Friday, May 20, 2016

Saarinen House at Cranbrook Academy

Last weekend I had the pleasure of visting Cranbrook Academy outside of Detroit. This renowned art school was partially the brain child of architect Eliel Saarinen, president of the school from 1930 until 1950.
Design runs in the family: the architect's wife was artist and weaver Loja Saarinen (who also taught at the academy) and their son would become well known industrial designer Eero Saarinen ( of the ubiquitous tables and chairs). 
It was rather a gloomy day unfortunately but the snapshots capture the circa 1930 house well (I'll blog more on the rest of Cranbrook Academy later this week).  Saarinen designed the president's house to fit within the compound and not stand out although great details abound: textured brick, leaded glass windows, etc. 
Shall we go in?
 The modern art deco interiors would have been unlike anything Detroit natives had seen in 1930 (perhaps with the exception of Frank Lloyd Wright's work).  Saarinen brought the stream-lined style straight from Finland. One enters into a small stairhall where portieres (curtains at interior doorways) provide privacy between living spaces.
As academy president Saarinen would have hosted academy functions at the house and even taught architecture classes in the studio which I'll show a bit later.  The recessed mirror, furniture, and every detail were all designed by the Saarinens and have recently been magnificently restored.  Until recently the Academy president still inhabited Saarinen house and many changes had been made over the ensuing decades. Now it operates strictly as a museum and was taken back to its 1930s appearance.
 I loved the stepped ceiling detail with Saarinen's version of the now ubiquitous recessed light. These were all made on site.
To the left of the entry is the stair up to the family quarters as well as a cloak and powder room at the end of the hall.
 The living room has been recreated from photographs with original furniture still owned by the Academy and the Saarinen family. All of the textiles were designed and woven by Luja.
 Even the light fixtures and tile fireplace surround were designed by Eliel.
 A small library nook is off the living room providing ample natural light; Notice the unique pendant fixture.
 The cocktail table with an integrated globe was one of the more popular items of furniture, although hard to capture in the lighting.
Loved this sculpture on a zebrawood (?) plinth. All of the furniture was designed by Eliel and made on site utilizing high quality veneers.
Through another set of portieres sits the dining room. The wall paneling and recessed niches had all been covered over with drywall until recently but luckily sat undisturbed and in original condition down to the niche's red paint!
The table, designed by Eliel naturally, expands to seat 14.  I loved the light fixtures a throughout the house which provide great ambient/indirect lighting.
While the kitchen has been long gone enough of the butler's pantry survived to be recreated down to the original refrigerator on the left! Notice the small pass through into the kitchen above the metal countertop.
Through portieres on another wall of the living room lies the studio where the Saarinens would meet students for classes. The first floor was a busy, working space much like the White House or any university President's house -not a private home!
 The large and bright space would have been filled with drafting tables and such by day. They could all be pushed aside, the drawings stored in built-in cupboards, and the room quickly prepared for large events and parties.
 A seating nook at the far end, closest to the living room, provides a more intimate seating area.
 The students had a direct door into the studio from the architecture classroom building.
 For parties this piano designed by Saarinen would provide endless fun.
 As would this built-in record cabinet -the speaker is behind the fabric panel below.
The seating nook features textiles and rugs designed and woven by Loja. The artwork on the walls comes from numerous past presidents of the Academy and are not original to the time of the Saarinens.
 The small green bust in the window beyond is of Eliel.
 Up the staircase seen earlier in the post is the private family quarters. This seating nook was where the family could relax privately and had breakfast daily (toast and coffee only). 3 bedrooms in addition to the master bedroom provided quarters for 2 guests as well as their son Eero.
 The art deco motifs painted on the doors were recreated from photographs.
The spacious master bedroom features another seating area as well as one of Eliel's most well known furniture designs -the tea height table with ample storage.
 Twin beds are decorated with 30s era ruffled linens.
It surprised me that the very stream-lined Saarinen's (Loja in particular) would have ruffled curtains and bed linens which were so popular at the time period.  The lamps and mirror on the dressing table in the window were designed by Eliel.
The window is flanked by built-in storage cabinets which feature pull out drawers broken into little cubbies. All of the dorm rooms on campus feature similar cubbies in drawers which students RAVE about years later as they provide for very organized storage; A cubby for each pair of socks, etc.
The original master bath is still in place! Given how small bathrooms of the time period generally were I was surprised to see such a large space.  The room is as big as the bedroom and features separate his and her vanities, a separate water closet for the toilet, separate shower (seen above), and a large soaking tub in the center of the room.
The ceiling again features a telescoping design with Eliel's version of recessed lighting. The house is an art-deco gem; one expects Fred Astaire to come dancing into the room at any minute!
Tours are given daily but limited in size. If you ever find yourself in the Detroit area I would highly recommend a tour of this Masterpiece!  See more on the website HERE.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Upcoming private tour of Annapolis

If you're in the Mid-Atlantic region this next month there is an upcoming tour of Annapolis that you may be interested in checking out. Hosted by the Mid-Atlantic chapter of the ICAA, this private tour will feature 3 notable structures with excellent guides and will also include lunch; all together a nice day 'out' in beautiful Annapolis!
The tour will start with a private showing of the newly restored Old Senate Chamber in the Maryland Capitol building dating to 1772. The rooms have been restored to their appearance in 1783 when it was the meeting place of the national congress.
Afterwards stroll down the street to the Hammond  Harwood House, known as the 'Jewel of Annapolis', for a private tour. The house is one of the most important houses from the Colonial period dating to 1773 and designed by William Buckland.  It is the earliest American house still standing in the Palladian style -copied almost directly from Palladio's 'I quattro libri dell'architettura'.  Lunch will be served in the garden catered by Annapolis favorite 'Chick & Ruths'.
After lunch the group will cross the Severn river to the Ferry Farms neighborhood which has stunning views of downtown Annapolis.  There tour a spectacular private house designed by Good Architecture with interiors by Mona Hojj and constructed by Winchester Construction.  Hope to see you on this spectacular tour on Saturday, May 14th 2016- tickets are limited so buy yours today HERE.  Read more about this event and others on the ICAA events page HERE.
Photography of Ferry Farms house by Vince Lupo

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Trumbauer's Perry Belmont mansion tour

A few weeks ago I planned an ICAA tour of Trumbauer's Perry Belmont mansion - owned and operated by the Order of the Eastern Star.  I say Trumbauer as he is the architect most associated with the house but in fact he only followed through and detailed the designs of French architect Ernest Sanson.
Perry Belmont hired Sanson to design this impressive mansion meant solely as a party house; this is not a family home! Due to a huge scandal when he married his wife (long story which I'll skip here but is easily found on wikipedia) the Belmonts left NYC and construction began in 1906. By 1909 the Belmonts were hosting numerous parties a week, some lasting into the late morning the next day! In 1935 the Belmont's sold the house and contents to the Eastern Star whom have been excellent stewards of the mansion.
The most interesting aspect of this house is the plan. Washington, DC is a grid of streets with diagonals cut through which leave a lot of odd shaped parcels. The entire block here is a triangle and the mansion was designed as a triangle to fit. One enters at the tip which faces Dupont circle, seen on the right on the plan below.
 I've blogged about the house before, briefly in 2009, which you can see HERE.
The house is designed piano nobile style with the public rooms on what we Americans would call the 2nd floor.  The entry hall is open to the grand stair which takes you up to the party.
Oddly enough, instead of service spaces on the ground level they are the private family spaces. For a house this grand it is interesting to note that there are only 3 bedroom suites. His, hers, and a guest room.
As we're guests lets head upstairs first before exploring the ground level.
The house was sold nearly fully intact so all of the light fixtures and much of the furnishings and art are original.  Over the years the Eastern star has made many decorative additions but under new leadership these are currently being removed and the house restored to its original appearance.
Before you get to the bottom and the credits I want to note that the best pictures here are courtesy of my friend, architect Erich Stanley who attended the tour. His fancy camera is much better at showing you the house than my Iphone. I think you can tell whose are whose in this post!
These grand stairs make you feel like you've arrived once you get to the top; making an entrance to that all important party!
Our group of 25 barely even began to fill the space.


One arrives to the right of the stair above and just in front of what is labeled a 'Petit Salon' but was originally the music room.
All of these furnishings and fixtures are original to 1909.
As with any well designed Beaux-Arts structure the site lines are direct from room to room creating an enfilade effect.
Symmetry is king throughout.
The ballroom and dining room lay directly behind the staircase and you can catch a glimpse of that above.
The odd shape of the building makes for lots of little corners perfect for art niches -and also lots of closets!
Here is the music room; notice the musical instruments depicted on the ceiling ornamentation.
Also notice the oddly splayed jambs to the window to create a symmetrical shape to the room here in the point of the triangle.
The ballroom doubles as an art gallery and during the Belmont's time would have been loaded with much more art. What is seen here is all original to the space.
The rug is the only piece not original to the room.
A huge skylight floods the room with light -later we'll see what is above this laylight!
The fine woodwork here makes the ballroom feel more like a library minus the books.
Looking back towards the staircase above.
Most of the vases and objets found throughout the house are original Tiffany - Mrs. Belmont was related to Louis Comfort Tiffany.
The gilded bronze hardware is pretty amazing throughout the house -all original and functional.
The curtains and pelmets are simplified versions of the originals and the Eastern star has a new commitment to research and recreate the originals in the years to come; pending donation of course!
Here is the Main Salon with beautiful painted and gilded boiserie.
This room could not be more elegant if it tried.
The reverse side of elegance however is the masculine "Venetian" dining room. The Belmont's took the original ceiling paintings with them which have been replaced with some pretty hideous murals.
This is as much as I'll show you of those below, but the Eastern Star plans on painting over them with dark gilding to match the rest of the ceiling.
The robust decoration here is perhaps out of favor today but none the less impressive.
One of my favorite 'moments' was this fire alarm mounted to the damask upholstered walls.
The wainscot is marble paneling and I have to say this is the first time I've seen marble mounted to a door! In this case a hidden jib door into the 2 story butler's pantry.
Luckily the butler's pantry has survived intact including the German Silver Sink.
The faucets are the only thing not original to the space.  Look closely....they're hosebibs! Economy at work.
The servants of course would not have been using the main marble staircase. There is a very industrial metal stair which goes from the lowest basement to the servants quarters on the top floor.
The attic corridors are right out of downton abbey. Notice the few stairs in the hallway below which accommodate the higher ceiling in the ballroom below.
I promised you a view of above the ballroom laylight -here is the room which the servants got to enjoy in between the skylight and the ballroom below. It was originally lit like you see so that the skylight would glow even in the middle of the night.
The original cabinetry exists throughout the house - how beautiful are these linen cupboards even here in the servants quarters?
In the basement is the enormous kitchen - connected to the double butler's pantry by 2 glass dumb-waiters.  These basement kitchens have been changed a bit to accommodate offices for the Eastern star but they left the original tile work and the most enormous stove I've ever seen. This is only about 1/3 of the length. I'm sure it was too difficult to cart out!
This old ice box is located in another room - original perhaps?
The family spaces however are much more interesting than the basement -and oddly enough much more lavish (dare I say garish?) than the public spaces. Perhaps exuberant is a better word.
This double marble staircase lies directly underneath the main stair up to the ballroom. Guess where it leads - it was a surprise to me!
This grand stair leads you to a huge squash court located directly under the porte cochere!
Behind the main stair are the family spaces. This center hall is the only square room in the entire house!
I loved the plaster details.
And the hardware throughout is amazing.
The original furniture is so interesting to see -this desk in the library had wonderful age and patina.
Even the bathrooms retain some of their original tile - perhaps unfortunately the original electrical wiring still is in place -notice the switches above!
I'll end with a picture of this screen in the private family dining room. Thats not a painted screen.  It is NEEDLEPOINT. One has to put your nose about 2" from it to even see the stitches; the most impressive piece!
Thank you so much to our guide for a wonderful tour and to the Eastern Star for hosting us! Tours can be arranged through their website here.  Thanks to Erich Stanley for filling out my own photography!  Floorplans and exterior rendering come from the essential book on Trumbauer "American Splendor" by Michael C Kathrens.