philip johnson’s glass house (museum)


Thinking about my recent visit to Stahl House in LA, I decided to revisit probably the most famous glass building in America – Philip Johnson’s Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut.



Philip Johnson (1906-2005) is remembered today as one of the iconic architects of the twentieth century. The Glass House – completed in 1949 – was his own home. The structure was inspired by Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House in Illinois whose design Johnson likely saw during a visit to the van der Rohe exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.



If we still think this house is modern today imagine what a breakthrough it was in the late 1940s. The design turns its back on the traditional architecture filling the suburbs of post war America and imagined a modern world free from the restraints of traditional design. Steel and glass provide the frame for the home and creates an interior that is essentially one large space with only low-slung walnut cabinets to demarcate the living spaces.



Furnishings in the Glass House are the epitome of midcentury design. The living room has a pair of Barcelona chairs, bench and ottoman surrounding a Barcelona low table. The low profile of this seating group allows full appreciation of the magnificent sylvan vistas around the four sides of the glass house. The dining area has a steel and marble top table designed by Johnson and is surrounded by a set of Mies van der Rohe’s Brno chairs. Everything is very crisp and modern with a very masculine vibe. I love how Johnson keeps clean lines and dark or neutral colors so that nothing competes with the colorful exterior. Design tip: if mother nature has given you the best she has to offer right outside your window, then don’t attempt to trump her!



The Glass House makes for an incredibly interesting day out in the country. The 47-acre estate actually contains several more buildings designed by Johnson, including the Brick House (conceived initially as a guest house, Johnson eventually took to using the Glass House only for entertaining), and the Paintings Gallery (which is an underground vault with an entrance modeled on Agamemnon’s Tomb!). Johnson and his partner David Whitney amassed an incredible collection of art by the great artists of the day like Jasper Johns, Frank Stella and Andy Warhol who even  painted Johnson. Thankfully tours are limited to very small groups, so the tranquility of the site is never broken by the masses that often traipse around museums.



When it was finished the Glass House was unique, but that was soon to change. As something never seen, police were posted to keep out the peering public. Eventually, Johnson opened the house to tours. By 1952, New Canaan alone boasted over thirty modern homes, and by the end of the 1970s that number was well over 100. Certainly Stahl House in LA owes its existence to Johnson and his daring desire to live in a glass box.

Richard Rabel is a New York Interior Designer and Principal at Richard Rabel: Interiors+ Art, a studio offering residential design, decorating and art advising.

image credits Glass House: Anna Baraness