Celanese House


Edward Durell Stone


1959


Description

The Celanese House is set on a gently sloping site at a grade below street level. At the rear of the house are a lawn and a set of curving flagstone and fieldstone stairs bordered by massive fieldstone walls. The property is bounded by trees.

The Celanese House is a flat-roofed structure with walls clad in wood shingles painted grey. The roof extends to create deep overhang on all four sides of the structure. Twelve pyramidal skylights partially clad in wood shingles provide light to the interior spaces. Almost the entire building is covered by a wood trelliswork screen featuring a star-shaped pattern. The trelliswork on the main fa?ade is unbroken with the exception of the front door, which is a glazed wood door finished with wood detailing matching the pattern of the trelliswork . On one side of the house is an incorporated two-car garage; the opposite side has a terrace area off of the bedrooms that is shielded by the wood trelliswork. At the rear fa?ade, the trelliswork is interrupted for sliding glass doors leading to a concrete terrace.

The house originally had a rectangular plan with an internal roofed dining courtyard between the garage wing and the main house, and a unroofed terrace at the bedroom wing, all enclosed in wood trelliswork. The garage wing contained a two-car garage, a family room/guest room, and a bath. The main house was divided into three zones: the north area contained the dining room, kitchen, and master bedroom and bath; the central area contained an entry atrium with small pool separated from a large living room by a fireplace; and the south area contained a study, two bedrooms, and two baths. The dining room, living room, atrium, and study were fitted with shoji screens that could be opened up to create a large, T-shaped entertainment space, which could be extended to the bedroom terrace, the back terrace, and the dining room courtyard.


Significance

The Celanese House was commissioned by the Celanese Corporation of America, a leading chemical manufacturer in the United States, to showcase the company?s various products during their 1959 promotional program titled "The American Idea." The company hired architect Edward Durell Stone to design the house after Celanese executives decided that only Stone or Frank Lloyd Wright would be considered for the commission (New York Times, 20 September 1959). The Celanese Corporation home furnishings consultants, John and Earline Brice, were in charge of interior design and furnishings, and Dunbar furniture by noted designer Edward Wormley was also showcased. The structural engineer on the project was Henry Gorlin, the mechanical engineer was Harold Hecht, and the contractor was New Canaan builder Ted Hobbs. The property was acquired by Theodore (Ted) de Freyne Hobbs et. al. in 1957 as a development venture; the Celanese Corporation provided products at cost but Hobbs carried the building expenses except for the architect's fee (House & Home, September 1959, 88). The house was finished in early 1959. By September 1959, Hobbs had put the house on the market for $150,000 (New York Times, 20 September 1959). After the house closed for tours, a duplicate version of the house was installed at W. & J. Sloane's in New York City.

The Celanese House received national press when it was completed and was featured in House & Garden (October 1959), House & Home (September 1959), and Architectural Record (October 1959). The Celanese House was also included in the 1963 Modern House Tour in New Canaan.

The house was designed for privacy. Interior spaces originally opened to terraces screened by latticework or to the backyard terrace. At the street-facing main fa?ade, the latticework provided an unbroken screen aside from the main door. Because the house was screened, lighting was provided mainly by the twelve pyramidal skylights. Below the skylights on the interior were inverted pyramids containing planters and concealed lighting fixtures. The dining room courtyard was originally covered by a translucent plastic roof with latticework gates at each end. Pots of flowers hung from the roof. Doors leading to courtyards were fitted with four sliding panels: insulated glass on the exterior, screen doors, translucent plastic panels, and opaque fabric shoji screens at the inner layer. Some doors also had curtains. Interior spaces were separated by sliding shoji screens. The interior was designed with a neutral color scheme.

In 1960, the Celanese House was purchased by Frederick and Velma Willcox. Frederick, an inventor, lived in the house with his wife Velma until his death in 1996. Velma Willcox remained in residence until her death in 2005 at age 102. It appears that the Willcoxes undertook no major alterations to the house. In 2006, after the house had been on the market for over a year, Laidlaw LLC became the owner of record. New owners Bruce Capra and his wife Jackie undertook a major renovation and restoration of the house, which had become badly deteriorated, between 2006 and 2007. The most significant alteration was the enclosure and conversion of the dining room courtyard to an expanded kitchen. The original kitchen became an enlarged master bedroom. Capra also replaced the roof, rebuilt the skylights, installed a new HVAC system, replaced the original marble-patterned vinyl floor in kind, and updated the fixtures and finishes in the kitchen and baths. Damaged portions of the wall cladding and wood trelliswork were replaced in kind. The bedroom terrace was restored to its original design.


National Trust for Historic Preservation, 2009.