04 May 2009

5 Moderns

Here are my quick impressions of the five houses that were part of Saturday's Modern House Day in New Canaan (Gina, who designed the brochure cover on the left, might offer her opinions later). (No one was allowed to take photos except the day's official photographer, Bob Gregson, who was on my bus, so unless Bob reads this and sends me some, which I would welcome, I'll have to make do with older shots.)

The Goldberg House is a gem, simple and beautifully proportioned and scaled. Alan and Trudy Goldberg have lived there since the early 1970s, when Alan moved to New Canaan to work for Elliot Noyes (he later became Noyes's partner). Alan told us what the original house, designed by John Johansen, was like -- well-designed but very small -- and how he essentially rebuilt on the same site and added to it over the years. The latest addition -- a new wing connected to the main part of the house by a glass walkway overlooking the woods and wetlands -- is seemless. Trudy told us that Alan worked with the contractor every day for months to get it right.

Victor Christ-Janer's house sits on a lovely, rolling piece of land, with apple trees, and ponds that Victor himself dug, and the house itself is nestled nicely into a small hill. I didn't like the inside as much as I liked the Goldberg house though. Gina pointed out that the materials were not as high quality, which I probably sensed but couldn't articulate. If Alan's additions were seemless, Victor's were less so. One of the guys on my bus loved it however. The house is on the market and is normally empty, but it had been "staged," as they say (a new use of that word for me) by Victoria Lyon Interiors.

We learned at Friday's MHD cocktail party (at a really interesting, under-construction modern townhouse, with three stories and an outdoor room on the roof, being built by David Prutting in downtown New Canaan) that John Johansen's Bridge House had sold -- we walked in at the same time as the guy who bought it, Michael Fedele. He was there on Saturday, along with Johansen himself, who, at 90-plus, is fit and lively, his hair and beard snow-white. I was somewhat shocked by just how pink -- or salmon, I guess -- the outside of the house is ("Mrs. Warner probably wanted pink and so Johansen made it pink," Gina guessed). It's a beautiful house and, although a guest house has been added, it was the only house on the tour that had not been changed, and so buying it is probably akin to buying the Glass House or the Farnsworth House -- something to be preserved and kept intact, a showplace probably more than a home. The Rippowam River was beautiful and clear as it ran under the house, and two mallards swam quietly downstream, undisturbed by all the coming and going.

The Gates House was interesting and homey -- the original section small, with low ceilings, typical of a mid-century modern and charming for it, and the new section brighter, more open. Mark Markiewicz, who has lived there since the early 1990s, designed and built the new section for his elderly parents. He was proud of it -- justifiably, I thought -- and he was also happy to meet and talk with the original architect's son, F. Taylor Gates III (who grew up in the house) and his wife, Susan, who took the tour and stayed for the cocktail party afterward.

The Breuer II house was something else again. Toshiko Mori did what she did at the famous John Black Lee II house on Chichester Road -- raise the ceiling and put in clerestory windows. Some visitors preferred the original low, wood ceilings, and were disappointed by the change; I thought the windows made the original Breuer section bright and comfortable. Mori's new, spare-no-expense addition is spectacular but it evoked different emotions among my group. One person said he liked it so much it gave him chills when he walked up the stairs and through the corridor. Another told me that maybe over time he could accept it. I thought it would be a terrific place to spend a long weekend but I'm not sure I'd want to live there. But it certainly is stunning. -- ta

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