Villa Vals, the house in the hillside

I wrote about this Swiss house-in-the-hillside months ago, but what I didn't know at the time is that it can be rented as a vacation property.

On the website and in the PDF brochure there there are more photos of the inside which I'd not seen previously.
– GF

Usonia House: A Few Photos

Stephie Podell,who grew up in the Usonia house, in Mount Pleasant, New York, that was destroyed in a fire a few weeks ago, was nice enough to share a few photos with us. Here they are.

A little break from Modern architecture . . .

Love Letter is a project by tag artist Stephen Powers with the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. The messages – created as an homage to 'Cornbread' the Philadelphia graffiti artist whose messages to his girlfriend adorned many buildings in the late '60s – are in the West Philadelphia area, best seen from the Market-Frankford Elevated train line.

When completed, the project will encompass 50 painted walls between 63rd and 45th street on Market Street, a documentary film with scripted elements, a sign school and shop that will provide training for area youth and free signage for businesses on the market street corridor, and 2 books documenting the project. One of the books will be a small paperback that will be distributed to area businesses free of charge, for them to sell to visitors. The other book will be a larger hardcover book that will document not only the artwork, but the neighborhood and the inspirations of the Love Letter Project. –GF

Usonia Fire: "This Was My House -- My Childhood Home"

Stephanie Podell, who grew up in the Usonia house that burned down a couple of weeks ago, wrote some heartfelt thoughts in the comments to one of our posts about the fire, here. She wrote:

This was my house - my childhood home - The Jerry and Charlotte Podell house built in 1959. The loss we feel is unimaginable. My father is no longer alive and obviously, though we miss him each and every day, we are thankful he is not alive to have witnessed this. We haven't told my mom as yet - not sure we will.

So sad.

She also points to the Greenhaus blog, from Modernism magazine, where Stuart Basseches writes about what it was like to grow up near there (and posts some terrific photos too).

Stephanie, we would love to put some of your photos on our blog, as a way to show people of what a beautiful house it must have been. -- ta

Andy Goldsworthy might feel right at home here

I've seen photos of this house before, and immediately each time, the work of environmental sculptor Andy Goldworthy springs to mind.

Designed by the Architectural office Zecc in Utrecht, the Netherlands, this house has an exterior I want to feel. And stand next to on an early Spring day when it radiates the sun's heat back out. And smell the mineraliness of when it just begins to dampen in the rain.

Zecc says its designs are Clear and Sparkling (with those capitals), and explaining the name of their business, they say "Zecc is not an abbreviation, but it is a name. Zecc is inspired by the French word Sec: pure, simple, clear. Sec as a strong foundation, touched up with an extra ‘c’ and a spark of sensuality as expressed by the Z. Zecc equals clear & sparkling . . . SENSE would be a synonym for Zecc. We create sensible architecture with a sensual quality." 

It's nice they've thought a lot about their philosophy (there's more explanation on their website about Grounded Architecture and other guiding principles), but I'm just interested it touching this house!

If you go to Zecc's website, check out the "Re-Use Cultural Heritage" tab under Projects. I always like to see how purpose built or industrial buildings are reborn as living spaces, and I love the hanging staircase in the Schoolloft renovation. – GF

Philip Johnson's First House is on the Market, in Bedford, New York

The first house designed by Philip Johnson for a client just came on the market, for $2 million, in Bedford, New York, the next town over from us. Built in 1946, it's called the Booth house but most recently it was the longtime home of Robert and Sirkka Damora.

Mr. Damora, an architectural photographer of note (Walter Gropius said of him, "I consider him the best the best photographer of architecture in this country") passed away at age 97 a year ago, and his family is selling the house.

Here's a description of it:

Unlike the Glass House, where Johnson shaped the landscape with carefully created vistas, the Booth House was set within an existing topography. Sited on the graded crest of a wooded slope, it takes full advantage of the towering trees that enclose the house. Nature enters into the house as an almost physical presence. While the Glass House has a temple-like quality, the Booth House strives to be only a comforting shelter for daily family life—a fact valued by the late architect and pioneering architectural photographer Robert Damora and his widow, architect Sirkka Damora, who acquired the house in 1955 and lived there appreciatively for 55 years.

The 36 acres next to the house are permanently protected as a nature preserve by Westchester Land Trust, my employer, and in fact on my first visit to the preserve, in 1997, I met Mr. Damora and chatted with him for a couple of minutes, and I remember thinking that he was someone Gina and I should visit. We never did, but last June we were invited to have lunch there with Mrs. Damora and the Damoras' daughter and son, Jesa and Matthew. It was a surprisingly cool, rainy day but the house was warm, and it gave me that sense that modern houses often do of being part of the outside world even when I'm inside and comfortable.

Here's the website with the real estate listing. There's a lot of good information and photos. And here's a website the Damoras' created to showcase Robert Damora's photographs (the photo above is by Robert Gregson). It's well worth looking at.

I should note by the way that the Booth/Damora house is listed for about $850,000 less than the much smaller, right-next-to-the-road Alice Ball House that Johnson designed about a decade later. - ta

On the calendar: Victor Civkin – Westport Modernist

With a backdrop of the photo exhibition of modern architecture in Westport and Weston, "When Cool Was Hot", a small-town sort of gathering will take place on Sunday, March 21 at 2pm in the Westport Historical Society Gallery. The panel discussion, Victor Civkin: Rediscovered will feature Rena and Carla Schine, Mr. Civkin’s daughter and granddaughter, and Civkin expert Mark R. Halstead AIA.  Civkin, a Russian immigrant, was largely an unrecognized multi-talented artist and modernist architect living and working in Westport. There will be refreshments and owners of Civkin houses are encouraged to bring photos and share stories. – GF

Usonia Fire: A Few More Bits of Information

The reporter who covered the fire in Usonia told me via email yesterday that he indeed got it wrong originally when he reported that the house was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. He said the fire chief had told him that (a great example of bad sourcing). The story has been changed but the headline still says "Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house."

There's credible information about Usonia and the house that burned in the comments to the previous post. Thanks for keeping us informed!

The Usonia Fire: An Update

I had a suspicion when I blogged yesterday afternoon about the fire in the Usonia community of Mount Pleasant, New York, that the house that had burned down was not designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, and today's newspaper account indeed seems to be backing down from its original reporting, although it's still not completely clear (the headline and caption say Wright-designed house but the story itself says a house burned down in the "neighborhood designed ... by Frank Lloyd Wright.")

Not that it makes the fire any less of a tragedy for the family that lost its home, or even for architecture aficionados, but the house that burned down seems to be one of the many designed by a Wright disciple rather than by Wright himself.

There were 47 houses built in Usonia, three designed by Wright and the others designed by other architects (here's what Wikipedia says). Wright also designed the layout of the community, which was conceived after World War II by a group of friends who believed in the principles of modernism espoused by Wright.

In the years since it has matured into a quiet, discreet, wooded neighborhood of houses whose value has risen significantly and which beautifully retains its original Wrightian (if I can use that word) qualities. I've never been in one of the Usonia houses and I haven't driven through the neighborhood in years, so I can't say I know it well at all. But my sense is that it has managed to retain its integrity without turning into a museum. It's a living neighborhood. I feel bad for the people who lost their house.

If you Google "Usonia + Pleasantville" and then click "images," you can see what some of the Usonia houses look like - ta

Wright House in Westchester Burns to the Ground

Really sad: a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, in the Usonia neighborhood of Mount Pleasant, Westchester County, was destroyed by fire today. Here's a local news report.

Here's a map of the neighborhood.

Tipsy much?

I wish I had a space big and bare enough for these book cases. They wouldn't do as well in a tight space, as the airspace around them is necessary to define their design. Created by Dzmitry Samal. Seen on Design Milk. – GF

I suppose I'll get over it eventually, but here's more for the stacked kindling file.

The Norwegian Wood cabinet is designed by 2 young guys who make up GRIDY, a product and spacial design firm based in Oslo, Norway.

Norwegian Wood is a cabinet whose doors are covered with cut wood ends. The rough wood is a nice contrast to the strong lines on the frame. Norwegian Wood is the perfect storage solution for people who want a touch of nature in their home. Made from lacquered MDF, birch wood ends. Love it! – GF
(via hello tiger!)

Mimoa to have an iPhone app

It's not available yet, but it's a great idea and worth following them on Twitter or subscribing to their newsletter to stay apprised of the rollout date.

For anyone not yet familiar with it, MIMOA is an online architecture guide. It's name is sort of an acronym of My Modern Architecture, and it is fantastic. When you are planning a trip, visit the MIMOA site and see what architectural gems you shouldn't miss in the cities or countryside you are going to. MIMOA shows Modern Architecture on a map with the address and all additional information you need to actually find and visit interiors, parks, public places, buildings and bridges. 

MIMOA is intended for anyone interested in Modern Architecture, design, culture, photography, cities, traveling, visiting buildings, knowing how to get there, whether the project is public and what the opening hours are. You can make your own personal convenient architecture guide.

MIMOA is free and open for everyone to contribute: publish your projects, posts comments and ratings, define your personal favorites and keep track of the projects you’ve visited. All this personal information, reviews and opinions make it a terrific resource, and having it accessible on your phone is a great convenience. – GF

Modern in the Midway: J. Marion Gutnayer

I'm always happy to be reminded that it was not only giants like Breuer, Johnson and Neutra who designed modern houses. Living near New Canaan it can be easy to forget that. I'm also always happy to hear that people have so much fun learning about their own houses.

A woman named Anne Stevens got in touch with us late yesterday to let us know that she's having a great time renovating and learning about her house near Chicago, designed by J. Marion Gutnayer. Nobody's ever heard of him, of course, but nobody's ever heard of Moore & Hutchins or a lot of other modern architects either, which is what makes it all fascinating: they weren't building precious museum pieces; they were building homes, for everyday people.

Anne is blogging about her project at It's worth reading. That's her house above; I hope she doesn't mind that I borrowed the photo. -- ta