Since it opened to the public in the spring of 2007, I have been eagerly waiting to tour Philip Johnson’s glass house. This weekend, I finally got my chance:
Johnson’s house, which was built in 1949, is heralded as an icon of minimalist design. As you can tell from the image, the house has four glass walls and sparse furnishings. It is a home without excess and a home without clutter.
I’ve always admired Johnson and his ability to live so minimally … that is, until I went to visit his home.
Was he a minimalist? Ha ha! Ho ho! Hee hee!
In addition to the glass house, the 47-acre grounds are covered with numerous other homes and buildings where Johnson spent his time:
- the brick house, a small guest house that also hides the mechanical support systems for the glass house
- the Popestead farmhouse, a second guest house with an enormous kitchen he used to cook in when he had guests (even though he had a kitchen in the glass house and another in the brick house)
- the studio and library, where he did his work and stored his collection of books
- the painting gallery, which housed 42 of Johnson’s friends’ large paintings
- the sculpture gallery, an entire building devoted to his sculpture collection
- Da Monsta, which Johnson built for no apparent reason and named it to sound like a hip-hop reference (not a joke)
- Grainger, the house where he watched television
- Calluna Farms, a fifth house on the property where his boyfriend lived that is currently occupied by the grounds keeper
In my mind, there is nothing minimalist about a nine-house/gallery property. If you have a separate house where you watch tv and another house where you keep your books and another where you keep your boyfriend and all of his things, it completely defeats the purpose of calling oneself a minimalist.
If I had more than one house I could easily keep one of them in the perfect minimalist condition. Imagine how clutter free you could be if you had nine houses/galleries to contain all your stuff.
Oh, and I should mention that Johnson also had an apartment in New York City containing even more possessions.
Was the glass house architecturally amazing? Yes. Was the property beautiful? Yes. Do I recommend seeing the property if you have the chance? Yes.
Do I still think of Philip Johnson as a minimalist? Not in the least.
After the tour it felt as if the glass house was little more than a publicity stunt.
Philip Johnson’s glass house is located at 199 Elm Street in New Canaan, Connecticut. The house is a National Trust Historic Site and tickets to tour the home can be purchased online.
(Image by Eirik Johnson for Time magazine’s article “Splendor in the Glass“)