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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

When Saarinen came to rural Indiana


Raise your hand if you've ever heard of Columbus, Indiana.  Good for the both of you!  Located about an hour southeast of Indianapolis, Columbus boasts more buildings by mid-century master architects per capita than any city in the world.  Over 70 pristine examples of Modern architecture dot the town of less than 45,000 which has been called "The Athens of the Prairie."

 J. Irwin Miller and his wife Xenia.

So how did this all come to be?  In 1957, J. Irwin Miller, art patron and owner of local manufacturing powerhouse Cummins Engine, made the small town of Columbus an offer.  His foundation would pay the architect's fees for any public building.  The only caveat was the architect must come from a list Miller had compiled.  The names included such luminaries as Skidmore Owings & Merrill, Cesar Pelli, and Eero Saarinen, the latter of whom designed Miller's own home. 


Completed in 1957, The Miller House was designed as four zones - parents, children, guests, and service.  Its 6838 square feet incorporate a flat roof supported by 16 steel columns and walls "sheathed in glass and panels of blue-gray slate and white marble."  The house is arranged "around a 10-foot-high skylit living space that features a suspended circular fireplace, a 50-foot-long storage wall," as well as the world's first conversation pit.  The house was declared a National Historic Landmark in 2000.

I will give you a moment to soak up this goodness.

Textile artist Alexander Girard created the interiors.

1950s tablescaping.

 The living area looks onto the dining room (right).

The Millers' dining table was the precursor to Saarinen's Tulip Table.

 The kitchen.

 The exterior at night.

The grounds, among the first and most important in Modern landscape architecture, were created by Dan Kiley.

You may be wondering my connection to this house, other than general MCM fangeek enthusiasm.  My husband was raised in Columbus and my in-laws live just a few blocks from the Miller House.  When we became engaged, I moved to this singular town and our daughter was born there. 

After a widowed Mrs. Miller died in 2008, the house was donated to the Indianapolis Museum of Art which will open it to the public next month.

36 comments:

my favorite and my best- MFAMB to you said...

aaaamazing!!! a space that large is a nightmare to decorate. the 2 styles go hand in hand, don't they?
awesome writing by you too.
well done.

susie q said...

How fascinating. And what a beauty. Love your label: Brilliance. Exactly right.

Keri Batchelder Hoffman said...

This house looks timeless to me - I guess that's what happens when you do things right! Oh, and that dining room table? Swoooonnnnn

Gloria Graham Sollecito, AKBD said...

You win the award for writing the most worthy post I have read today. I just love this stuff. I want more!

Appletree said...

so are those pillows from the 50's too? they are fantastic, all those patterns. amazing.

David said...

Spectacular, inside and out, and now on my list of places to see.

nkp said...

Uncommonly good. I think this is where gorgeous textiles go to retire. The bounty that resides on that sunken sofa blows my mind.

Thanks for educating us (me) in a way that only you can!

Eileen said...

Stuning. And as modern and livable todayas it was when it was built.

Naomi@DesignManifest said...

Why don't people do sunken living rooms anymore?

And amazing how that kitchen manages to NOT be dated.

erin@designcrisis said...

That dining room is un.real. The floors!

LINDA from OEKE said...

A.mazing. Utterly A.mazing. Some people are just so darned talented (-:

Raina Cox said...

Appletree - I'm not sure. A few older photos show different pillows. It could be that new ones were purchased in the 1970s, they have that flavor.

Andy said...

Lounge pits are good in my book (so is bookmatched marble). This is really beautiful.

Julie @ Chapman Interiors said...

Athens, right here in our own mid-west (Indiana counts as midwest right? I'm so westcoast ignorant of all states east of me, of which there happen to be quite a few.)

Such a beautiful home, love the loads of light. I bet it's chilly though!

only a movie said...

Sooooo beautiful. Oh my goodness....

nanne said...

i live about 5 seconds from that house!

my back ally deadends into their side entrance... they keep both the front and side drives cordened off...

from just noseing around on my walks, i can tell you that the landscape design is incredible...totally modern and spare, but beautiful. perfectly aligned rows of flowering trees. the front of the house, which faces washington street (as does my house) is hidden in a peep show kind of way by staggered, manicured, huge yew hedges...it's a total minimalistic show of lovlieness.

columbus, indiana is a cool town.

nanne in indiana by way of alabama

Raina Cox said...

Small world! Wave to my in-laws when you're strolling through The Lagoons!

Raina Cox said...

Gloria Graham Sollecito and Andy - Hello to both of you and welcome to this deliciousness!

nanne said...

tell your inlaws "hi" from me and to wave at my house when they drive by--it was the one the car crashed into a couple of days after christmas!

nanne

Peeke said...

Stunning!!!! Thank you for sharing this! Love, love, love....Swoon!

alison@MyLittleHappyPlace said...

Professor Cox, I am delighted AND enlightened. Well done.

sherri said...

adore.

Kristen said...

this is just wonderful. i love that dude for having it built! thanks for the information, and i wish i could visit!

Alcira Molina-Ali said...

This is incredibly cool.
I adore the louche, sunken sitting area in the living room.
Love its fuchsia and orange pillowscape punctuated by the scalloped brass table.
Thanks so much for edumecating us -- again.
Cheers, Alcira

nerohcronicles.com

Madam Pince said...

I want to bow in adoration before this home. Mr. & Mrs. Miller were visionaries.

Ceci said...

This is a GORGEOUS home!! I love the open spaces! Very nice!

You can find pillows like that at World Market (my favorite place for home goods - besides Home Goods)

Great post!!

Rebecca (Reluctant Floridian) said...

My midwestern self loves to hear about stuff like this! (Girard also decorated a home in my hometown of Kansas City, which I wish I could travel back in time to visit!)

TOPSY said...

LUV DAN KILEY! Can wait to read your posts about the garden this spring. DK is such total Midwestian deliciousness.

srb30a said...

Raina,

Great post. I was fortunate to see the house years ago when I was in architecture school. It is an amazing house. So nice to see the pictures of the house again. I'd kill to live in this house lol.

Phillip

tanisesther said...

MAN. I (and so many others I am sure) would move in there tomorrow and not touch a single THING! How fabulous. MAN!!

Topaz said...

Back in the Dark Ages (pre-cell phones) my class in architecture school decided we would take a field trip to Columbus. Six cars took off at varying times from our schoo, which was several states away. Five cars made it there. What happened to the sixth, we wondered. Guess they bailed. No, it turns out. They wound up going to Columbus, OHIO.

Columbus, IN, was great.

Sarah (La Maison Boheme) said...

Ho amazing. What an incredible place and such cool connections for you!

Raina Cox said...

srb30a - Hello and welcome to this deliciousness, Phillip!

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for the post. I did my senior Art History project on Columbus IN, in college back a while ago. I took the class there and led them on a tour. Looks like it's time for another visit.

Jane Kilpatrick Schott said...

I am speechless! Who flies direct to Columbus, Indiana?

Raina Cox said...

Jane - Many major carriers fly into Indianapolis. Columbus is a short and direct drive. The new Hotel Indigo is a fantastic place to stay.