The Inspired, Eccentric Lifestyle Behind the Glass House

For years we’ve wondered at the seeming impossibility of living in Philip Johnson’s Glass House — a house clad entirely in translucent plate-glass— without feeling totally exposed. We learned only recently that the house was is really just one of an array of buildings splayed across Johnson’s 49-acres of land in Connecticut which constituted Johnson and his partner David Whitney’s home.

The New York Times’s video and accompanying  article reveal the real story behind the iconic house:  eccentric buildings, high art and an absolutely unique lifestyle.

There was a bunker-like Brick House where Johnson often slept…

Chris Vernott

Chris Vernott

…a small, turreted post Modern library/study where he worked…

Dean Kaufman

Dean Kaufman

…and Grainger, a stripped-down 18th century farm house that he and Whitney used as a TV room… among other buildings…

Dean Kaufman

Dean Kaufman

What interested us most was Johnson and Whitney’s unique lifestyle which seemed quite contrary to what you would expect on a compound of elite architecture and art:

In contrast to their whirlwind weekday world in Manhattan, Johnson and Whitney saw life in New Canaan as perpetual camping, albeit of a luxurious, minimalist sort. Neither Grainger nor the 380-square-foot Library has a bathroom, though both are air­-conditioned, unlike the Glass House, which relies on cross ventilation. It originally had heating pipes in the ceiling and the floor, but the ceiling pipes reportedly froze early on and were never adequately repaired. To compensate, on particularly cold winter days the temperature of the water flowing through the radiant heated floors was turned up to nearly 200 degrees. “You couldn’t go in there with bare feet,” Port Draper, the contractor who maintained the house for many years, recalled in The Times in 2007. Johnson was unbothered by the house’s leaks, a problem endemic to a flat roof.

In addition to bathroom-less buildings and a life of frozen pipes and leaks, Johnson and Whitney slept in separate buildings, in the most romantic way possible:

The two men used Post-it notes to update each other on their whereabouts during the day, often stuck to the leather-top desk in the Glass House, “almost like an intercom system,” says Christy MacLear, the former executive director of the property: “Gardening up above, love you,” and “Taking a nap, heart heart heart.”

And so they lived together for over 40 years, in the most spacious of “houses”,  just the way they liked.


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