Everyone knows the Glass House, the weekend retreat that the architect Philip Johnson designed for himself in New Canaan, Conn. Much less well known is another house Johnson designed soon after — across the street. Because it was for a family, it doesn’t have the jewel-box quality of the Glass House. But it does have its famous predecessor’s cool geometry and considered relationship to the outdoors. And now, thanks to the efforts of the heirs of its original owners — and its current owners, Craig Bassam and Scott Fellows — the house has a future as well as a past.
Open House, Inside and Out
When Richard Hodgson and his wife, Geraldine, first visited the five acres on which the 4,550-square-foot house now sits, a man crossed the road to ask them if they had an architect. They said no, whereupon Johnson offered his services. He designed two brick pavilions — one for living areas, the other for bedrooms for the couple and their four children — linked by a glass-enclosed passage. The living pavilion was centered on a three-sided courtyard that frames views of the mature trees, expansive lawns (the landscape was designed by Zion & Breen, who did the sculpture garden at the Museum of Modern Art) and traditional stone walls beyond. Although Richard Hodgson would become a successful businessman (he was an original investor in Intel), when he and his wife built the house they needed a mortgage, and banks didn’t approve of Modernist houses. So the couple built the living wing in 1951 and the bedroom wing five years later. In between, the parents slept in the guest room, and the children bunked (literally) in what is now the dining room.
After the Hodgsons’ deaths, their children protected the house from alteration or demolition, obtaining easements from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the organization to which Johnson gave the Glass House. But Modernist houses are not for everyone; many buyers balk at having to preserve them. Not so Bassam and Fellows. An architect and a creative director, respectively, the two men design the BassamFellows furniture line, calling their 20th-century-influenced stylistic approach “Craftsman Modern.” They renovated a Modernist house down the road from this one, as well as one in Lugano, Switzerland (both of which they have since sold), and they are renovating another in Palm Springs. Both men had wanted to design a house from scratch, but the first time they visited the Hodgson house, as Fellows recalled, “it took your breath away.”
Their own furniture designs harmonize nicely with the pieces that were designed for the house by Johnson’s office and postwar classics by Poul Kjaerholm and Hans Wegner. “There’s a softness to some of the pieces,” Bassam said, “that balances the square sharpness of other pieces.” After almost 60 years, you can no longer call this house cutting edge. But you can call it a classic.
(courtesy of New York Times Magazine online)
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