The Glass House



On the first tour of the morning, Catherine along to keep me company (she adds, to get away from the children with whom she’s spent every day this summer!), we had a fabulous tour of Philip Johnson’s Glass House in New Canaan. What a difference a day makes.

There were only four of us in the group – a mother-daughter team from the city, Catherine, and little old moi. Because we were such a small group, we got to see the inside of the studio and the underground art bunker. Our guide said larger groups do not get this perk.

The brick guest house is under renovation because of water damage after a flood. And the Sculpture Gallery is under restoration too. Otherwise, we felt the place was ours. Our guide was marvelous, so knowledgeable, even though she admitted that she lives in Greenwich. 🙂

Lots of photos and I’ve tried to divide them into groups that make some sense.

The entrance pillars are made of cement with an aluminum mast as the barrier pole that goes up and down for cars to come in.
The driveway under a canopy of white pine trees.

The Studio getaway – a small space but tons of natural light with a huge ocular over the table and plenty of skylights. The one window overlooks the back yard with a fireplace in the fashion of a Frank Lloyd Wright design. It was where Johnson came to work.
Copy from the Glass House website:

The Studio, a one-room workspace and library, was referred to by Johnson as an “event” on the landscape. From the Glass House, it is approached through a field of tall grass and wetlands. When first completed, the Studio’s stucco exterior was bright white, but later Johnson painted it a soft brown color, described by colorist Donald Kaufman as “stone greige.”

The interior walls are lined with bookcases filled with 1,400 volumes on architecture, from nineteenth century tomes on German architecture to more recent publications on the work of Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, and J.J.P. Oud. The selection of books demonstrates the scope of Johnson’s architectural interests, from broad surveys of European, Japanese, Islamic, American, and ancient architecture to monographs on contemporary architects.

The interior niche faces a small window that looks out at the nearby Ghost House. While the space has a fireplace, it has no bathroom. Primary lighting comes from a skylight located in the conical dome.







Da Monsta, 1995
Copy from the Glass House website.

Philip Johnson was a friend and supporter of both Frank Gehry and Peter Eisenman – the influence of both seems evident in the non-Euclidean form of Da Monsta. However, Johnson claimed that his original inspiration for Da Monsta came from the design for a museum in Dresden by artist and friend Frank Stella. In fact, when Johnson first madea model of this structure, he named it “Dresden Zwei,” or “Dresden Two,” and presented it to Stella.

This building, constructed of modified gunnite, is the closest to Johnson’s thinking about sculpture and form at the end of his life – what he called the “structured warp.” This architectural direction using warped, torqued forms is far from the rectilinear shapes of the International Style.

The name of the building is an adaptation of the “monster,” a phrase for the building that resulted from a conversation with architecture critic Herbert Muschamp. Johnson felt the building had the quality of a living thing.





The House
No words necessary. Stunning.








The Interior


The semicircular bathroom - shower, sink, toilet
The semicircular bathroom – shower, sink, toilet



The front of the kitchen cabinets, with two pieces that fold down and make a large long martini bar, hiding the stove and sink
The front of the kitchen cabinets, with two pieces that fold down and make a large long martini bar, hiding the stove and sink

Gray Formica counter-tops and cabinets
Gray Formica counter-tops and cabinets

The Brick Guest House (which would kill me with no operable windows) juxtaposed to the glass house. Johnson was all about opposites.



The view from the Glass House down to the Pavilion in the Pond and the Climbing Sculpture. We did not go down there, just a view from above.




I took 150 photos in all but this is more than enough to entice you to come up or over to New Canaan and take your own tour.

Our own CosHarbour, looking studly in his bell bottoms 1973.
He says:
Back in the day. Was working and living one summer across the road from the PH Compound adjacent to Ponus Ridge. So we used to do private tours by ourselves.

My favorite thing was the white “folly” structure down on the pond.  

11 thoughts on “The Glass House

    1. Thankfully there’s no one around to see who is walking around naked. Johnson was wealthy and bought up property around the house as he could. Lucky and smart man.

  1. Thanks for being our tour guide. My wife’s sister took the tour in the winter, no tree foliage. Her photos made the house look stark. Your photos make it look so warm and inviting. My SIL noted there’s no overheard lighting in the house at all. One lamp. How did he read a paper at night?

    1. True. I didn’t understand his desire to be in spaces without windows that open, only windows to see out. The Brick Guest house would be torture for me.
      The Studio has a concrete floor and the carpet was added later. The space was doable otherwise and much bigger than it looked.

      I did not know about his politics but there was some discussion on the tour about his friendship/relationship with David Whitney but all that is irrelevant to me. The man loved art. Lived art. Breathed art. Being in the grounds today you could feel his presence.

  2. Thanks for the tour. I’ve wanted to get over to see it for years. I will, soon…
    I’ve seen a PBS show about the construction of De Monsta, Johnson is giving direction and insight into the building. It showed the pouring of the concrete and lots of his insight into the design.

    1. I suggest going midweek and taking the first tour. I could see the tours after ours were double, triple, and quadruple the number of people. I think they max at 12 but four of us was divine.
      The tickets come with a parking pass you leave in your windshield at the municipal lot on Park Ave. just one easy block around the corner to the Visitors Center.
      Have lunch afterwards at Chings Table, a straight shot walk across the parking lot. Order the Vietnamese salad. Catherine had to get home so we didn’t have lunch together but I called ahead for a salad to go. Half lunch. Half dinner. Great day.

  3. Hmm, I went with quite a large group, actually the max they allow, in the spring, and we got to go in the “bunker”, although not the studio.

    1. That makes sense. The bunker is large enough to handle a large group but the studio can barely hold four. We got to see some behind the scenes of the bunker tho – art works that were not on the front, so we walked behind and saw an awesome Andy Warhol of Johnson. Not too shabby.

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