory of modern houses in New Canaan online. I just started clicking a few minutes ago and have only gotten through three or four of the 91 houses, but I already came upon some interesting stuff, in a mildly gossipy vein, written by a homeowner who was trying to decide whether to hire Victor Christ-Janer or John Black Lee.

The website is

Christy MacLear, director of the Glass House, tells me that it's not quite complete but that they felt compelled to go live with it because the New York Times wanted to scoop it in today's Home section. -- ta