At my previous job, a wine & spirits trade publication, I constantly wrote about beverage behemoth, Seagram—the companies it spawned, the brands it propelled into the spotlight on liquor store shelves, the numerous CEOs who launched their career there as a budding apprentice. All of this happened at the Canadian distiller’s U.S headquarters, a stunning International-style building on Park Avenue between 52nd and 53rd Streets in Midtown Manhattan.
Perhaps because I was privy to some of the glamorous stories that unfolded there, this 1958 masterpiece, designed by Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson, has become one of my favorite New York City buildings. The fact the Four Seasons Restaurant is housed here, and I can’t think of a more beautiful setting in which to have lunch than its Pool Room, also makes it special.
My love for this building left me curious about Johnson, who also founded the Museum of Modern Art’s Architecture and Design department. His career was vast—the IDS Tower in Minneapolis, the Bobst Library on the NYU campus, Midtown’s stacked, oval Lipstick Building—but to truly delve into his design vision I knew I needed to visit the Glass House, the circa 1949 Modern home he built for himself in New Canaan, CT. Tickets to the 47-acre campus, available May through November, sell out well in advance; a spontaneous day trip on Metro North this is not.
There is more than just the house, of course: rotating Julian Schnabel and Frank Stella works in the bunker-like gallery; the Brick House, off limits to the public because of severe moisture damage, teasing with its round peek-a-boo windows; the small, retro, circular pool; the light-filled sculpture gallery layered with staircases.
But it is the house that is unlike any other. Inspired by van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House in Illinois, it is, just as its name implies, an expansive, transparent cube, sans any walls. A bar, where I could picture Johnson pouring Scotch into a rocks glass, stands preserved in one corner, original van der Rohe furniture in another. A row of closets doubles as storage (minimal storage, mind you, proving a clutter-free existence is not an impossibility) and a subtle demarcation between living room and bedroom. On this more private side of the home, the bed seemed dwarfed by the desk Johnson reportedly was unable to do work at, despite his best intentions, because he was distracted by the pastoral view beyond. My favorite part: the cylinder housing the fireplace on one end, a bathroom that would fit in perfectly at a swank boutique hotel on the other.
There is so much space in the Glass House; room to breathe, to move, to live, and while it may feel jarring to be surrounded by such an abundance in, say, New York City, here it felt so right. Staring out at lush greenery, chirping birds and buzzing flies the only sounds, the Glass House forces you to engage with nature. It is exactly as Johnson intended.