MoMA Built a House. Then It Disappeared. Now It’s Found.

CROTON-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. — In 1950, a glass-walled home, now nestled amid flowering bushes right here, spent a few months in Manhattan. Skyscrapers loomed over its flat roof whereas it was on exhibit within the Museum of Modern Art’s backyard. The set up, designed by the architect Gregory Ain and co-sponsored with Woman’s Home Companion journal, was meant to encourage creativity on a price range for residential subdivisions.

According to the museum’s brochure, a system of movable partitions “conveys an illusion of spaciousness” within the two-bedroom constructing. Its flexibility and expansive home windows provided “a view — to the future,” because the journal famous in an eight-page shade characteristic.

But as soon as the attraction was shuttered and dismantled, its destiny fell into obscurity. It appeared to have disappeared.

“I could not believe that the most famous house in New York in 1950 would simply vanish,” he said.

This spring, when The Times contacted the owners, they were surprised to learn that scholars had been pursuing their home. Mary Kelly, a retired New York City Transit Authority executive, bought the property in 1979 with her husband, Ralph (who died in 2013), and she lives there now with three adult sons. Soon after the family had moved in, neighbors told them the building had been born at MoMA. Mary Kelly then alerted the museum, but apparently no records of her calls were kept.

“I knew that it was a famous house,” she said. “This house was not lost. It’s been here all this time.”

Amanda Hicks, a spokeswoman for MoMA, said that the museum is delighted by the Croton-on-Hudson finding and noted that its archival files are becoming more searchable. Research, she added, is “an iterative and revelatory process.”

For Ain, the commission did not amount to much of a professional springboard. His daughter, Emily Ain, said he was “extremely modest” and not a self-promoter. Based in Los Angeles, he did gain recognition during his career for designing unpretentious, sunny dwellings with changeable floor plans.

In 1969, the Skols sold the house to owners who neglected the gardens, did not clean up after their two dozen cats and had a taste for purple woodwork and green carpet. A decade later, when the Kellys went house hunting, they recognized the property’s potential. “As soon as I saw the house, I said, ‘This is it.’ I said, ‘Go no further,’” Mary Kelly said.

Since her childhood in Yonkers, Kelly added, she had dreamed of living in the kind of glamorous, transparent modernist homes she had seen in movies. In a mostly glass house, she said, “You don’t feel closed in to anything.”

A local historian, Jane Northshield, would occasionally stop by to take photographs. But somehow word never reached MoMA’s circles that the Ain house was safe.

The Kellys have preserved the interior walnut planes, cove lighting and most of the room configurations. They added reinforced window glass, skylights, pink carpet, crystal chandeliers and stained-glass lamps. Walls are covered in paintings and prints, whether reproductions of Impressionist masterpieces or folk art portraits, alongside family photos.

“I just like art, I’ve got all kinds of art, I don’t care what it is,” Kelly said. Knickknacks on the shelves include creamy ceramic vessels that her sons made as children and souvenirs of vacations nationwide — the very kind of “odds and ends of family living” that Woman’s Home Companion had envisioned.

A coating of sparkly green stucco on MoMA’s wooden exterior “makes it maintenance-free,” Shaun Kelly, the eldest son, said. He and his brother Scott are retired from the Postal Service and the New York City Transit Authority, respectively; a third brother, Parrish, works as a dietary aide at a nearby nursing home. (A fourth brother, Kryss, died in 2013.)

The property’s 2.7 acres are lush with unusual trees, such as Japanese snowbell and weeping huckleberry. “If it doesn’t give me a flower, it can’t come here,” Mary Kelly said. Neoclassical stone statues, vintage subway signs and metal filigree benches are scattered around the grounds. Mowing the undulating lawn takes about four hours.

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