Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Miller Residence

I wish I had a conversation pit
A view from the conversation pit. Photo ©Darren Bradley
In 1953, a man in a small, mid-western town in southern Indiana asked his good friend - who happened to be an architect - to design a new home for his family. It had to be relatively modest in scale and intimate, but also practical and functional for both raising a family and entertaining hundreds of guests. Not an easy task. But in this case, the man was J. Irwin Miller, the small, mid-western town was Columbus, and the architect was Eero Saarinen. And the result is magical. 

The low, single-storey house resembles a modernist take on a Greek Temple. Its beauty is enhanced by Dan Kiley's landscape architecture. Photo ©Darren Bradley
The terrazzo flooring continues inside and out. One of the most defining elements of this house are the covered passageways that completely surround it. Seems like everyone who visits takes a photo like this one. Note steel X-beams and how that translates in the capitals on each column. Photo ©Darren Bradley

The entry foyer. The carpet, like all of the interior spaces, was designed by Alexander Girard. Most furniture is by Ray & Charles Eames (and a few Nelson pieces and others). The table at the end is an antique French butcher's table. Photo ©Darren Bradley

Just past the foyer on the left is a view to the iconic circular fireplace and that awesome wall of shelving. The den and hallway towards the children's wing is at the end. Photo ©Darren Bradley

The built-in shelving and cabinetry feature personal books belonging to the Millers and artwork mostly provided by Alexander Girard. Photo ©Darren Bradley

The den/family room was for more informal gatherings (and watching TV). Photo ©Darren Bradley

The rug in the den is also an original Alexander Girard design. The design reflects the owners' personal tastes and history. For example, the elephant represents Mr. Miller's membership in the Republican party, M for Miller, Y for Yale, etc... 

You may be surprised to learn that even as the son of a wealthy industrialist, you shared your bedroom with your brother back in the 50s. This is the boys' room, just off the den. Photo ©Darren Bradley

The Miller children had their own study, designed by Girard and furnished by Eames. Note that those windows are not sliders. The kids didn't have access outside except through the front door. Likely a strategic decision there. Photo ©Darren Bradley

The Miller girls each had their own bedroom. They very small, but again furnished by Eames and Girard. Each room had its own color scheme, but were otherwise identical in size and layout. One of the three has now been converted into an office. 

There's a second passage from the children's wing to the main living area, next to the famous conversation pit. This is the most well-known feature of the house. The pillows and carpet can be changed depending on the season. These are the winter pillows. Photo ©Darren Bradley

Another view of the living area with the circular fireplace. Note the brass legs were all specially fitted to match, at Girard's request.
Photo ©Darren Bradley

The inner sanctum - the master bedroom. Personal knick knacks on the wall and a seating are around a fireplace. Photo ©Darren Bradley
Close up of the seating area in the master bedroom. Photo ©Darren Bradley

Very nice vintage Nelson chest on the desk of the Miller office attached to the master bedroom. Photo ©Darren Bradley

The master bath is nice but modest by today's ridiculous McMansion standards. Photo ©Darren Bradley

The formal dining area, with its custom-built terrazzo tulip base table. It used to have a fountain in the middle. Chairs, of course, are Saarinen's own tulip design. 

Adjacent to the dining room is a large kitchen that still looks very modern today. It's large enough to accommodate catering for a large event and includes a walk-in refrigerator. Photo ©Darren Bradley

A parting shot of the main living area, looking towards the west. It's easy to understand the utility of the sunken conversation pit from this angle, as it keeps the view largely open. Photo ©Darren Bradley

Landscape architect Dan Kiley designed the grounds for this property (and a lot of Columbus in general). This allĂ© of honey locust trees is a central feature of his design, along the western side of the garden. 

Special thanks to Mr. Henry Kuehn for the private tour and informative narrative and personal history about this house. It's a very special place and your narrative really enhanced the experience.  

J. Irwin Miller Residence
Photo (c) Darren Bradley
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit, although it was too short and I wasn't able to use a tripod indoors at all (!!!), so all of the photos are shot freehand. This place has a certain dignity and magic to it that is almost impossible to really capture in photos. The unique energy here must be experienced in person. I would encourage you to make the trip here and see for yourself. Fortunately, you can do so by contacting the IMA here, or the Columbus Visitors' Center here. 

More photos from my trip to Columbus coming soon... 


Boris said...

This is a jaw-dropping series. I cannot think of a better one from you. On the "no tripod" conclusion I almost choke. Please confess, Darren, did you at least correct verticals in post?

My sincere congratulation.


modarchitecture said...

Thank you, Boris! I really appreciate that. As for correcting verticals, there was no need. I only brought one lens - my 24mm TS, so I was correcting for them in camera.

Tom said...

I've always wanted to see this house since it was opened to the public, but have not yet. this is the first time I've ever seen this much of the interior. LOVE it.
The energy issue does come up for me and I wonder about putting long shelves of books under direct natural light.
I remember reading Saarinen saying the Millers rejected many prior designs before finally settling on this one and telling them that they were very expensive clients to work for.
Great pictures. A private tour!

Ricky Berkey said...

I give an occasional tour of the house for the IMA / Columbus Visitors center and these are the best pictures of the house in its current state that I've seen. This is what you will see if you take our normal tour (although inside photos are not normally allowed).

Plastolux said...

Nice work Darren. When I saw the house we weren't allowed any photos at all. I was part of a group that was invited to view the house almost a year before it was open to the public. I agree, these are the best interior shots I have seen of the home.

modarchitecture said...

Thank you, everyone. Yes, I was fortunate to have a private tour, and the opportunity to photograph inside the home. Would love to go back to explore longer, outside the normal hours.It's a magnificent house and it's clearly in good hands with the IMA and Columbus Visitors' Center.

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