Philip Johnson, one of America’s most influential postmodern architects spent his weekends in a compound in New Canaan, Connecticut, living in perhaps his most famous work—The Glass House. Johnson donated the property to the National Trust and the 49-acre estate opened to the public in 2005 after his death at the age of 98. Just one hour by train from NYC, this unique experience is a must do and an ideal way to spend a day immersed in nature, architecture and art.
New Canaan is everyone’s fantasy of a charming New England town with a surprisingly good selection of restaurants. For your morning coffee before the tour, skip Starbucks and head to local favorite Zumbach’s, just around the corner from the Visitor Center on Pine Street. A long time staple, Sole for Italian fare, has an excellent prix fixe express menu. Ching’s Table is the place for Asian fusion cuisine. Rosie is excellent for salads and Mexican specialties—order the shrimp tacos, one portion is big enough to share. If it’s nice out, sit on the outdoor patio at Locali and enjoy Napolitano pizza and a salad. Gates just reopened after a long overdue décor redo, a solid choice. Other good choices include: Southend, Baldanza, and Cava.
Start: You begin at the Visitors Center in downtown New Canaan, a mini museum chronicling the evolution of the Glass House and the fascinating life of Philip Johnson and his partner of 45 years art curator and collector David Whitney. (Whitney, 33 years his junior, sadly died of lung cancer just months after Johnson.) After a brief introduction, the 10-minute shuttle ride takes you to the property. The only way to visit the property is to book a tour online. We suggest, for your first time to book the 2 hour Glass House and Galleries Tour, but die hard fans can sign up for the extended tour that includes Johnson’s Studio.
The Main Event: The Glass House, a 1,815 square ft. pavilion with no walls, sits high on a hill seamlessly blending with the surrounding landscape. Frank Lloyd Wright famously asked if he should take his hat off upon entering, alluding to the feeling of being outside even while in the house. The neighboring Brick House, designed at the same time, was considered by Johnson to be one single composition. Over the years the property expanded to 14 structures, creating a architectural theme park that includes Johnson’s Studio, Da Monsta, the Lake Pavilion and separate Sculpture and Painting Galleries. Johnson and Whitney amassed a large and important collection of contemporary art and sculpture during their lifetime, much of which they donated to MoMa. Still, many major works remain in the trust and are shown at the Glass House Galleries. The Painting Gallery presently has Frank Stella’s on display, with the newly renovated Sculpture Gallery set to reopen soon.
Go Now: In celebration of the 10th anniversary of the opening of the Glass House and the 110th anniversary of Johnson’s birth, renowned Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama has installed a version of her famous infinity room with red polka dots covering the entire Glass House. (Only for the month of September.) Kusama also created a new interpretation of her Narcissus Garden, that is open till the end of the season. Sparkling and moving on the Glass House pond the 1,300 stainless steel spheres are a breathtaking sight. A vibrant red pumpkin, her signature piece, completes Kusama’s landscape installation, also on site till the end of November. Kusama and Johnson had both an artistic and personal connection making this tribute even more meaningful.
Best Time: Our tour guide told us she loves November, “half the leaves are on and half are off, though all seasons have their individual charm.” (Note: The Glass House closes for the winter season.)
Shop: The design store at the Glass House Visitor Center has a wonderful collection of curated books, furniture, objects, and works on paper. A limited edition Glass House snow globe (Numbered Edition of 300) has been designed exclusively for the Kusama installation—a wonderful souvenir of “a modern icon in a nostalgic representation.” If you have more time, stroll the boutiques on New Canaan’s Main Street.