Friday, November 24, 2006

Collecting Modern Houses: The Supply Dwindles as the Demand Rises

Are Modern houses likely to become objects for collectors the way paintings and other artworks are? I came upon this notion somewhere before, although I can't remember where -- that Modern houses are being looked at by some people as works of art, which perhaps will appreciate in value like works of art. I thought of it again the other day when I heard that Phillip Johnson’s Hodgson House, which is across the road from his landmark Glass House in New Canaan, recently sold to two men who also own a 1956 Modern designed by Willis N. Mills on the same road. The Hodgson House went on the market (for $4.3 million) earlier this year, complete with a historic preservation easement that guaranteed that it would neither be knocked down and replaced with a McMansion (which New Canaan is justifiably notorious for allowing) nor altered beyond recognition. The Mills house was on the market when I visited it, in October 2004, during the New Canaan Historical Society’s most recent Modern House Day, but it hasn’t sold.

The Hodgson House

The Glass House

Which leads me to conclude that perhaps these fellows are becoming collectors. Thanks to the tear-down phenomenon (which a writer named Timothy Dumas describes here, in a magazine imaginatively titled “New Canaan Darien & Rowayton”), the supply of mid-century Modern houses is obviously dwindling. And yet thanks mainly to people in New Canaan who are appalled that exquisite houses are being destroyed, Moderns have gotten a fair amount of attention in recent years.

In at least one case, the attention has done some good. The word among Modern house aficionados in New Canaan was that during the 2004 Modern House day, a tour bus drove past a Marcel Breuer house, on West Road, and someone mentioned that it was empty and likely to be razed. One of the people on the bus subsequently checked it out, found the house to his liking, and bought it. Dumas confirms this:

… Scarcely a week goes by when a writer or historian does not visit the New Canaan Historical Society to peruse the voluminous modern house files, Janet Lindstrom reported. And modern house tours are packed with appreciative fans. In 2004 a tour run by the historical society actually saved a well-known Breuer from destruction. A builder had bought the house on West Road intending to tear it down. Once made aware of its pedigree, however, he agreed to sell to a local couple who’d fallen for the 1951 classic as Richard Bergmann guided them through its rooms of glass and stone.

breuer west lane front facade 1
House designed by Marcel Breuer

Drive past the house now and you can see that it is being renovated extensively. Same for the so-called Celanese house, on Oeonoke Ridge Road, which Edward Durrell Stone designed (it’s also known as the pyramid house because of eight or so small pyramids adorn the roof). A local couple bought it and are renovating it, although I don’t think they’re “collectors.”

Celanese House

So the attention probably has increased demand. And when the supply drops and the demand increases, there’s only one way for prices to go. If you have a few million looking to be invested, you could probably do worse than putting it into a Modern house, especially in New Canaan.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is great news. It's great to know that these magnificent homes will be appreciated and cared for.

10:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this piece. I grew up in New Canaan and always loved the "modern" houses I saw or that friends occupied. Recently purchased "The Harvard Five in N.C." and was appalled to learn how many have been torn down indiscriminately. Also recently visited NC and was equally appalled by the trash being built (why mince words?). It's so much garbage, totally lacking in sophisticated design and integrity. Welcome, to the Barbarians at the Gate.

3:46 PM  

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