Philip Johnson’s Beck House in Dallas is opulent, intriguing, and, thanks to a recent renovation, a bit less starchy than its 1964 self. The grandest residential accomplishment of the architect’s New Formalist phase, it is a fascinating frozen frame in his chameleon-like evolution in architectural style.
Get carefully curated content filled with inspiring homes from around the world, innovative new products, and the best in modern design
Originally built for philanthropist and entrepreneur Henry C. Beck Jr., the residence presents a classical colonnade of concrete arches that wraps a structure that is otherwise modern. It clearly resembles Johnson’s Pavilion in the Pond at his Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut, but not at Lilliputian scale; there is no need to stoop. These arches are an amplified version of what appears in the Amon Carter Museum, the New York State Theater, and other projects of this period.
One line seems to dog the house in the last decade—the New York Times mused that "there’s something almost campy about the Beck House’s grand proportions and the relentlessness of its arches." Its seemingly incongruous flamboyance, however, doesn’t take into account the flourishes of the local neighborhood, Preston Hollow, and also seems restrained compared to Johnson’s later works (a prime example is his Crescent complex in Dallas).
There are certain elements that point to grandeur: Beck House is sited on a four-foot plinth that didn’t provide any direct access to the creek behind, with separate drives for the Becks and their servants, and a servants’ wing not entirely connected to the rest of the house. But these fusty elements, perhaps discordant with a former pecan grove in Texas, have largely been sheared in a very tasteful and respectful renovation by Bodron/Fruit, finished in 2008.
Principal Svend Fruit notes that the quality of detailing stood out and that their renovation sought only to polish—not to obscure—its quality. Each arch span is the same: "It’s all on this five-foot grid which gives it this great proportion." Travertine floor slabs align exactly with this, at two-and-a-half feet length.
One wing of the ground floor, the staff quarters, saw the most substantial overhaul. Fruit replaced the "rabbit warren" with a flowing, open space. Previously, there was only one small window in the kitchen and small windows in the servants' bedrooms. These were opened up, and an unsightly utility area in the rear was removed. The architects added terrazzo flooring to harmonize with the original travertine. Walnut panels are ubiquitous, bleached the same shade as the originals.
Fruit stresses their aim to "work with the original, but also not make a parody of it. There’s still a lot of the Miesian manner in this house." The public areas generally feature little adornment. An unused space was converted into an impeccably modern reflecting pool, with a new pool house across the creek inspired by Mies.
In the atrium, curving staircases intrude on rectilinearity, and rounded windows mirror their sweeping movement. If the exterior colonnade apes palatial arches, the steel and bronze balustrades in the atrium are far more modern, and are modeled on similar elements in Johnson’s Four Seasons restaurant in New York.
The dining room features internal arches and, originally, Fortuny fabric walls (including panels that could plunge the room into darkness). There’s still no lighting directly above the dining table, an atmospheric effect the architects were keen to retain, though the walls are now covered in an impressive work by Matthew Ritchey.
There were some additional reconfigurations of non-servant space, resulting in a home with six bedrooms, seven full baths, four half baths, a fine library, an office/den space, a media room in a former gym, and more. The result is a great deal of comfort in a home that is a landmark by any measure.
Know of a home for sale or rent that should be featured? Find out how to submit to Dwell.