With $1 Million, You Can Save Philip Johnson’s First Commissioned House

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By Jenny Xie / Published by Dwell
Under threat and in need of a new owner, the Booth House in Bedford, New York, is a minimal dwelling with a deep connection to its wooded surroundings.

Those who have dreamed of living in Philip Johnson’s renowned Glass House now have the chance to roost in its immediate precursor and the architect’s first built commission—the Booth House in Bedford, New York.

With $1 Million, You Can Save Philip Johnson’s First Commissioned House - Photo 1 of 9 - A 1976 photo by Robert Damora shows the Booth House in its forested setting. Robert, who developed techniques to capture a sense of space and volume, was once hailed by Walter Gropius as "the best photographer of architecture in this country."  

A 1976 photo by Robert Damora shows the Booth House in its forested setting. Robert, who developed techniques to capture a sense of space and volume, was once hailed by Walter Gropius as "the best photographer of architecture in this country."  

Completed in 1946, the residence was originally built for an advertising executive and his wife before becoming a rental property for the groundbreaking architectural photographer Robert Damora and architect Sirkka Damora in 1955. The Damoras, who went on to purchase the home, have been the custodians of the house ever since. Now 93 years old, Sirkka urgently seeks a new owner for this piece of architectural history, which is being offered at $1 million. Litigation over the title means that the Booth House faces being torn down, so its buyer will also be its rescuer.

With $1 Million, You Can Save Philip Johnson’s First Commissioned House - Photo 2 of 9 - The entryway leads into the living room, and a low wall hides the staircase that leads to the lower level from view.

The entryway leads into the living room, and a low wall hides the staircase that leads to the lower level from view.

With $1 Million, You Can Save Philip Johnson’s First Commissioned House - Photo 3 of 9 - Reminiscent of the Glass House, a monumental brick fireplace stands in the center of the living room. "Because the home was designed for a couple without children, it's a very large, open space that was signature of the modern experiments at the time," says Matthew. 

Reminiscent of the Glass House, a monumental brick fireplace stands in the center of the living room. "Because the home was designed for a couple without children, it's a very large, open space that was signature of the modern experiments at the time," says Matthew. 

Boasting expansive glass walls and a central brick fireplace, the Booth House exhibits the same elements that Johnson bestowed the Glass House, which was completed three years later. The dwelling comes as part of a post-World War II housing experiment to create affordable homes with new building technologies, and it makes use of modest materials like concrete blocks and plate glass. Booth House takes a simple rectangular form, and its open plan encourages shared family experiences. "This is a town of large Colonial Revival houses," says the Damoras’ son, Matthew Damora. "Folks were not used to what we were doing, but it’s all my sister and I ever knew."

With $1 Million, You Can Save Philip Johnson’s First Commissioned House - Photo 4 of 9 - Landis Gores, a fellow member of the Harvard Five, collaborated with Johnson about the finer details; the two would picnic on the site.

Landis Gores, a fellow member of the Harvard Five, collaborated with Johnson about the finer details; the two would picnic on the site.

With $1 Million, You Can Save Philip Johnson’s First Commissioned House - Photo 5 of 9 - The original kitchen was designed by the Booths, and Robert renovated it in 2000, making it ergonomic for his wife Sirkka's shorter frame.

The original kitchen was designed by the Booths, and Robert renovated it in 2000, making it ergonomic for his wife Sirkka's shorter frame.

Twenty-eight feet of floor-to-ceiling glass allows nature to permeate living spaces. Matthew remembers experiencing snowstorms in the house: "You can watch snowflakes flutter down from the treetops to the ground. It’s an involvement with the exterior that you don’t have with traditional housing." As a child, he also took advantage of the large door in his bedroom, stepping out to wander in the moonlight without his parents knowing. Sirkka recalls glimpsing the Northern Lights from the home.

With $1 Million, You Can Save Philip Johnson’s First Commissioned House - Photo 6 of 9 - A large window from the bedroom overlooks the sunken terrace that allows the basement-level studio to open to the outside.

A large window from the bedroom overlooks the sunken terrace that allows the basement-level studio to open to the outside.

With $1 Million, You Can Save Philip Johnson’s First Commissioned House - Photo 7 of 9 - Built in the early 60s, the separate concrete-and-glass studio echoes the original home.

Built in the early 60s, the separate concrete-and-glass studio echoes the original home.

Expanding the living space from 1,450 square feet to 2,320 square feet, the Damoras transformed a rough basement into office space for their architectural practice, adding a sunken courtyard and a glass wall. Johnson, whose buildings were photographed by Robert Damora, even came by to approve the project. "He thought it was totally within the vocabulary of what he’d done," says Matthew. The couple also built a separate 800-square-foot studio with a large skylight, which sits in dialogue with the house on two acres of mature woodland.

With $1 Million, You Can Save Philip Johnson’s First Commissioned House - Photo 8 of 9 - An archival photo shows the interior of the detached studio with drafting tables awash in light through the enormous skylight above.

An archival photo shows the interior of the detached studio with drafting tables awash in light through the enormous skylight above.

With $1 Million, You Can Save Philip Johnson’s First Commissioned House - Photo 9 of 9 - As you approach the home from below, it gives the impression of gradually emerging from the natural landscape.

As you approach the home from below, it gives the impression of gradually emerging from the natural landscape.

For more information about the Booth House or to schedule a showing, contact Matthew Damora at r.damora@verizon.net or (718) 230-8858.