The Glass House

I wasn’t going to do a whole post on this iconic Philip Johnson house, but as I started looking at the photos I decided it definitely needed a dedicated story.

The Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut, was conceived as a pavilion for viewing the landscape. Philip Johnson began the project with five acres and bought the surrounding farms until he had 47 acres. These have been landscaped to be a seamless part of the house’s architecture.

The adventure begins with the gate, which was built in the 1960s, but appears to be so modern.


It is worth noting that there is no fence, so the gate can be jumped, rolled under or simply walked round!


It’s electric and the aluminium bar slides up and down using a pulley system. IMG_1328

There are fourteen buildings on the property, but the most famous is The Glass House, and the whole property seems to be captured under this title. The house is a glass rectangular box with no internal walls. Each external wall has a glass door leading into the garden.


It’s a fairly traditional layout with a kitchen, living room, dining room, bedroom and bathroom. The bedroom is hidden by wooden cupboards and the bathroom gets privacy from being in a circular tower that also houses the fireplace.


The kitchen is basic to say the least, but those flaps fold over the sink and stove to provide a bar. IMG_1349

There are only four internal lights and none of them are in the ceiling. The fire provides light as well as heat, and the outside is well lit. This is one of the internal lights. It’s damaged because it falls over a lot!


I loved the fact that I could see the landscape from wherever I was in the house.

The furniture in the house is precisely positioned to define various areas. The rug above defines the living room area, which is separated from the dining room by this carefully positioned potted ficus. IMG_1352

This sculpture is entitled Two Circus Women and is made from papier mâché. It is a small version of a marble sculpture in the lobby of the New York State Theatre. Mark is a papier mâché master, so I’ve put in an order!


The bedroom behind what looks like plywood cupboards.IMG_1363

The bathroom is a nice space. IMG_1358

And the fireplace on the other side is pretty good. IMG_1374

This house was the genesis of the International Style in America. The Glass House is only half of the house though; it is complemented by the Brick House, which originally had guest bedrooms, a bathroom, art gallery and reading room. We weren’t able to go into the Brick House as it has some serious damp and mould problems and is about to be restored. I understand that the Glass House was pretty difficult to live in as it leaked, the glass is normal plate glass with no thermal properties and Philip Johnson and his partner, David Whitney spent a lot of their time in the Brick House. They also had another house which was used as a TV room, and eventually yet another house which they also lived in. This idea of having different houses for different activities and seasons and as an homage to his architectural heroes was part of the original design and included the follies scattered about.

From the perspective of the Glass House, the Brick House looks like a similarly shaped bunker. It has no windows on the Glass House side to give the occupants of both buildings some privacy.


On the other side are these round, porthole style windows and photographs show that there were three walled bedrooms, which were later converted to one incredible master bedroom. There are skylights in the roof, which are round to mirror the windows. We were shown photographs of the inside and it was sumptuous indeed, with Fortuny walls, a black marble bathroom, deep carpets, a reading room, and beautiful soft furnishings, including a sleeping bag chair – I so want a sleeping bag chair! If we come back after it has been restored we will definitely visit again. IMG_1381

Philip Johnson considered the Glass House his main residence and supposedly lived there from 1949 until his death in 2005 – I did read a New York Times article which stated that he didn’t really live in the actual Glass House. He also had a residence in Manhattan. It was a gathering place for important architects and artists of the time, including Andy Warhol.

This photo shows the juxtaposition of the two houses and the swimming pool. There are paths to delineate areas and each item is carefully placed, and apparently the landscape architecture was as importance as the buildings’ architecture. Philip Johnson was said to describe his time at the Glass House as camping. This would definitely rate as “glamping” these days!


This little building is his library/studio. It is apparently much bigger on the inside than it appears on the outside and that conical shape houses and has a round skylight at the top. Those mauve things on the ground are fall crocus and the stone wall has been retained from the original farm fields. IMG_1333

The view from the back of the Glass House is rather splendid. A swamp was converted to a lake and a folly built on to the edge of it. It looks really small, but there are photos of Philip Johnson taking tea and reading books in this structure. The white thing in the background is a two storey climbing structure which is a 30 ft high tower made from concrete blocks and was dedicated to the dance impresario Lincoln Kirstein who used to create dance events for guests. People used to be allowed to climb the tower but that’s been stopped (public liability I assume). Apparently it was a bit treacherous!


This bunker-like structure houses the art gallery, and Philip Johnson had a huge art collection with David Whitney, who curated it.  The building is actually three circular spaces inside and is surprisingly spacious. They have public events in here.


I don’t think I need to explain who did this series of Philip Johnson. Although just in case – Andy Warhol, of course. IMG_1388

I loved this photograph of Andy Warhol. Philip Johnson is sitting in the background, ignoring what’s going on. The trees appear to be growing inside. IMG_1389

There is a sculpture building too, which is different again and also interesting, but my camera was misbehaving so I got no photos. However, this sculpture was outside. It looks like a tree trunk resting on wooden blocks, and that’s how it began life. It has a carved face and body along its length (I’ve forgotten who, I need to take notes!), but it has been cast in bronze, including the wooden blocks it’s resting on. This really captured our imaginations.


This was the last building we visited. Interestingly this one is made from swimming pool concrete – it’s been “sculpted” and has just a door and a window.


We watched a quick video in here, but I loved the view through the window down to Philip’s studio.IMG_1401

This tour took a couple of hours and has to be booked in advance. Visitors meet at a visitor centre in town and are taken to the property in a bus. This drive is gorgeous as we went fairly slowly past beautiful houses in landscaped gardens and was a bit like being back in The Hamptons. New Canaan is a really lovely town (hamlet?) and I would have loved to have had time to wander round some of these streets.



14 thoughts on “The Glass House

  1. After reading this and seeing your beautiful photos I believe this fall must include a return to the glass house. It is such a beautiful setting and so quintessentially Connecticut. I agree about the Warhol shot. It has been a favorite of mine. You can now write the travelers guide to the NE. Thanks for reminding us what great places are open to the public.

  2. After reading your post I’ve decided we need a folly in the front paddock – the sheep won’t mind.
    Thanks for all the lovely photos and the armchair traveling!

  3. This architectural experiment is so interesting Sue, so modern and full of new concepts. I love that it questions our standard concept of a home. My main concerns with this architecture would be: 1) the lack of intimacy and 2) some major insulation problems in winter (these walls must not offer a real protection against the cold). But then, these considerations would probably be outbalanced by the proximity of nature (you literally live in the forest) and the airy and bare décor which must feel so liberating for the mind. Very inspiring. Thanks for the visit!

    1. Isn’t it funny when we consider it modern and it was built in the late 1940s?! I think your concerns are quite reasonable, apparently it leaked badly and had no privacy at all. However, it was more pavilion than house and Philip Johnson and his partner had several houses on the property that they spread themselves around in. It would have been such an interesting life!

  4. I’m so glad you saw this. I love the Glass House property. It’s a very special place. The property borders a summer camp for kids. A friend went there. He used to like to peek over the fence to spy on Johnson and guests.

Leave a Reply