Saarinen’s Miller House Opens to the Public
April 6, 2011
Eero Saarinen’s Miller House is Indiana’s cousin to the Mies van der Rohe Farnsworth House and Philip Johnson’s Glass House — an archetype for mid-century modern domestic architecture, privately owned for most of its history. Because it was only accessioned to the Indianapolis Museum of Art three years ago, after its last owner died, the house remains exactly as it was designed to look in 1953.
A system of cruciform structural steel columns establishes a grid that informs the structure of the house. The geometry of the house’s plan and its orientation to the landscape on multiple axes recalled to some Andrea Palladio’s sixteenth-century Villa Rotunda at Vicenza, Italy. Interior walls echo the lines of this grid without following them exactly. Each corner of the grid is occupied by a function requiring privacy: master, family, and guest bedrooms, and a kitchen/service area. The central, open space of the floor grid contains the main living area of the house, which in turn flows into a dining area to the north, a sitting room to the south, and outward to a terrace on the west that overlooks the house’s most significant view, a vista down a precisely angled embankment and across a broad, flat lawn that sweeps away to an irregular fringe of trees along the distant Flatrock River.
Industrialist and philanthropist J. Irwin Miller and his wife Xenia Simons Miller commissioned the Finnish-born Saarinen to build the home in 1953, after admiring the work of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe who epitomized the international Modernist aesthetic (open and flowing layout, flat roof and stone and glass walls).
Miller House blueprint by Eero Saarinen, courtesy of Miller House and the Indianapolis Museum of Art.
The interior’s remarkable sense of soft, even light is the result of a skylight system that crosses the roof along the lines of the structural grid, and which allows panels of the ceiling to appear to float unsupported by adjacent walls. A sunken conversation pit just to the west of the main living area allows for copious seating without the visual clutter that would result from additional groupings of chairs, sofas, and tables.
Interior design by Alexander Girard. Miller House images courtesy of Miller House and the Indianapolis Museum of Art.
Landscape design by Daniel Urban Kiley. Miller House images courtesy of Miller House and the Indianapolis Museum of Art.
“The landscape’s grandest feature is an allée of honey locust trees that defines an axis along the west side of the house, extending almost to the limits of the property. With finely textured buff-colored crushed stone beneath the entire allée, the dark honey locusts stand out in sharp contrast, their lacy foliage gently filtering the sunlight. Subsequent to the allée’s construction, it received a sculptural terminus at each end: a bas relief by Jacques Lipschitz at the south and a reclining female figure by Henry Moore at the north; both were later sold at auction as part of the process of estate settlement.”
To reserve a tour of Miller House in Columbus, Indiana, visit the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s website.