Modern Icons

Photo by Eirik Johnson
Photo by Eirik Johnson

Tour some of the American houses that captured the zeitgeist of the mid-20th century, and stay awhile to enjoy the neighborhood.

Modern architecture changed the way people thought about their homes and how they lived. By the mid-20th century, visionary architects had made a complete break with the traditional. Open floor plans became commonplace, and the use of steel, concrete and glass as building materials became standard. Some of these houses are significant, historic designs, and thanks to the efforts of preservationists, are open to the public. Here are three icons of modern architecture that can provide the focus for a trip to the East Coast, Western Pennsylvania or Los Angeles.


Photo by Eirik Johnson, courtesy of the National Trust for Historic Preservation Photo by Eirik Johnson, courtesy of the National Trust for Historic Preservation

Architect Philip Johnson helped to define what people think of as modern architecture as much as anyone. His 1949 Glass House is the first of 14 structures Johnson designed and built on his 47-acre New Canaan estate over five decades. It was home for him and his life partner, art collector David Whitney, until 2005, the year they both died.

Johnson willed the estate to the National Trust for Historic Preservation before his death, and since 2007 the Trust has offered seasonal tours of the estate and the Glass House pavilion. Six different tours are offered ranging in cost from $30 to $250 per person. All tours begin at the Philip Johnson Visitors Center in New Canaan. The tour season runs from May to November, and advance reservations are required. For more information and tickets, go to or call 866-811-4111.

Hop a Train

Why bother with a car when the Metro-North Railroad offers service from New York’s Grand Central Station to New Canaan approximately every half hour during the day? The 80-minute trip entails transferring at Stamford during off-peak hours. Easy enough.

The Philip Johnson Glass House Visitor Center is conveniently located directly across the street from the train station in New Canaan and provides the only transportation to the Glass House.

Stroll and Shop

After the tour, take some time to explore the upscale and picturesque town of New Canaan. It’s a walkable destination, full of unique shops, cafés and things to see.

Togs, 66 Elm St., offers many contemporary designers and is a favorite for locals. At Pennyweights, 124 Elm St., find affordable and interesting silver jewelry.

Or, Take New York

Maybe you’ve had your fill of architecture—modern or quaint. Well, the train runs two ways. If New York is where you’re staying, then by all means get back and take it on. The stores on Fifth Avenue are still open.


Photo courtesy of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy Photo courtesy of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy

Fallingwater, the house designed by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright for Edgar Kaufmann in southwestern Pennsylvania, hangs over a waterfall using the architectural device known as the cantilever. Completed in 1939, the house instantly became famous. Wright described his architectural style as “organic”—in harmony with nature. The water, the forest, the rock ledges—all were elements to be interwoven with the serenely soaring spaces of his structure.

Today, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy operates Fallingwater and offers various levels of public tours and interactions. It will be open daily beginning March 15. On the basic one-hour guided tour, visitors experience the interplay between interior and exterior space by the numerous terraces, open-air walkways and unexpected views of the trees and water as you move through all the major rooms of the house. Tickets may be purchased online at or by calling 724-329-8501.

Fallingwater is located in southwest Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands about 90 minutes from downtown Pittsburgh. The home sits in a scenic, wooded setting on PA Route 381 between the quaint villages of Mill Run and Ohiopyle.

Exploring the Area

Fallingwater is located in the Laurel Highlands (, a vast natural area encompassing Pennsylvania’s tallest mountains and deepest gorges. Eight state parks in the vicinity open the area to hiking, picnicking, canoeing, fishing and camping. History abounds: Fort Ligonier was key to developments in the French and Indian War, and more recently, the passengers of Flight 93 made their heroic last stand in the skies directly overhead. The Flight 93 National Memorial marks the crash site.

Golfing the Laurel Highlands

Golfing lore runs deep in the Highlands since the town of Latrobe is the home of Arnold Palmer, one of the most successful and popular golfers to ever play the game. Visitors to the area have the opportunity to play the courses that Palmer still plays for fun. The SpringHill Suites in Latrobe offers a “Stay and Play” package that includes playing the 18-hole Latrobe Country Club, where Palmer learned to play golf as a youth.

Enjoy beautiful mountain vistas while chasing your ball at the Seven Springs Mountain Resort, a 6,500-yard par 71 course that takes full advantage of its rolling terrain to offer a challenge for any golfer.

THE EAMES HOUSE, Pacific Palisades, CA

Photo courtesy of the Eames Foundation Photo courtesy of the Eames Foundation

Charles and Ray Eames were two of the most influential designers of the 20th century, having produced a number of iconic pieces of furniture that most modern homes aren’t without. If very little is discussed about the architecture of the Eameses besides their own house, it is because they designed very little architecture besides their own house. They abandoned architecture in favor of furniture shortly after their house was completed in 1949.

It’s informative to know how this married couple lived. The self-guided tour of their home is of the exterior. However, the last look allows visitors to gaze into the Eames’ living room and see how they utilized their iconic furniture along with their possessions. It’s a view of a real living space for real modern lives.

The Eames House is located at 203 Chautauqua Blvd. in Pacific Palisades, Calif. There is no parking at the house. Free street parking is available on Corona del Mar, just north of the house, a five-minute walk. To arrange a tour call 310-459-9663 at least 48 hours in advance of your visit.

Combing the Beach

The Eameses lived in the Santa Monica area, and their office/studio was in adjoining Venice Beach. The Venice Boardwalk provides an excellent beach walk and gives the walker an anthropological study of the species Homo sapiens. There are always specimens worth writing home about and Italian ices to be consumed in the process. If you have the stamina, keep hoofing north a half mile to the Santa Monica Pier where you can rest with your favorite beverage and watch the seals loll in the sun. Or ride the Ferris wheel at night for a great view of the coast.

Shopping 3rd Street

Santa Monica’s world-famous alfresco 3rd Street Promenade shopping experience includes national stores, name brand clothing and independent boutiques, all in the heart of downtown. There’s something always going on, either by street performers or the gaggle of colorful Californians all around you.

Most of the leading national fashion stores are represented including Abercrombie & Fitch, Anthropologie, The Gap and all its iterations, J. Crew and Patagonia to name a few. The area is distinctive in the number of independent stores available to customers. Serious shoppers take note.

Where to Stay

georgian-hotel-santa-monica The Georgian Hotel

Roger Sherman Inn – Historic 18th-century bed-and-breakfast inn. 17 rooms available. From $125/night double. 195 Oenoke Ridge Rd. New Canaan, Conn.

The Standard – This relatively new boutique hotel is located on the High Line in Manhattan, just a quick train ride from New Canaan. From $395/night double. 848 Washington, New York, N.Y. 

Seven Springs Mountain Resort – Not just a ski resort anymore, this is a year-round family vacation center with destination golf during the warmer months. It’s 33 miles from Fallingwater. Rooms from $130/night double. 777 Waterwheel Dr., Seven Springs, Pa. 

Colonial House on Main – The quaint town of Ligonier is a good base for visiting Fallingwater, about 40 miles away. This 1906 house now features four suites for visitors. Rooms from $145/night double. 231 W. Main St., Ligonier, Pa. 724-238-6804.

The Ambrose Hotel– Boutique hotel located by the Wilshire business district. Complimentary chauffeur service for destinations within a three-mile radius. Rooms from $220/night double. 1255 20th St., Santa Monica. 

The Georgian Hotel – Old Hollywood glamour still lives in this “first lady” of the Santa Monica coastline. Rooms from $289/night double. 1415 Ocean Ave, Santa Monica. 

Where to Dine

Dine and/or stay at the historic Roger Sherman Inn. Dine and/or stay at the historic Roger Sherman Inn.

Roger Sherman Inn – This French-infused restaurant gets high marks from The New York Times. The duck is phenomenal. 195 Oenoke Ridge Rd., New Canaan, Conn. 203-966-4541.

Farmers Table – A relaxed downtown restaurant that defines farm-to-market dining in this community. Bring your own wine. 21 Forest St., New Canaan, Conn. 203-594-7890.

Flavors Café – A tiny establishment with only eight tables. Upscale casual, American cuisine with a very attentive chef. 138 W. Main St. Ligonier, Pa. 724-238-3284

Tree Tops at Polymath Park ResortContinue your Wright experience at this Wright-inspired facility with an excellent American cuisine menu and appropriate chairs. 1 Usonion Dr., Acme, Pa. 877-833-7829, Ext. 3.

Sam’s by the Beach – Personal attentive service is the trademark at this cozy white-tablecloth neighborhood bistro purveying Mediterranean and California cuisines. 108 W. Channel Rd., Santa Monica. 310-230-9100

Urth Caffe – This organic coffee shop has grown, and its breakfasts and lunches are becoming legendary in the neighborhood. Soups, salads and pizzas rule. 2327 Main St., Santa Monica 310-314-7040