Mid-Century Modern Bus Tour, October 8th

“Now, you’re either on the bus or off the bus.” – Ken Kesey

How would you like to take a tour of some of St. Louis’ best mid-century modern residential, commercial and spiritual buildings? You can just sit back and leave the driving to Modern StL on October 8, 2011, from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.

$25 puts you on a bus with either Michael Allen or myself as your tour guide, along with other ModernSTL board members sharing their areas of expertise. It begins at 9 a.m. with a tour of the Ethical Society hosted by architect and Harris Armstrong scholar Andrew Raimist. It ends at 1 p.m. with a narrated tour of Priory Chapel. Between, we cruise through Downtown & Mid-Town St. Louis and some finer residential mid-century modern. Details are still being ironed out, but it’s guaranteed that you will learn, laugh and love the architectural gems of St. Louis even more than before!

ModernSTL was asked by DOCOMOMO to be a part of this nationwide, weekend event celebrating the Modern Movement.  The American mid-century modernist symbol is on our river front, so we’re thrilled to finally have St. Louis represented in this 5th annual Tour Day.

Advance ticket purchases are through PayPal at this link.

There is a limit of 100 seats, and reservations are required. So if you’re on the bus, you gotta hurry, and I hope to see you bright and early on Saturday, October 8th.  You could bring donuts, that’d be cool…

Touring Harris Armstrong Homes

On May 2, 2010, The Sheldon Art Galleries sponsored a benefit tour of four homes designed by St. Louis modernist architect Harris Armstrong. All four homes are within walking distance of each other in the St. Louis County suburb of Sappington, and their ages range from 1937 – 1951. 3 of the 4 homes were actually inhabited by Mr. Armstrong. The home shown above – #2 Sappintong Spur – is the only one of the 4 on the tour that was a commission for a client, the McClure family.

This home dates back to 1937 and is about 75% original fabric. There has been a large and lavish family room and deck added to the rear of the home, which looks great. The rest of the home – including the basement – looks even better.

Click for a Flickr photo tour of #2 Sappington Spur.

Harris Armstrong obviously fell in love with this private street because he designed this home for his family, right next door! From 1938, this is a split level home, and the exterior combines naturalism with the aesthetic of the burgeoning international modernist movement that was emerging on the West Coast at the time.

This home is spectacular, unfolding like a rose! The abundant fenestration, wood built-ins and main level flowing floor plans are clearly modern, while the feel is pure comfort, security and serenity.  This place is currently for sale, with an $800k asking price. It is fairly priced, that’s for sure. It’s gorgeous in every way, and fingers crossed till circulation cuts off that it finds a buyer who loves it just as it is. Especially the tribute to Isamu Noguchi on the ceiling of the master bedroom!

Another great feature while touring this home was finding architect and Armstrong scholar Andrew Raimist at work on his laptop in the den that was once Harris’ home office. He looked so perfectly at home and natural in this setting that I simply took in the scene for several moments before saying hello.

Click for a Flickr photo tour of #3 Sappington Spur.

Harris moved a short walk down the hill from #3 Sappington Spur to this 1951 residence. By now, he was the foremost mid-century modern architect in St. Louis with residential and public commissions galore, so he had earned the right to go architecturally hog wild on his new home. The exterior looks like the perfect halfway point between where his work had been and where it was heading, with the rear elevation resembling an elaborate fort made by neighborhood boys, a childhood fantasy writ large.

The interior is where things go fantastically bizarre in the best way possible. It’s a series of changing levels and cut outs that is overwhelmingly awesome to look at but begs the question: did any of his kids or guests ever injure themselves?  Turns out Harris’ kids were either full-grown and gone or in their late teens when they moved in, so we can assume no children were hurt in the making of this home. As a home one can live comfortably and productively in, #3 Sappington was the clear winner to my mind. But when it comes to jaw-dropping impressiveness, this one wins big!

Click for a Flickr photo tour of 200 South Sappington Road.

While working on the Magic Chef building, Harris’ home office at #3 Sappington Spur was cramping productivity, so it was time for a stand-alone architectural office, proper. In 1948, he moved into his Asian-inspired design, and talk about impressing clients!

Here is the original floor plan of the small office. The dining room shown above was once his drafting studio. When Armstrong retired in 1969, this office was sold and remodeled into a private home. Several wings were added, essentially quadrupling the size of the structure, and for this tour most all of those areas were closed to the public, but as seen from the outside, they blend and/or coordinate nicely with the original office cube.

Click for a Flickr photo tour of 934 Singlepath Lane.

Rock Star Architects
Harris Armstrong Halloween
Harris Armstrong, South Side
Harris Armstrong For Sale

Harris Armstrong, South Side

Because of this report, viagra I got to tour this house!

After posting photos and a review of an Armstrong house for sale in Kirkwood, the current owner of the above house simultaneously contacted BELT and architect Andrew Raimist. She invited us over for a delightful afternoon of architectural euphoria and info sharing.

Before processing any of my surroundings, I immediately ran up to the second floor and out onto the deck (below, left & right. Click on all photos for a larger view).

I’ve spent years gazing up at this house on the hill, imagining myself on that terrace, calmly gazing out at the city below me… And here I finally stood.
And it was good.
And I threw up my arms in victory, squealed, “Yessss!” and waved to any of the people driving down Chippewa who just might have glanced up and noticed a deliriously happy gal dancing atop the house.

(Above, left & right) The backyard of the former Deffaa Residence (where the tombstone of their beloved pet Nuki still resides) is surprisingly large and lush, with the newest owner adding copious greenery accented with whimsical details throughout. There’s even a secret gate at the end of the yard that lets you walk down to the public sidewalk below.

Most all of its original details remain in place (above, right).
While the house is wildly different in style than its neighbors (above left), it gracefully fits in, serving as an exclamation point for the immediate neighborhood.

And one of those neighbors was the gal who now lives inside. Living down the street, she had long coveted the house, and the minute a For Sale sign went up, she knocked on the door to ask for a tour. The owner let her inside, and as she stood in the entry quickly surveying the first floor, she said, “I want to make an offer.”
The owner said, “Uh, don’t you want to see the rest of the place, first?”
Of course, she did, but she already knew she wanted it.
Before financial common sense could kick in, she turned in contracts to the realtor. Immediately after that, major panic set in. But her architectural destiny was this house, and she’s deliriously happy as the Lady Of The House (LOTH).

The top level of the house is the master and 2nd bedroom (above, left & right, respectively), and both have doors that lead onto the outdoor terrace. There is a generous amount of light pouring in because of all the windows, and trees frame every view from the house. The view from the upstairs bathroom window is especially sweet, as it peeks down into the riot of green in the backyard. Note, also, that the master bedroom windows will be mirrored in the exact position on the first floor (coming up, below).

By today’s standards, the bedrooms would be considered small. But, respectfully, I disagree with today’s square footage standards. How big does a bedroom really need to be? If a bedroom also serves as a home gym, office and closet wing, then I suppose it needs to be huge. But if you merely wish to store your clothing and sleep, then a bedroom doesn’t require excessive s.f. The Deffaa House bedrooms are filled with LOTH’s essentials without any sense of clutter or cramp; both rooms feel comfortable and airy, due to all the windows, the wood floors and access to the deck. In the end, how a room feels and functions is much more important than s.f. stats.

The stairwell (above) leading down to ground level is simply breathtaking. So much drama and light in a transitory space.
Every facet of the 68 year old house is in exceptional condition because LOTH has taken great pains to restore and improve as needed. The stairs are a delicious golden honey shade, and a work of fine sculpture in and of themselves.

The front entry (above) summarizes the theme of yards of glass welcoming in the daylight. We arrived in the late afternoon of a cloudy day, and without a single light on, the entire first floor was bathed in light from all sides.

The living room (above) features a gas fireplace recently installed into a space that was formerly a recessed bookcase. Upon reviewing Armstrong’s original floor plans, Raimist discovered that a fireplace was always intended to go in that spot. Meaning, LOTH has an intuitive sense of what’s right for the space!

When experiencing modern homes, it goes one of 3 ways:
#1: The owners stay so authentic to the original aesthetic that the place becomes a sterile museum.
#2: Their inappropriate furnishings have nothing to do with the surroundings and it becomes a tragic waste of space.
#3: They find a way to balance appropriate aesthetics and their lifestyle without breaking the bank or their comfort.
LOTH has achieved #3 in a large way. She told of her previous home’s gothic furnishing not working in the new place, and of her adventures in whittling down, trading over and incorporating old favorites into a new mix. She has the utmost respect and understanding of the lines and feel of the home, but she has not compromised her comfort or personality. The raw physicality of the house has geometric grace and light built in, but the owner – through color, texture and intelligence – has transformed it into a wholly inviting home. Everything about the place feels exactly right.

The stairwell leading up to the 2nd story (above, left) and the dining room as viewed from the entry (above, right). I was pleasantly surprised to find my original portrait of the house on the dining room window sill. Much like sending a fan letter to your favorite star, I mailed a letter with an extra print to the previous owners, just because. They had sent me a thank you card and invited me over for a tour, but it never came about.

Turns out that person had started a scrapbook on the house, which was passed on to LOTH. My original fan letter and photo are part of the contents, which includes a 1986 Suburban Journal article, brief histories of the architect and snapshots of the house throughout the decades and seasons (the house is locally renowned for the simplicity of a lit tree on its balcony at Christmas time). Raimist – who is working on a book about Armstrong – gave LOTH a poster-size print of the house at the time it was built, as well as mountains of detailed information to add to the evolving history of the house.

The galley kitchen (above) is pristine and highly efficient, with another gorgeous view to the backyard. Across from the sink is an entry that leads to the garage and basement. The finished basement contains a laundry, bath and guest bedroom, as well as a small office space. So, in effect, it’s a 3-story house, working efficient square footage in a gorgeous, modern package.
For years, I yearned to see this house, and it was more awesome and inspiring than imagined. Both the owner and the house are a South Side jewel.