Photographer: Marcott Studios
While the ‘Harvard 5’ of mid-Century Modern architects, who designed dozens of the flat roof specimens still standing in the area – including, Noyes, Breur, Gores, Johansen, and Johnson – may be more well known locally than Edward Durell Stone, there should be no mistaking that it is Stone who is the ‘Father of the International Style of mid-Century Modern Architecture’. And while Johnson’s ‘Glass House’ may be the most celebrated house in the area, it is actually Stone’s Celanese House that might properly be called the most important local example of mid-Century International style architecture.
Stone was first. While Stone may have been influenced by the more Cubist and Bauhaus style work of Le Corbusier in Europe in the 1920s, Stone’s pure Internationalism was truly original. The first house he designed, the Richard H. Mandel House in Mt. Kisco – a stellar example for all of the International style variations to follow – was built in 1933! For reference, Eliot Noyes, the senior member of the ‘Harvard 5’, built his first house in 1941, the Hallman and Bremer houses in New Canaan in 1950, and his own residence, the Noyes House in New Canaan, in 1955. And Philip Johnson’s first house was built in 1941, and his own residence, the Glass House in New Canaan, wasn’t built until 1949.
Stone’s achievement is staggering. His most outstanding public buildings include Radio City Music Hall in New York City (1932), the Modern Museum of Art (1936), the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, India (1959), The John F. Kennedy Center For The Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. (1962), the General Motors Building in New York City (1964), and, locally, the PepsiCo Headquarters in Purchase, New York (1969). And the Celanese House, originally commissioned by the Fortune 500 Celanese Corporation in 1957, and opened in 1959 to showcase the practical use of some of their newly developed plastics, metals, fabrics and other industrial products, is a perfect representation of Stone’s particular decorative flair within the International mode. It’s as iconic as Gilmore D. Clark’s Globe at the 1964 World’s Fair, still standing in Corona Park, Queens, New York. Internationalism predicted a modern and global future, like something right out of The Jetsons. And the Celanese House being a particular showcase of ‘space age’ materials – when built in 1959, and as most recently renovated – makes it a most prized example of the period.
Eternally, the Celanese House’s most distinctive features are its lattice facade, and the array of clear pyramids that point upwards out of the roof. Stone used curtain walls or veils, usually consisting of a repeated brick or concrete element with a geometric shape, and forming a decorative pattern, to create a see-through hard-wall or screen – giving an otherwise plain horizontal plane a sense of significance and character. Stone used this technique at his own residence, the Edward Durell Stone House on East 64th Street in New York City, and at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi – which Frank Lloyd Wright, who was friends with Stone and credited him as an inspiration for his own transition into Modernism, called ‘the most beautiful building he’d ever seen’. Stone was also noted for his novel use of geometric shapes atop the rectangular cube – as with his use of domes at the House of Good Taste designed for the 1964 New York World’s Fair and the Pavilion at SUNY Albany, and his use of pyramids at the North Carolina State Legislative Building and at the Christian Science Pavillion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair – designs which were drawn from Classical origins, but which informed later Modernist giants such as Saarinen and Pei. And while his inspirational facades and geometrics give architectural reference to his work, a part of his modernism and futurism was to utilize the functional aspects of these designs to usher in a new ‘green’ and environmentally conscious school of architectural design. Stone’s curtain wall facades were often designed to shade the building they front – in terms of privacy and sunlight, and his rooftop geometrics were designed to bring light into the structure – what’s today called ‘passive solar’.
The genius of Stone’s architectural geometry is also clearly evidenced in the flow, function and experience of the interior. Light streams in from the glass pyramids in the roof. The glass back wall maximizes the view of the expansive back patio and backyard. The entrance foyer and the main living area, separated by a floor-to-ceiling fireplace, are in the center of the main floor of the house. The master bedroom suite, second ensuite bedroom, kitchen, study and two car garage are located to the west, and third and fourth ensuite bedrooms and a large enclosed courtyard are located to the west. The bedroom suites are each completely private, yet the experience from the entrance foyer, living room and kitchen is that of one, big, open great room. A full media room has been installed on the lower level. There’s an overwhelming sense of privacy and calm throughout.
The Celanese House property and location are also noteworthy. Stone, like Noyes, was focused on the interaction between inside and outside, and the resident’s experience of nature. The glass back wall of the house opens to a large and private backyard on the 2+ acre parklike property. The house location on prestigious Oenoke Ridge was a signal that the International-style residence, much smaller than anything else then on the avenue, belonged in the neighborhood, and the irony of being located directly across the street from the largest-on-the-block stone Tudor mansion, built in the Great Estate era in 1929, called Orchard’s End, designed by noted architect William B. Tubby, was probably not lost on Stone.
Approaching its 75th anniversary, the Celanese House is now FOR SALE!
It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to own one of the most iconic and important residences by the Father of the International style, Edward Durell Stone – and to live in comfort and vogue in one of New Canaan’s best areas.