The simple, rational homes designed by the illustrious architects of the 1950s and ’60s define the era’s values, aesthetics, and lifestyle. The impact of midcentury icons like Philip Johnson’s Glass House and the Eames House is hard to overstate, and more easily understood when experienced in person. As preservation efforts continue across the country, famous homes are increasingly opening as house museums. Read on for the eight residences at the top of our list.
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Designed by famed architect and founder of the Bauhaus school Walter Gropius, the Gropius House in Massachusetts was completed in 1939. Gropius and his wife fell in love with rural New England and opted to design and build their family home in the countryside instead of in Boston or Cambridge. The home incorporates traditional elements of New England architecture—wood, brick, and fieldstone—with distinctly modern forms, technology, and materials like glass block, chrome banisters, a rectilinear shape, and acoustical plaster. Inside, visitors will find the family’s possessions still in place, from furniture designed by Marcel Breuer to pieces designed by Gropius himself while leading the Bauhaus. The house is run by Historic New England and is open to the public Wednesday through Sunday.
Designed between 1949 and 1995 by architect Philip Johnson, The Glass House is a campus of multiple buildings on a 49-acre landscape. The 14 structures include the famed Glass House, completed in 1949, which functioned as Johnson’s residence until his death in 2005 and is noted for its minimal structure, geometry, proportion, and use of glass to achieve transparency and reflection (as well as its close resemblance to Mies van der Rohe’s 1947-1951 Farnsworth House, also included in this list). Other buildings on the property include the Brick House, the solid counterpart to the Glass House, a studio, and a painting gallery, among others. The home is now owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and tours of the site are available to the public in May through November.
Open to the public since 1997, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, which has cared for and preserved O’Keeffe’s home and studio in Abiquiu, New Mexico, since 2003, offers the unique experience to see and experience the residence and surroundings that inspired the influential and significant artist. Although the compound was originally constructed in the Spanish Colonial-era, O’Keeffe purchased it in 1945 and supervised its restoration that was carried out by her friend Maria Chabot; its interiors are simple and sparsely decorated, speaking to the influence of Modernist aesthetics. The site is only open to the public for tours by appointment, and can be visited along with one other of O’Keeffe’s former homes and residences.
Manitoga is the former residence of American industrial designer Russel Wright, and is comprised of a house, studio, and 75-acre quarried landscape. With the help of architect David Leavitt, Wright realized Dragon Rock, the name given to the home; both shared an influence and interest in Japanese design and together incorporated nature and natural elements into the house and studio through siting, scale, structure, intimacy, and details. Approached from below, the house sits on a dramatic landscape created by a former limestone quarry; the home is open to the public seasonally.
The Miller House and Garden, completed in 1953, is a one-of-a-kind showcase of the work of architect Eero Saarinen, designer Alexander Girard, and landscape architect Dan Kiley at a single residence. Originally designed for the family of J. Irwin Miller, a local industrialist and philanthropist, the home features an open floor plan with several custom built-in pieces of furniture—such as one of the earliest conversation pits—that was clad in bold textiles designed by Girard. The geometric gardens include a dramatic allée of honey locust trees, and the home is open to the public for a 90-minute tour.
As one of the most iconic private residences in American midcentury design, the Eames House was completed in 1949 to serve as the home and studio for the husband-and-wife partnership of Charles and Ray Eames. Also known as Case Study House No. 8, the landmark residence was commissioned by the magazine Arts & Culture as part of their program for architects to design progressive, affordable, and modest homes in Southern California. The home’s exterior is comprised of glass and painted metal panels in a grid steel, and was recognized for its bold use of color and functional interior layout. The historic house museum is maintained by the Eames Foundation and is open to the public by appointment.
Although technically not a midcentury building, the Duplex at Modulightor is the only New York City residence designed by noted architect Paul Rudolph that is open to the public and features many of the motifs, materials, and concepts evident in much of his work. Completed in 1989, the building was designed as a residence and commercial building to house Modulightor, the lighting company Rudolph founded with Ernst Wagner. The fifth and sixth floors of the building were added in 2007-2015 by a former Rudolph employee and were based on Rudolph’s early sketches for an unbuilt nine-story building. Today, the building serves in part as the headquarters of the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation is open for Foundation events and for tours by appointment.
Located about two hours outside of Chicago, the Farnsworth House was completed in 1951 by famed architect Mies van der Rohe and is considered one of his most significant and influential works. Consisting of an almost puritanical, transparent facade of glass propped up on thin, white I-beams, the home is an essay on Mies’ struggles to perfect modernist ideals of minimalism and structural expression. Although the home has been subject to flooding from a nearby river near which it was intentionally sited, mitigation efforts have allowed it to remain open to the public seasonally from April through November.