The Damned Story: In the beautiful countryside of New Canaan sits an unusual structure, a starkly beautiful residence that has become known as The Glass House. Created by famed architect Philip Johnson, it’s a brilliant legacy to a man who deeply embraced the Modernist movement and style.
It’s also a place for someone who never throws stones at other people’s houses.
Incredibly talented, Philip Johnson founded the architectural department at the Museum of Modern Art, and was integral in bringing the Modernist movement to American architecture during the first half of the 20th century. In addition to numerous private residence, some of Johnson’s notable architectural works include: the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden at The Museum of Modern Art and the AT&T Building (now Sony Plaza), both in New York; the Transco (now Williams) Tower and Pennzoil Place, both in Houston: the Fort Worth Water Garden; and the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California.
In 1949, he decided to create a unique home for himself, and on 47 woodsy acres that he had acquired in New Canaan, set about designing a domicile that would include and extol his beloved Modernist principles. Essentially a rectangular glass box (some might say a glorified fish tank) on a brick base, the structure is a simple as it sounds — glass walls all around with only a brick cylinder housing a bathroom offering anything resembling privacy. The rest of the interior space is open aside from a set of cabinets that serve to divide the area into “rooms.” As you might expect, Johnson also kept the decor true to the spirit of the design, very minimal and clean, with furniture that would make IKEA proud.
A total Modernist construct, the house has been called “an essay in minimal structure, geometry, proportion and the effects of transparency and reflection.” We call it a place in which you wouldn’t play baseball or old Ella Fitzgerald records.
One of the things you have to admire about Johnson is that his glass house wasn’t simply architectural attention-whoring — well, maybe it was to an extent — he designed it for himself and lived there from when it was completed in 1949 until the day he died in 2005 at the age of 98. Clearly, it was a home as well as a work of art.
Philip Johnson’s Glass House was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1997, and following Johnson’s death, became part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
The grounds are also home to other Modernist structures, which can be viewed during the tour.
Our Damned Experience: We have yet to make like an old Billy Joel album cover — not that we would if given the chance. We will make sure to bring the Windex when do visit, though.
If You Go: Philip Johnson’s Glass House is located on his former estate in the backcounty of New Canaan, and is open for guided tours from May to November. You need to purchase tickets ahead of time, either from the official website or by phone (866.811.4111).
Tours begin in downtown New Canaan at the visitor center at 199 Elm Street, which also features an exhibition and museum shop. There are multiple tours — the extended one visits more houses on the property and allows time for photography.
View 199 Elm St in a larger map