Sunday, April 30, 2006

A Convergence of Modern Masters: Houses by Philip Johnson, Mies van der Rohe, and Edward Durrell Stone Are All For Sale

Every once in a while I get an e-mail from someone who has read the three or four things I’ve written about the famous Modern houses in New Canaan and nearby, asking how he or she can see them. I always say that the houses are private but that a lot of them are visible from the road, if you know what roads they are on. I read here, in a piece by Fred Bernstein, who writes about Modern architecture often and knows a lot more about it than I do, that Janet Lindstron, the head of the New Canaan Historical Society, is far more guarded about responding to queries than even I am, refusing to divulge information for fear of participating in the invasion of the homeowners’ privacy. I’m less concerned about it: my feeling is that if you buy a stunning Modern house built by an acknowledged master, you have to expect a few cars to stop for a quick look.

I mention this because three Modern houses designed by three of the most important architects are on the market now: Mies van der Rohe’s Morris Greenwald House, Philip Johnson’s Hodgson House and Edward Durrell Stone’s Celanese House.

The Hodgson House, which Johnson designed in 1950 (with Landis Gores, I believe) is on New Canaan’s Ponus Ridge Road, opposite the Glass House. The property is on the National Register of Historic Places, and in fact Bernstein reports that the owners delayed putting it on the market until they succeeded in getting the designation, believing that National Register listing might dissuade future owners from tearing it down and building one of the hideous McMansions that New Canaan is famous for encouraging. Here’s a picture I took on a rainy afternoon it's a bad photo but I felt too conspicuous to get any closer), and another I took of the Glass House while peering over the stone wall that blocks it from view.


the Glass House and guest house

(The Glass House and all its outbuildings are now owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The plan has long been to open the property as a museum, but I’ve heard that the National Trust is having trouble figuring out how to do so while still complying with the Americans with Disability Act.)

The Edward Durrell Stone house, which he designed in 1958, is called the Celanese House (although some people call it the “Pyramid House” because it has 6 or 8 small pyramids on the roof, a feature that makes the house hard to mistake for any other), and is also in New Canaan. Bernstein wrote that it was

designed as a showcase for that corporation’s products. Its gray-shingle façades are overlaid with an extensive wooden lattice, the work of the trellis-fixated Stone. The flat roof is punctured by a dozen pyramidal skylights, each of which supports an inverted metal pyramid that serves as an overhead planter. In 1950’s photos, the house is filled with custom furniture by Edward Wormley.

Now, the building is in poor shape – so poor that the owner, who is 102, would prefer that visitors not see the interior. Someday, the house will be sold, and the worse its condition, the harder it will be to find a buyer who appreciates the original Stone design.

The Celanese House is easily visible from Oenoke Ridge Road, which 50 years from now people will no doubt be looking on with nostalgia and lost-love for the all the McMansions that stain it now. Philip Johnson’s so-called Alice Ball House, by the way, is next door. It was sold not long ago and the new owner is converting it into a pool house.

The Mies house, on Homeward Lane in Weston, is called the Morris Greenwald House. Its dates are 1955-1963, whatever that means (did it take that long to build?). This website,, which Gillian DePalo at the William Raveis agency directed me to, says it’s one of only three that he designed and the only one that’s still in private hands. There are a lot of good photos here, at a blog called Hot New Design.

Oddly, if you click here, you can see a chronological listing of Mies’s work on the website of the Illinois Institute of Technology College of Architecture. It expresses skepticism about Mies’s involvement with the house, although it doesn’t explain why:

There is doubt that Mies had anything of consequence to do with the design of this house but with little evidence of the master's directing hand (sic).

We haven’t been in any of the three, although we’ve seen each of them from the road. I'll be watching to see if any open houses are scheduled.


Blogger Tamara said...

As a huge fan of mid-century modern homes, this is great. Too bad I just bought a house LOL.

10:17 PM  
Anonymous said...

Does anyone know when the Hodgsons are planning to put their house up for sale?

11:02 PM  
Anonymous martha said...

searching for a mid century in new canaan, seems like nothing will ever come on the market any leads would be appreciated!

9:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Contact Prudy Parris, William Pitt Sotheby's in New Canaan Connecticut.
Philip Johnson's "Alice Ball House" has just been restored. The property is magnificent and the house is unbelivable.

12:48 AM  
Anonymous Philippines properties for sale said...

Nice place. Thanks for the great read.

Paula M

11:49 PM  

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