Philip Johnson’s Glass House: Where is the doorbell?

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Architecture, Places

We’ve been fortunate to see some wonderful buildings and places on travels over the years. With the tourist stuff out of the way, we usually look for more interesting sights when returning to a city we’ve visited before.

Philip Johnson’s Glass House has always been an inspiration and on our list of must-see places, so we took the opportunity in 2013 to visit and I can say it was truly enjoyable for the whole family, even our kids.

Located in New Canaan Connecticut, The Glass House was completed in 1949 and is best understood as a pavilion in which to view the surrounds. It is emblematic of the modern “International Style” movement and situated on a 47 acre property which Johnson acquired over time. There is much to view with 14 buildings in total including: The Glass House, a sculpture gallery, painting gallery, brick house, lake and pavilion, library, green house and ‘da Monsta’ the last building completed before Johnson’s death in 2005.

It is truly spectacular to visit and I highly recommend it. It was inspiring to catch a glimpse of Johnson and David Whitney’s incredible art collection as well. The Glass House itself is a study in simplicity and utility with nothing made overly complicated. Lacking any conventional internal walls, it’s hard to see normal features like bathrooms, the bedroom or kitchen. Walk past the fire place and you discover the shower/bathroom is built into the same cylindrical structure with entry on the reverse side. Walk beyond the Nicholas Poussin painting and around the corner is the bed, facing outward to the view. All kitchen cabinets are waist level or below so that nothing interrupts the glass views.

Philip Johnson's Glass House, gravel path

Philip Johnson’s Glass House, gravel path


On our tour of the property, I took special note of the gravel path to the house because our own P+S house also has a gravel driveway and path to the front. My husband and I had noticed it was great for drainage but occasionally got stuck in shoes. We wondered to each other if there was a benefit in changing it later.

Then, a fellow visitor asked “But where is the doorbell?” as we made our way towards the front door of the The Glass House. Our tour guide blankly replied: “You don’t need a doorbell when you have gravel”. The penny dropped. Our house didn’t have a door bell either and we’d never thought of getting one because we can always hear when someone (or something, such as a wallaby) is entering  the property.

We had new appreciation for the details that architects think about, and for the fact that our humble little Sydney House, had benefited from the same thinking with this special feature. There is no way we’d change the gravel driveway knowing this now.

Johnson was part of a handful of notable architects dubbed the ‘Harvard Five’ although he qualified as an architect somewhat later than many of his peers. If you’d like to find out more about Johnson and this great legacy, The Glass House, here are some useful links:

The Glass House, view from the rear down to to the lake and pavilion

Photo during our visit: The Glass House, view from the rear down to to the lake and pavilion

In future posts, I’m looking forward to sharing our inspiration from Palm Springs and Kauffman House and more.

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