Above: Michael Biondo/photographer, Jeffrey Matz and Cristina A. Ross/authors, and Lorenzo Ottaviani/graphic designer, creators of Midcentury Houses Today
Back in the 1940s, when land in New Canaan was (would you believe?) inexpensive, five young architects came to town to try out some of their new ideas for residential real estate. John Johansen, Landis Gores, Marcel Breuer, Philip Johnson, and Eliot Noyes—who eventually became known as the Harvard Five—started putting up houses unlike any seen before in the Fairfield County countryside. Others, including Edward Durell Stone and Hugh Smallen, followed them, and within less than two decades the town could boast of more than a hundred so-called Modern houses. While each architect’s designs were unique, all were characterized by their somewhat spare geometric shapes, and a decided lack of extraneous ornament—nothing like the Victorians and Colonials that predominated in those days.
Despite the growing demand for land, and for much larger houses, Philip Johnson’s Glass House—a landmarked and protected icon of the mid-century Modern movement—and ninety other examples still stand in New Canaan. More than six decades after the young Harvard architects began to make their presence known by the unique residences they built along the town’s country roads, a new book offers admirers, owners, and possible future owners of these houses a look at how these structures can be preserved, restored, and transformed for evolving lifestyles, far into the future.
Midcentury Houses Today, scheduled for publication this month, is the work of two architects, one talented graphic designer, and a noted photographer. All four partners, who at the beginning of this project dubbed themselves the MOMs—Moderns on Modern—played a role in creating a beautiful, in-depth look at sixteen of the New Canaan mid-century homes that have been adapted or restored.
Authors and architects Cristina Ross and Jeffrey Matz have modern architecture in their DNA; Matz grew up in a house in Westchester, built by his father, J. Raymond Matz, a proponent of the modern aesthetic.
“Since I was a kid, I lived in a ‘glass house,’ and wondered when all the other families would give up their colonials and well-groomed lawns, and come and live in the woods,” Jeff recalls.
Ross, a New Canaan resident for more than two decades, has always loved the work of the moderns, and owns the Ball house in New Canaan. Designed by Philip Johnson, it is one of the residences explored in the new book, published by The Monacelli Press, which is known for its architecture and design titles.
To launch the book, two events are scheduled in town later this month. On Saturday, October 25, a mini-tour of 3 “mystery” moderns—identities to be revealed only to ticketed guests on the day of the tour—will be sponsored by the New Canaan Historical Society and DoCoMomo as a fundraiser; tickets for the tour are $100, and the tour is limited to 75 participants.
On the same day, a cocktail reception for the authors at the New Canaan Historical Society–which will include a complimentary copy of Midcentury Houses Today (A $65 value– will be held at Society headquarters on Oenoke Ridge Road. Tickets for this fundraiser for the Society, also limited, are $125. Tickets for both events are available through the New Canaan Historical Society
13 Oenoke Ridge, (203) 966-1776