THE MODERN HOUSE II: Louis Kahn’s Esherick House

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Architect:. Louis I. Kahn
Project: Esherick House
Location: Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia PA Date: 1959 – 61
Client: Margaret Esherick (bookseller and bibliophile).
Collaborator: Wharton Esherick (sculptor and carpenter)

Only nine of the many private residences designed by Louis Kahn (1901 – 1974) were built. Margaret Esherick asked Kahn to build her a house outside the city to serve as a retreat from the stresses and distractions of work.

Esherick was a bookseller, had a large personal library and loved to read. Kahn’s design reflects that interest: there are ample built-in bookcases in the living room, which is the full height of the house, and floods of natural light pour in to all rooms from the outsized windows that spanned much of the garden façade. The amount of light is controlled by a system of shutters. The large windows cannot be opened, so Kahn grouped the service areas of the house—kitchen, bathrooms, utility room-together at the left end of the house and installed multiple small windows that could be opened to provide ventilation where needed.

Esherick’s uncle, the sculptor and carpenter Wharton Esherick, designed and made the built-in furniture, cabinets, gallery, and paneling. Kahn allowed the warm wood tones to dominate and chose a beige stucco for the exterior to harmonize with it. Seated on the edge of a public park, the extensive use of wood allows the house to blend into its setting.

The Esherick House is a designated historic landmark, but privately owned. As such, it cannot be altered, expanded or significantly updated. It was recently offered on the market for $1.9 million, but failed to find a buyer. Eventually the house and its three-acre lot sold for $902,000 — an unbelievable price for a house of its importance.

THE MODERN HOUSE I: Richard Meier’s Douglas House

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Architects: Richard Meier Associates

Year: 1971-73

Location: Harbor Springs, MI

Clients: Jim & Jean Douglas, owners Douglas Trucking, Grand Rapids MI

Meier recalls standing on the precipice of the cedar, birch and spruce covered slope that winds down to aquamarine shallows of Lake Michigan and thinking, “Wow, this is great. It seemed to me that we could build on it if, instead of entering at the bottom we entered from the top.”

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