I first saw pictures of Philip Johnson’s Glass House during my years at Architecture School. In addition to the breathtaking style, what impressed me most about this house was that the Architect built it for himself, choosing all of the elements that he felt he needed to enjoy a creative life there. I was inspired with the thinking that living spaces didn’t have to be the same for each person, divided into separate rooms, or even have solid walls. Johnson didn’t have to convince a client that this type of living was possible, he invented it for himself and invited the world to enjoy it. His vision culminated in one of America’s iconic residences. Throughout my design career, I have been pursuing the ideas of what makes people feel truly 'at home' and working to understand the elements that help inspire a creative life. I've been on this journey, in many ways, because of The Glass House.
Johnson built his house in 1949 and spent time there over the next 50 years. The stories that are told about his legendary parties, guests and conversations are testaments to the clarity of his vision and his commitment to an environment he considered home. I had the amazing privilege to spend time on the land and in The Glass House. I was able to enjoy first hand what this space felt like after being inspired by it for decades.
As soon as I set foot upon the property I could feel a peaceful calm come over me. The Glass House strips away all distractions – revealing its essence. The house is extraordinarily simple, basically a steel frame and glass infill, with a unique round brick bathroom and fireplace near the center. The integrity of materials is immediately apparent. All of the elements of the steel structure are actually steel. The window frames, doors and the lighting. No painted wood meant to look like steel. The heating system is a radiant slab so the brick floor is warm in every corner, eliminating ducting and vents. Every piece of furniture was designed by Mies van der Rohe which further reduced the visual complexity. There is no room for bookshelves, and art, and the stuff of life. Staying true to his original vision, he made room for these necessities by compartmentalizing them into separate buildings sprinkled across the 49 acre compound.
Separating the outside from the inside by only ¾” glass was such a daring experiment. Not only in the practical sense of building in a climate with significant weather swings but also doing away with the notions of privacy from the outside world. Once inside the house though, it becomes clear how the house celebrates the powerful presence of nature and even encourages a close relationship. To be able to really see the changes of the seasons, which trees turn yellow and which turn red. Open to the natural rhythms of sunrise and sunset. Watching saplings grow into large shade trees. Ponds created and formed into thriving eco systems. The pathways that connect all of the parts of his home, like outdoor hallways, help expand the infinite possibilities of home and living.
I believe that good design inspires creativity. It invites us to reflect on our own lives and live more consciously. There is an uncompromising purity to The Glass House. It results from innovative thinking matched with a passion to stay true to one's vision. After experiencing the home up close, my regard for these ideals has only grown. It fortifies my belief in the importance of longevity and transparency. And, most of all, simplicity. These principals have been the foundation of our design aspirations at Lifefactory.