Wander: House tours

Philip Johnson Glass House / Good House Guest

Judd Foundation / Good House Guest

The first house that I remember living in was a cozy ranch with a big back yard on a block lined with other modest one-story homes. Except for the two-story colonial where Annalise lived. Annalise was older (well, big enough to go to school all day) and she had a fairy tale-like older girl’s room with an enviable doll collection and a giant doll house.

I still can’t distinguish if the following memory was fantasy or a true event, but I recall sneaking into that house one afternoon. Her mother was preoccupied on the phone, and I scampered up the stairs (such a luxury!) just to steal a glimpse of all the wonderful grown-up-girl things lining the shelves in Annalise’s room. Her mother called up and I hid under the bed (chest heaving) until she found little trespassing me. I’ve always been fascinated with the interior life of a home.

I still am. I love taking an evening stroll to soak up the vignettes playing out in brightly-lit living rooms or bedrooms. I can’t pass up a good period room in a museum (don’t try to rush me through the Colleen Moore Fairy Castle), and I’m a sucker for a house tour.

Frank Llyod Wright’s Fallingwater outside of Pittsburgh – the architecture, the casual ‘gift from a friend’ original artwork and custom furniture – make it well-worth the trip. There’s hardly enough time on the tour to cover all of the details, and it’s the sort of place where I would want to spend even just one night as a guest.

Super-modernist fans should flee from New York for the day via the Meto-North to wander the contemporary art and architecture campus (kingdom?) that is the Philip Johnson Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut. Private writing hut, personal art gallery and one crystal-clear domicile. This New York Times story offers insight about the influential couple who lived there.

After years of restoration, Donald Judd’s home and studio in New York’s Soho neighborhood was opened to the public in 2013. Tours are intimate (six or so to a group) and leisurely paced, and you gain a true sense as to how Judd’s philosophy extended to every space – from the vibrant-feeling kitchen to the almost monastic bedroom (if not for the dazzling artwork found there). It’s a meditative space in what is now one of the cities most label-wagging commercial hubs. I wonder what Mr. Judd would make of the old neighborhood today…

Wander: Fallingwater

If I could be a stowaway guest anywhere right now it would be Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright’s cantilevered creation which hangs over a 30 foot waterfall in Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands. Completed for the Kaufmann family in 1939, it served as their retreat from Pittsburgh, a city so smog-choked that the street lights never shut off. And what an escape it was.Japanese-inspired custom seating. A Picasso casually hung near a bathroom. Ando Hiroshige woodblock prints in the master bedroom (gifts from the architect). The rhythmic splash of the waterfall piped naturally into every room. It was all too much. And then we wound our way to the guest house (where Frida Kahlo is said to have bunked) tucked away beside the giant soaking tub of a pool.At this point I lost all focus on the otherwise engaging tour, and I started scheming my stowaway plan like a 10-year-old. Wonder if I could squeeze beneath the bed? Or curl up in a cabinet. What if I just crouched down behind that Mies van der Rohe chair? Irrational thoughts that could only be inspired in a place of such impossible beauty.

Next time I return I’ll be invisible (and camped out in the guest house).

Note for Parents: Children under six are not permitted inside the house. A very special shout out to our Pittsburgh hosts, the Garces family, who demanded we take the tour while they explored the surrounding woods with the under six set. They were right, it was not to be missed.