An architect’s home is their experimental canvas – a place where they can explore new ideas without risking a client’s wrath. Stepping into their private dwellings gives you a rare insight into their design ethos, as well as the objects and artefacts they collected.
Many of the 20th century’s biggest names have had their homes preserved in perpetuity. Design pilgrims can explore everything from a Modernist temple in Rio by Oscar Niemeyer to a cylindrical abode by Russian Avant-Garde architect Konstantin Melnikov.
Casa Das Canoas by Oscar Niemeyer, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Oscar Niemeyer’s transparent Das Canoas house was designed in 1951, and blends elements of organic and minimalist architecture. It was designed to sit in shadow so there would be no need for curtains, and its sinuous exterior is surrounded by dense vegetation – which Niemeyer hoped would appear as part of his design – and topped by a curving flat roof. The house has been built into the slope of a hill which offers views across the nearby bay, and incorporates existing boulders into its interior, which Niemeyer designed in partnership with his daughter.
Casa de Vidro by Lina Bo Bardi, São Paulo, Brazil
Italian architect Lina Bo Bardi designed her ‘Glass House’ in 1951, shortly after becoming a Brazilian citizen. Set in the south of São Paulo alongside the Atlantic forest, it was one of the first houses in the Morumbi neighbourhood. Built into the steep terrain, the building is lifted up on stilts that suspend it amid the greenery. Influences of Italian Rationalism can be read in the industrial materials and simple repeated forms, but the home also gives nods to the Brazilian rural vernacular in its two squat, solid volumes that support the glass structure from the back. The architect lived in Casa de Vidro much of her life, and the building now houses her art collection.
Luis Barragán House and Studio, by Luis Barragán, Mexico City, Mexico
It may be unobtrusive from the street, but Mexico City’s Casa Barragán conceals a light-filled interior punctuated with the pops of colour that are its designer’s trademark. The Pritzker Prize-winning architect – whose work is often referred to as ‘emotional architecture’ – built the house in 1948 and its interiors have been left untouched: shelves still brim with books, walls are filled with his artworks by the likes of Diego Rivera and Picasso, and Barragán’s old Cadillac still sits in the garage. His home opens onto a private garden sculpted by the architect himself, and the attached studio regularly holds artists-in-residence.
The Melnikov House, by Konstantin Melnikov, Moscow, Russia
Marked out by its dozens of distinctive hexagonal windows, Konstantin Melnikov’s house is an important icon of the Russian avant-garde, sited in Moscow’s Arbat district. Made from a pair of interlocking cylinders, the home was completed in 1929 and initially approved by authorities as a prototype for workers’ housing. The structure was one of the last buildings designed by Melnikov, whose idiosyncratic style would later earn him a ban from practicing architecture by the Soviet government. It held enough space for his family and studios for both his painting and architectural work.
Lunuganga by Geoffrey Bawa, Bentota, Sri Lanka
Geoffrey Bawa’s country estate Lunuganga, two hours outside Colombo, is a former rubber and cinnamon plantation, which the Sri Lankan architect converted in the 1940s while still working as a lawyer. He gradually updated the property, using it as a place to experiment with tropical Modernism – a movement he pioneered. Inside the building, its black-and-white tiled spaces are still decorated with the architect’s own furniture and objects.
Neutra VDL Studio and Residences by Richard Neutra, Los Angeles, USA
Created in 1932 as an experimental live-work space, Richard Neutra’s VDL Research House is screened by eucalyptus trees in Los Angeles’ Silver Lake. The building includes no less than three reflecting pools, on every level of the house, which combine with its mirrored walls and glass to ‘mesmerising’ effect, as the LA Times architectural critic Nicolai Ourossoff wrote in 1997. Preserved and furnished with original pieces created by Neutra, the house was named a National Historic Landmark earlier this year.
Eames House by Charles and Ray Eames and Eero Saarinen, California, USA
This glass and steel residence – compared by the LA Times to ‘monolithic Mondrian canvases springing from the ground’ – was completed in 1949, and embraced the indoor-outdoor living trend of the time. Its coloured panels contrast the surrounding greenery, while a two-storey atrium welcomes visitors inside. The Eames House has been preserved as it was left when Ray died in 1988, and is filled with pieces collected by the Eames during their lives.
The Glass House by Philip Johnson, Connecticut, USA
This minimalist residence is an exercise in reducing a living space to its bare essentials. Its black steel frame is surrounded by 18-foot wide panes of glass, and rooms are divided only by cabinets and bookshelves – taking open-plan living to the extreme. The Glass House is surrounded by a 47-acre estate, which also houses 14 other structures designed by the American architect over the course of 50 years. Philip Johnson’s interest in Modernism waned as he completed the house, and he later rejected Modernist ideals altogether.
Taliesin by Frank Lloyd Wright, Wisconsin, USA
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Wisconsin home is set in an 800-acre estate and was an on-off residence for the American architect from 1911. The hillside property is a classic Prairie School design – described by Wright as ‘low, wide, and snug’ – and incorporates local yellow limestone and a cantilevered walkway that lets visitors stand among the trees. The house comes with a turbulent history, having been rebuilt twice – once in 1914, after one of Wright’s employees set fire to the building following a murder spree, and again in 1925 after a second fire.
Gropius House by Walter Gropius, Massachusetts, USA
Bauhaus-founder Walter Gropius designed his Massachusetts home in 1937 and lived there until his death in 1969. The house – which he often showed off to his Harvard students – combined the Modernist teachings of the Bauhaus school with a New England aesthetic. It was filled with Bauhaus designs including several pieces of furniture by Marcel Breuer, many of which are still in place.
Albert Frey House II by Albert Frey, Palm Springs, USA
The second of the Swiss-American architect’s homes in California’s Palm Springs, this modest glass-walled house is punctured by a jutting boulder that divides the living and sleeping areas. A leading proponent of desert Modernism, Frey incorporated the rock as a way of getting round an excavation ban on the site. The 800 sq ft residence, which he completed in 1964, features built-in furniture designed by Frey – including a record player – and exceptional views from its mountainside perch.
George Nakashima House, Pennsylvania, USA
An important figure in the American craft movement, George Nakashima hand-built his artist’s compound in Pennsylvania over the course of three decades. The site includes an art gallery, museum, pool house and home, along with several other buildings, which blend Japanese woodworking and craft traditions – such as paper screens and exposed beams – with modernist elements and international influences. Nakashima’s own living spaces aren’t open to the public, but eight of the site’s 14 buildings are – including the Conoid studio, which is topped with an experimental arched concrete roof.
The Alvar Aalto House by Alvar and Aino Aalto, Helsinki, Finland
Set in the outskirts of Helsinki, Alvar Aalto’s hybrid home and studio was designed in partnership with his first wife Aino between 1935 and 1936. The building’s untouched surroundings were the starting point for Aalto’s design, and the house is an early example of his Romantic Functionalist works, pairing natural materials with simple, uncluttered rooms. Used as an experimental space, the house includes several prototype furniture and lighting pieces created by Aalto – who lived in the property until his death in 1976.
Can Lis by Jørn Utzon, Majorca, Spain
Pritzker Prize-winning architect Jørn Utzon – designer of the Sydney Opera House – completed his cliffside Majorca home in 1972, and lived there until the 1990s. Built using Majorcan sandstone, which frames seaside views over the southern coast of the island, the building’s five sections feature sparse interiors with built-in seating. The home has been renovated, and is now available to rent in July and August.
Villa E-1027 by Eileen Gray, Cote d’Azur, France
Eileen Gray’s recently restored Villa E-1027 – one of a cluster of buildings that make up the Modernist enclave, Cap Moderne – comes with a hefty slice of history. Described by The Guardian as a ‘lost legend of 20th-century architecture’, the cuboid house was Gray’s first creation, completed in 1929 for the architect and her lover Jean Badovici. She designed several pieces of furniture specifically for the building – which Le Corbusier claimed stole from his own style. In revenge, he added a series of unauthorised wall paintings which have, ironically, now become protected artworks.
Le Cabanon by Le Corbusier, Cote d’Azur, France
Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier designed this tiny seaside hut (also in Cap Moderne) as a secluded retreat. Built in 1951 and newly added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list, the Cabanon exemplifies his ‘modulor’ principles, based on human proportions. Walls are 2.26m high, the height of a six-foot man with one arm raised (the basic modulor unit). It offers just a single wood-panelled room, which was attached to the neighbouring cafe – to make up for the cabin’s lack of a kitchen. Le Corbusier, who spent 18 summers in the cabin, once declared: ‘I feel so fine here… this is likely where I will breathe my last breath.’ This statement turned out to be sadly prophetic. He drowned in the sea in front of the Cabanon in 1965.
Van Schijndel House by Mart van Schijndel, Utretcht, Netherlands
Six years in the making, Mart van Schijndel built his house of ‘air and light’ in 1992. The building is known for its hingeless glass doors, which are fixed only by silicone, and is furnished almost entirely with pieces designed by the Dutch architect. It blends into the surrounding street, hidden behind a striped windowless facade that conceals its most striking features. Van Schijndel house was awarded the Rietveld Prize in 1995, and in 1999 was added to Utrecht’s list of municipal monuments.