Modern House Day & The Five Best Houses

The consensus favorite on my bus, on Saturday's New Canaan Historical Society Modern House tour, was the house on Chichester Road designed originally by John Black Lee and updated by Toshiko Mori and then Kengo Kuma.

I'm partial to the modest ambitions of true mid-century modern rather than the grandiosity of 21st century takes on or adaptations of modern, and so I prefer the original section of that house, which I visited five or six years ago, after Mori's work but before Kuma's. But that's a quibble.

While my group on Saturday was wandering about the house, I thought of the 2007 MHD tour, during which John Black Lee talked about what he considered to be the five great houses in the United States. This is the order in which I wrote them down, so I think this is how he ranked them:

1. Fallingwater

2. The Glass House.

3. The house on Chichester Road (he called it Lee House number 2).

4. Philip Johnson’s Boissonnas house.

5. The Kaufman house, which Richard Neutra designed, in Palm Springs.

As for the Lee House on Chichester, Architectural Record's Joanne Gonchar, who was the tour guide at the house on Saturday, wrote about it here and there's a video as well. Chichester Road is itself worthy of a tour, largely because of Lee's vision 50 or so years ago – he bought 20 acres, subdivided it and sold lots with one major restriction: only modern houses were allowed. We wrote about that here. As usual, Lee was a constant presence at this year's MHD – both at the cocktail parties and volunteering to welcome tour visitors at one of the houses on the tour (Hugh Smallen's house, on Chichester), comfortably dressed in Bermuda shorts, black knee socks and black clogs, which, as one of the last original modern architects around, he can get away with.

The 2011 Modern House Day was a great success, by the way. Congratulations to the New Canaan Historical Society for doing another terrific job. – TA

Photos: Top – Lee House 2 c. 1957. Bottom – Lee House 2 with Kengo Kuma Glass/Wood House Addition c. 2010. 

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