Harris Armstrong For Sale

harris armstrong architecture photos by toby weiss
Harris Armstrong was St. Louis’ most famous modern architect. Some in-tact examples of his work include (above left) a residence in South St. Louis up behind the Donut Drive-In on Chippewa, and a commercial building (above right) on Brentwood, across from Brentwood Square. Some of his remuddled buildings include the U-Haul skyscraper at Kingshighway & Hwy 44, and the former Library Ltd./Borders building at Forsyth & Hanley in downtown Clayton. Should architect Andrew Raimist gets some free time, he will unleash a proper book on the work of Harris Armstrong, which would cover a prolific 4-decade career of residential and commerical Midwest Modernism.
harris armstrong homes in webster groves mo photo by toby weiss
A Harris Armstrong-designed house from 1951 is for sale in Kirkwood. My lovely friend Marla had previously waved her Modern Magic Wand and gave me my first true taste of Lustron; now she graciously allowed me and an interior designer pal to get a peek inside an Armstrong.
harris armstrong in webster groves mo photo by toby weiss
It’s the lead house of a cul-de-sac off Woodlawn Avenue, with 3 bedrooms, 1.5 baths, 2-car garage and an asking price of $249,000. From the front, its lines are very spare and the detail of the wood beams under the eave of the roof continuing uninterrupted through a large expanse of glass and into the living room is a nice touch.

The backside of the house severely lacks the subtle drama of the front, and that much brown becomes depressing. I refrained from scratching through some wood planks to find the original paint color, and while Armstrong favored natural colors for private residences, something tells me this brown was not it.
interior of harris armstrong home in webster groves mo photos by toby weiss
Inside, the entry foyer (above left) packs a bit of suburban ranch punch, though someone added a clumsy plywood guest closet at some point, breaking up the brick lines.
There’s plenty of light spilling into the living and dining room, and the stairs (above right) leading up to the bedroom level politely thrust at a jaunty little angle.

harris armstrong webster groves mo photos by toby weiss
2 original light fixtures remain; one in the living room (above left) and the other above the entrance to the tiny, galley kitchen (above right).
harris armstrong webster groves mo photos by toby weiss
The only true Armstrongian touches are the handsome, floating cabinetry (above left) and a built-in window seat (above right) in the living room. After that, everything about the house was utterly normal and somewhat bland because of years of familiarity with this house type. Even though it’s a good size for a family of three, our current American standards of acceptable square footage makes the house seem small.

The designer pal summed it up best when he said the house looked like Armstrong had made a quick sketch of an idea and then handed it off to a builder. That most of the other houses in this cul-de-sac are slight variations on the theme (see next door neighbor, below), shows the builder ran with the idea, even improved upon it.

So, is the house really worth $249K?
Marla said $210K is about right for the immediate area, so the pedigree jacks up the price.
With a different exterior paint color (or two) and some extensive cleaning,* it would be a sharp, split-level ranch house that Harris Armstrong paid a bit of attention to.

* When a realtor suggests improvements, it’s not to pass judgement, but to make the house attractive to buyers, which makes it sell faster, which then benefits everyone involved. If the realtor should mention taking a quick swipe to yards of cobwebs on the exterior, man, you really should. It’s the least you could do if you want to sell the house for anywhere near the asking price.

Lustron Life

Webster Groves Lustron photo by Toby Weiss
Ridge Ave., Webster Groves, MO
The neighborhood is lousy with ’em, and an architect pal discovered a couple of them were for sale. My friend Marla waved her magic wand and gave us an insiders tour.

While I’ve always admired (and stalked) the Lustron, I’d never been inside. Now that I have, I adore the Lustron.
Interior of Webster Groves Lustron by Toby Weiss
Just a tad over 1000 s.f., the place feels expansive because there’s no wasted space. All is in logical order for efficient living. To the touch, all surfaces have a velvety lustre.
Kitchen cabinets in Webster Groves Lustron by Toby Weiss
Cabinets are the primary kitchen concern. This Lustron has cabinet space to spare, a kitchen both traditional and ultra-modern in the same breath. Laundry and utilities are tucked so discreetly off to the side that you have to purposely search to find them.
Master bedroom metal cabinetry in Webster Groves Lustron by Toby Weiss
The streamline economy of the public spaces is sweet, but the “master” bedroom is decadent luxury. Two built-in closests, a cornice of overhead cabinets and an 8-drawer vanity with picture-window mirror are molded into one piece that fills an entire wall. It’s sophisticated and functional!

I’ve spent the last few years trying to whittle down my possessions, working on achieving a minimalist life. With this bedroom, all I’d need is my bed and the nightstand. Everything else would tuck neatly into the wall!

I want this house real bad like. It fits my aesthetic, but not my pocketbook. When listed, it was a bit overpriced, and even if they were talked down to $110K, still can’t afford it. And now Lustron is the house that got away…
Detail of Webster Groves MO Lustron photo by Toby Weiss