[Decor] Timeless glass house
The oldest of the Harvard Five, Marcel Breuer studied in Germany, at the renowned Bauhaus, before coming to Harvard in the 1930s. (Later, he would design the Whitney Museum of American Art on Madison Avenue in Manhattan.) In 1947 he built a dazzling house that took advantage of modern technology to lift the living spaces up onto a cantilevered second story. The house stirred up controversy among New Canaanites accustomed to white clapboard; residents, in a bit of doggerel, labeled the Harvard Five “obnoxious” for “ruin[ing] the countryside with packing boxes.”
Frank Lloyd Wright, himself the designer of a house in New Canaan, famously asked, “Do I take my hat off, or leave it on?” when entering Johnson’s transparent enclosure. Over the years, Johnson outfitted the 47-acre property with more than a dozen other structures, some of them important works in their own right. He left the estate to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which offers tours while raising funds to preserve the still-startling building; philipjohnsonglasshouse.org.
John Johansen is the only one of the group still alive (though he left New Canaan partly to protest the destruction of the midcentury houses by developers in the 1980s and ’90s). His greatest work may be the Warner House (1956), which melds the symmetry of classical architecture with a modernist vocabulary on a spectacular site (its living/dining room literally spans a waterfall). Gold-leaf ceilings, terrazzo floors, and ebonized-wood cabinets helped show that modernism, sometimes associated with industry, could also be synonymous with luxury.
The house Gores built for his own family in 1948 was unusual in that it was large (some 4,000 square feet) and took its cues not just from the work of modernists like Le Corbusier, but the “organic” forms of Frank Lloyd Wright, melding the spare International Style with such Prairie Style features as deep overhangs and fieldstone floors. A poolhouse Gores later designed for the Irwin Family, recently threatened with demolition, is now a park pavilion, making it one of the few modernist structures in New Canaan open to visitors year-round.
Noyes was an industrial designer responsible for, among other products, the IBM Selectric typewriter, so it’s no surprise that his 1951 Bremer house has an industrial mien—a machine for living (in Le Corbusier’s famous phrase). And, like the innovative machine it is, his house contained efficiencies that later became standard in American suburbs, including open kitchens with pass-throughs; fireplaces used as room dividers; and stairways with cantilevered treads deployed as bold sculptural elements.