More 'Kindling Architecture'

Some more fuel for the firewood posts I've been issuing as of late, this is an interesting addition to a house in Estonia that seeks not to blend in with the existing structure, but to call attention to its difference. I'll bet many birds, wasps and other creatures will find it an inviting dwelling, too. Via Freshome – GF

Wright, Stone, Breuer, Johnson, All On Long Island

You'd don't have to look hard to find a community nowadays in which at least a few folks want it to be known that their town or county has a lot of modern houses and that therefore they "played [an important role] in the broader development of Modernism and Post-Modernism in the US." Modern houses are all the rage, as a friend told us a few weeks ago, and everybody wants to participate.

The quote in the first paragraph is from the website of the Heckscher Museum of Art, in Huntington, on Long Island, which has mounted an exhibition called "Arcadia/Suburbia: Architecture on Long Island, 1930-2010."

I saw it mentioned in the Times Real Estate section, which had this to say about star modernists on Long Island:

In 1937, on a relatively small lot in Great Neck Estates, Frank Lloyd Wright used cypress, brick and red tile on the Rebhuhn house. In 1938 in Old Westbury, Edward Durell Stone, the architect of the first Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan, built the Goodyear House, a weekend retreat with curving walls, a flat roofline and large expanses of glass. In 1951 in Lloyd Neck, Marcel Breuer created the Hanson House, using a butterfly roof and fieldstone. And in 1956 in Lloyd Harbor, Philip Johnson built the Leonhardt House, its glassed-in public living areas seeming almost open to Long Island Sound.

Since driving from northern Westchester across the Throgs Neck Bridge and out to Huntington on the Long Island Expressway is a punishment I don't deserve, I'm unlikely to go. But if I lived out there, I'd definitely take a look.

Here's the Heckscher website's exhibition page, and here are some photos (I tried to grab one to use here, but it saved as a QuickTime file, hence no illustration).

What will be the next community with enthusiastic historians of modernism who want us all to know about the great and heretofore uncatalogued modern houses in their town? Someone emailed me today with a bunch of great stuff and I'll try to write about it tomorrow. -- ta

Could this be . . . YOU?

An old friend who lives in L.A., among many hipsters I would think, sent me this wry link. Thanks, Jonathan!  – GF

Ancient + Modern = Lovely Home

This fourteenth century house somewhere, I would imagine by the looks of it, in the Lower Engadin region of Switzerland, has been modernized in a "clean and friendly spirit" (quoting from the Côté Maison article where I found it). Cosy, modern, warm and bright – so inviting! – GF

Vitra Design Museum – another desitnation for "SOMEday..."

Seen on Architecture Lab, the newest addition to Vitra Museum's campus in Weil am Rhein, Germany, (VitraHaus by Herzog & de Meuron, top photo) prompted me to visit the museum's website, which then immediately bumped up the museum's position on my "SOMEday, I will visit this place" list (it is a very, very long list . . . ).

From Vitra's website, "The inception of the Vitra Design Museum dates back to the early 1980s. With the aim of documenting the history of the Vitra company, Vitra CEO Rolf Fehlbaum began collecting the furniture of designers who had influenced the company's development, such as Charles and Ray Eames, George Nelson, Alvar Aalto, and Jean Prouvé. As the collection grew, so did the desire for an architectural venue in which the objects could be displayed. . . Today, the Vitra Design Museum is internationally active as a cultural institution that has made a major contribution to the research and popular dissemination of design. The Museum presents a broad spectrum of topics on design and culture, with a special emphasis on furniture and interior design. Its activities encompass the production of exhibitions, workshops, publications, and museum products, and the maintenance of an extensive collection, an archive, and a research library."

I've also always wanted to go to Vitra's "summer camp": 7–10-day design workshops held at Boisbuchet, at a country estate in the southwest of France. Add that to the list! – GF

Village Creek, Norwalk: Connecticut's First Historic District of Modern Houses

We learned some good news while we were driving through the Village Creek neighborhood of Norwalk on Monday. The neighborhood, which consists of 67 houses situated on 37 rocky acres between two tidal inlets, has been named to the Connecticut Register of Historic Places. It's the first historic district in the state whose historic importance lies at least partially in the fact that the buildings are typically modern, an interesting "first" in a state that also includes New Canaan and its 90 or so modern houses.

But Village Creek is also significant because at a time when housing discrimination against blacks and Jews was common, it was developed specifically as a place of racial and religious tolerance. A friend of ours, Tod Bryant, is a historic preservation consultant who prepared the application to the state and national register of historic places (the National Register application will be considered in March). Here's how he described the social goals of Village Creek:

In spite of this climate of discrimination, there were some, often returning veterans, who believed that everyone should have the right to live wherever they chose to live. Roger Willcox, along with his parents, sisters and sisters’ husbands felt strongly that racial and religious discrimination was simply wrong. When they decided to buy land to build a community, they also decided that the community should be a cooperative based on the Rochdale Principles of equality and nondiscrimination. In their 1949 prospectus, the original members of the community stated, “But above all else we wanted a different type of community with a completely democratic character – no discrimination because of race, color, creed or politics.” By including this sentence in their description of their ideal community; they turned the prevailing sentiment of segregation and exclusivity on its head. This principled stance made them heroes to some and enemies to others, but it also made them pioneers in the movement for equal rights. Village Creek’s announcement that it would be a fully-integrated community was an unusual moral stance and it had consequences. The FHA office in Hartford, Connecticut, refused to guarantee loans to Village Creek. Most banks simply refused to finance homes in the development without government loan guarantees, so the majority of the houses built during the first five years were built by the lot owners without mortgages. Conventional mortgage loan financing gradually became available when one of the residents found a sympathetic banker.

Local response to the new community was enthusiastic at first, but it soon cooled and realtors refused to show homes in the subdivision to white families. This situation caused the VCHOA to establish a Real Estate Committee which would show and sell houses.

Considering those origins, it was an interesting coincidence that we drove through the neighborhood on Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It was cold in mid-afternoon and the bright sun was low and sharp. Three residents were strolling along one of the roads -- there are no sidewalks -- and since we were driving very slowly in an area that does not get a lot of traffic, we thought it would be considerate if we stopped and told them that we were essentially tourists who came to look at the houses. They were very polite and told us that the application for listing on the state register had just been approved. We said we were glad to hear it, and we drove off.

I liked the neighborhood. The original hope for mid-century modern houses was that they would be relatively inexpensive, modest, efficient and beautiful places to live for the masses. Village Creek is not exactly that but it comes close. It's very clearly a neighborhood that people live in, rather than a collection of mid-century modern showpieces that people shine up for tours.

Here's what Tod wrote about the architecture of Village Creek:

Village Creek embodies both the spirit and substance of the Modern movement in post-World War II America. The spirit is embodied in the progressive ideas included in its governance and its substance is embodied in the design of it buildings. The VCHOA Architectural Control Committee (ACC) required that new homes be built in the Contemporary style which it defined as, “… we interpret “contemporary design” to stress; low pitched or flat roofs, horizontal rather than vertical lines and a leaning toward large glass areas.” The ACC has been successful in its efforts and Village Creek still possesses the look and feel of a forward-looking progressive development. These design requirements made Village Creek a leader in the Modern movement that was growing in the United States. It was being developed at about the same time that Phillip Johnson was building his Glass House in the neighboring town of New Canaan, Mies Van Der Rohe was completing the Farnsworth House in Illinois and the Case Study houses were being built in California by Richard Neutra, Charles and Rae Eames and others.

We took a couple of quick photos from the car of houses that happened to be easy to see from the road. The first was designed by an architect named Sidney Katz of Architects Associated in 1950; the other was built in 1957 and is lived in by the original owners. Here's a map showing Village Creek. (Split Rock Road, Dock Road and Outer Road) If you go there, please respect the residents' privacy. - ta

Taking the old woodpile to an entirely new level

I have mentioned stacked wood or kindling in a couple of posts recently, but this takes the cake! Wonderfully clever and beautifully conceived design for a studio by Piet Hein Eek for friend, client and musician Hans Liberg. Seen on Trendir modern house designs and Gismodo. Photos from Thomas Mayer Archive. – GF

Modern Neighborhoods

Coincidentally while I was working on a post just now about Village Creek, a mid-century modern neighborhood in Norwalk that (or so we were told) was recently listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Gina found a post on Build Blog, with photos of and details about five mid-century modern communities around the country, and a list of six others (nothing about Usonia, in Westchester County, though).

Build Blog highlights Hollin Hills, in Virginia; Arapahoe Acres, in Colorado; Hilltop, in Washington; Six Moon Hill, in Massachusetts; and Krisana Park and Lynwood, in Colorado.

Here's the post. (I helped myself to the photo, which Build Blog says is from the University of Washington Libraries.) - ta

Like being in 2 perfect places at once

This may not be the absolute best execution of a fabulous idea, but I'd happily accept it! Combining two of the best things you can do after skiing or otherwise experiencing a winter's day: a hot soak in the bath, and sitting by the fire. Brilliant!

Also in the same house is more stacked-firewood-as-interior-design-element, harking back to this earlier post. Seen in the current Côté Est Dec. '09 – Mar. '10 issue (story: Le design atteint des sommets) – GF

Modern living for the birds

Seen on Fast Company, this is what I've been waiting for: a great-looking chicken coop (really . . . no joke.).

Designed by Andreas Stavropolous, about which Dwell writes: Andreas lives in Berkeley and is a registered landscape architect in the state of California. He is the founder of XS LAND and teaches at Yestermorrow Design/Build School in Vermont. He is also the co-founder of, home of the modern, self-assembly urban coop. He is interested in involving the mobile studio in grassroots design efforts and continuing to experiment with small scale dwelling and working units. He can be contacted at – GF

Minimalist mountain chapel

Built in 2008 as a private memorial, this honest, lovely little 'bergkapelle' on a lower alp near Andelsbuch, Austria, is made from timber from the site, and the stones for the foundation were brought from further up the alp. Architectural firm: cukrowicz-nachbaur Photos: Andreas Cukrowicz, Hanspeter Schiess – GF

"Excuse me, may I just squeeze in here?"

Seen on DigsDigs, this little gem is so teeny, and spirited. A perfect pied-a-terre or home for 2. I love the separate studio and roof garden. – GF

Our Modern Town

I'm about done with the first part of the long-awaited (by me) inventory of modern houses in Pound Ridge, and what I've documented is something that we've suspected for a while: Pound Ridge has a remarkable concentration of modern houses. Our town of just 4,800 people has at least 57 modern houses (New Canaan, with 20,000 people, has 91).

My methodology was this: I drove around town and looked at all the houses; if I thought it fit my notion of "modern," I put it on the list; then at work, where we subscribe to a data base with all property records from Westchester County, I took a few minutes at the end of the day and looked up the owners, the date the houses were built and renovated, the square footage, and when it was last sold.

I have no real definition of "modern," except that I know it when I see it (I realize I'll need to refine this a bit). Big contemporary houses didn't make the list (although houses by Vuko Tashkovich probably deserve their own category). Most of the houses are from the 1950s, but I don't consider date of construction to be definitive -- one of the houses on my list was finished earlier this year. Many if not most are exceedingly modest and I like them because they hearken back to the idea, prevalent after World War II, that modern houses would be democratic houses, places for regular people to live rationally and cheaply, rather than showplaces. The road with the most modern houses happens to be Eastwoods Road, where Gina grew up -- there are 13 that I know of (11 visible from the road and two down long driveways), including houses by Edward Larabee Barnes, Leroy Binkley and Bimel Kehm, and there may be others hidden in the woods.

There are a number of houses on my list that I need to show Gina, to see if she concurs with my judgment that they're indeed modern. One in particular is giving me trouble: a big rectangular brick house with a flat roof and casement windows that was built in 1937. It's not a Colonial, not a salt box, not a ranch. If Gina and I agree that it's a pre-War modern, it means that our pre-War modern, built in 1939, is not the first modern house in Pound Ridge, a claim we have been making for years.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do with the list. In a number of places -- New Canaan, for example, and the Vilage Creek neighborhood of Norwalk -- people are working to create districts that qualify for the National Register of Historic Places. I can't imagine having the time to put together a National Register application and I have no clue whether Pound Ridge's houses would even qualify. Except for the three architects I mentioned above, and the archtects of our house and our next door neighbors (Moore & Htchins), I have virtually no information about architects who worked in Pound Ridge. Tracking down that information would be a project in itself.

What happens now? What we really need is someone with actual architectural expertise to identify and compile details like those used in New Canaan's inventory. But our list is a good start. -- ta