A well-designed season ahead

Design enthusiasts, art lovers and tourists from around the world have been faithfully making the journey to The Glass House in New Canaan since it opened its doors to the public in 2007.

WAG was among those visitors, touring the design destination for a story that graced the pages of our June 2015 issue.

The home of architect Philip Johnson (1906-2005) — a weekend retreat-turned-residence for Johnson and his partner of 45 years, curator and art collector David Whitney — is commemorating its 10th anniversary as a public museum in 2017.

And in mid-January, the National Trust for Historic Preservation site announced the appointment of veteran Johnson scholar Hilary Lewis as chief curator and creative director.

A member of the site’s Advisory Council who has spent more than two decades focused on Johnson’s work, Lewis shared in the announcement that, “Having sat side-by-side with Johnson for years, I feel confident that what would honor his and David Whitney’s memory most would be for the property to evolve further as a center for the appreciation of architecture, design and art not just as a museum of Johnson and Whitney’s lives in New Canaan.”

Lewis, an architectural historian, curator and journalist who co-authored “Philip Johnson: The Architect in His Own Words” and “The Architecture of Philip Johnson,” took time to chat with WAG on a recent morning, just two weeks into her new role.

Already, she notes, The Glass House is about much more than its May-through-November tour season. Off-site programming, such as a late-February “Glass House Presents” lecture at the New Canaan Library, is an example of audience building.

In the beginning, Lewis says, tours filled very quickly, “because there were so many people in the fields of architecture and art” wanting to see the property. Today, she says, the reach is broader, with visitors drawn from a wider spectrum of interests.

Having its Visitor Center in the heart of New Canaan’s downtown is “a huge boon,” Lewis says. Shuttles take visitors from the Center, which gives visitors their first glimpse into the site’s aesthetic, to the house and back.

“We have a very vibrant design store, which has had great success,” adds Lewis, who is embracing both her expanded role — and its timing.

“This is an opportunity to look towards the next 10 years.”

Guiding her will be a keen perspective, firsthand knowledge of “how Johnson and Whitney utilized the site, their approach to collecting” and their thoughts on art and architecture.

“I’m trying to bring that all,” into play, she says, while ensuring The Glass House is part of the larger “architectural conversation.”

She says she also hopes to raise the awareness of how important landscape was to Johnson, in both his professional and personal lives.

“When Johnson purchased the property, originally in the 1940s, it was only a five-acre spot,” Lewis says. “I think it’s important to note Philip Johnson was passionate about landscape” and would eventually expand his holdings to nearly 50 acres.

“That was an ongoing passion for the two of them, to work with the landscape,” she says of Johnson and Whitney.

Johnson’s vision, she continues, encompassed “the entirety of the property,” likening the approach to “the way someone would talk about Villa Borghese in Rome.”

In his residential design work, Lewis adds, Johnson would evaluate client requests, pointedly asking, “But do you have land? Do you have the right kind of land?”

While Johnson’s New Canaan showcase continues in a most artful manner, enhanced by an ongoing commitment to restoration and preservation, the property also comes to life through its lineup of exhibitions and performances. In addition, it’s also sought after for photo shoots and private events and is even witness to the occasional brush with celebrity. Vogue’s February cover story on actress Dakota Johnson — no relation — mentioned it as one of the story’s interview sites.

Trending is simply part of life at The Glass House, where a pretty big party is also planned.

Details are forthcoming for the annual Summer Party, set for June 10 — but Lewis assures this year’s edition is “our special 10th anniversary gala, which will be even more exciting.”

For more, visit theglasshouse.org.

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