Visiting the Philip Johnson designed Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut was a pilgrimage for me. I live in the Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles surrounded by mid-century architecture including the Case Study houses and my own home by lesser known architect Val Powelson all in some version of the style of The Glass House. It's a way of life, not just a type of architecture. The focus on paring back and merging indoor with outdoor is crucial and inspiring to live in. The Glass House is this idea on steroids. Everything was considered and labored over even if it was the smallest metal detail on a drawer. There were certain details that left you breathless, as the leather tiles on the ceiling of the small utilitarian bathroom. Small green tiles giving way to larger leather tiles, it was really sexy. Johnson is by no means my favorite architect and The Glass House is his most important work in my eyes.
When touring the property, the welcome committee is a gigantic sculpture a cement circle by Donald Judd it is so brutal, organic and magical. The property is grounded by The Glass House in the center of a multitude of outbuildings and sculptures. All in very different styles for the most part, it's good that there is a lot of space on the 40+ acre estate to give each building room to be what it wants to be. There are two galleries one below ground filled with paintings, mostly Frank Stella works, and a sculpture gallery in another outbuilding nearby. The pond below has a structure built off to the side known as Lake Pavilion, a cement outbuilding for the purposes of entertaining and I can only imagine the parties that Johnson and his friends threw. There is a small library set off from the main house, and the Bunker directly behind the main house functioned as a guest house. The pool...oh the pool. It is oval. It is perfect. I dream of having one just like it someday.
The galleries were especially impressive in their unique approach to viewing art. In the Painting Gallery - a bunker underground - there are large carpeted flipping walls strewn primarily with masterpieces from our mid-century. The docent that gave us our tour noted that a part of Johnson's will was that there must be a Stella on view at all times. They are beautiful and it is a very intimate view of an alpha collector that believed in the work and the artists before it was popular to do so. Johnson amassed one of the largest collections of Frank Stella's work to date, it was worth the trip alone to see these pieces. The sculpture gallery is an odd 80's feeling building but proves to be a great place to view large scale sculptural works. Below is a short film capturing a more recent visit by Frank Stella back to the site now that it's no-longer private. It's charming to hear him speak about the reality of the site and of his relationship with Johnson. It's Frank Stella's birthday today, and this seemed like a fitting way to celebrate.
The house is worth a visit. In season, it's booked up so keep checking in and maybe there will be a cancelation. I ended up buying tickets three times in advance and only being able to actually make the dates work the third trip. Still very worth it.