The Remarkable Home of Modernist Designer Russel Wright

Add to
Like
Comment
Share
By Zachary Edelson / Published by Dwell
Recommended by
While Russel Wright was helping shape America's sense of modern design in the mid 20th century, he was also slowly crafting a unique and eccentric home and surrounding landscape in Garrison, NY.

For decades, industrial desinger Russel Wright (1904-1976) helped define what modern living in American would be. His most famous contribution was his organic and sculptural American Modern dinnerware, a collection that sold over 200 million pieces from 1939 to 1959. Unlike any industrial designer before him, Wright became a household name by pressing his signature into the underside of every product he crafted. Wright was also the first to extend his reach from products to culture: in 1950 he and his wife Mary Small Einstein authored Guide to Easier Living, a lifestyle book that adovcated a new informal, relaxed, and well-designed approach suburban living. For example, the Guide described how the modern American home should feature a large living, dining, and kitchen area where hosts and guests seamlessly moved from entertaining to cooking to eating and drinking. 

While Wright designed the interior, architect David L. Leavitt is generally credited with the exterior. Manitoga postdates Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater (built in 1936-39), and while the there is some resemblance, the latter was not a direct inspiration. The two Wrights were not related but were acquaintented with each other.

While Wright designed the interior, architect David L. Leavitt is generally credited with the exterior. Manitoga postdates Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater (built in 1936-39), and while the there is some resemblance, the latter was not a direct inspiration. The two Wrights were not related but were acquaintented with each other.

However,  less well known is his other masterpiece: Manitoga, a house and surrounding landscape that Wright crafted over his lifetime. The Wrights acquired the 75 acres of land (including a large abandoned granite quarry) in Garrison, New York, in 1942. Wright worked with architect David L. Leavitt to design a piece of organic modernist architecture that would meld with its landscape while embodying their idea of modern living. He insisted on numerous eccentric features, such as a foundation without pylons (the house sits directly on the earth) as well as fireplace of stacked stones meant to resemble a natural formation. On the interior, he experimented with different wall and ceiling treatments while directly exposing some rooms to the living rock. The house - named Dragon Rock - includes a main building and a separate live/work studio for Wright. He also worked to craft several "rooms" within the natural landscape, each consisting of an open volume shaped by surrounding rocks and foliage. 

The house and studio were christened "Dragon Rock" by their daughter Ann who said the rock formation resembled a dragon sipping from the pool. The pool was created by feeding a waterfall into to the pit. Seen here is a floating sculpture by current artist-in-resident Stephen Talasnik.

The house and studio were christened "Dragon Rock" by their daughter Ann who said the rock formation resembled a dragon sipping from the pool. The pool was created by feeding a waterfall into to the pit. Seen here is a floating sculpture by current artist-in-resident Stephen Talasnik.

The property is a National Historic Landmark and the Manitoga / Russel Wright Design Center hosts tours. The Center also offers an artist's residency that culminates with an arts installation on the property. 

The green roof required repairs from 2000 to 2010 when tree seedlings began to damage the roof envelope. The building was redesigend with a slight pitch for drainage and a neoprene gasket; a new sedum planting was also installed.

The green roof required repairs from 2000 to 2010 when tree seedlings began to damage the roof envelope. The building was redesigend with a slight pitch for drainage and a neoprene gasket; a new sedum planting was also installed.

Wright's studio, enveloped by windows, sits at level with the landscape around it.

Wright's studio, enveloped by windows, sits at level with the landscape around it.

Wright's bedroom with his studio, seen just beyond through his bookshelves.

Wright's bedroom with his studio, seen just beyond through his bookshelves.

Wright's dining room and living area opened directly to an outdoor terrace. A massive tree trunk, seen center right, helps support the roof.

Wright's dining room and living area opened directly to an outdoor terrace. A massive tree trunk, seen center right, helps support the roof.

Wright would change the color scheme of his interiors, swapping out the white kitchen panels seen here, depending on the season and the landscape's colors.

Wright would change the color scheme of his interiors, swapping out the white kitchen panels seen here, depending on the season and the landscape's colors.

Meticulously transplanted and cultivated moss pathways crisscross the property. Visitors are frequently astonished to learn the paths were not the landscape's natural state.

Meticulously transplanted and cultivated moss pathways crisscross the property. Visitors are frequently astonished to learn the paths were not the landscape's natural state.

Inspired by Japanese landscape design practices, Wright placed this large rock in the center of Manitoga's driveway. Named the Eye of Manitoga, rocks such as these dot the property's trails. They're meant to block movement and force a moment of contemplation.

Inspired by Japanese landscape design practices, Wright placed this large rock in the center of Manitoga's driveway. Named the Eye of Manitoga, rocks such as these dot the property's trails. They're meant to block movement and force a moment of contemplation.