Lee House 1


John Black Lee


1952


Description

Lee House 1 is a one-story rectangular structure set on pins on a massive stone ledge overlooking a heavily wooded valley. The house is clad in tongue-and-groove v-channel vertical wood siding and has a flat roof. The main entrance to the house is located in the street-facing west facade, but the primary view from the driveway is of the north facade. The north facade has a large area of fenestration in the center of the wall consisting of two large fixed sash windows each flanked with fixed and awning windows stacked vertically. The west facade has a recessed entry accessed by a wood deck at the northern end and a blank wall at the southern end; the entry consists of sliding glass doors and an opening filled with glass block located in the north wall.

The southern facade is entirely glazed with sliding glass doors and fixed sash located under a deep overhang which has cantilevered beams at the soffit that extend from the interior of the house; a wood deck extends off of this fa?ade. The east facade, where the land drops off steeply, has sliding glass doors leading to a cantilevered deck.


Significance

Lee House 1 was designed by architect John Black Lee as a home for his family, which included his wife and two children. It was the first house designed by Lee in New Canaan. Lee purchased the property in 1951 and filed for a building permit in 1952. Ernest Rau was the contractor. According to the assessor records, the house was 85% completed by October 1952 and was likely completed by the end of the year or in early 1953. Lee drew inspiration from the work of Mies van der Rohe in the design for his own house (Lee, 2008).

Lee House 1 was included in the 1953 Modern House Tour in New Canaan and featured in the June 1954 issue of House & Home. The article described the house as remarkable in its construction, in part because the house was supported on 15 pins on top of a rock ledge: "Nobody, as far as we know, has yet figured out a smaller foundation for a four-bedroom house." In addition, "Lee closely integrated plan and structure, was able to use interior partitions and solid exterior wall panels to brace some of the bays in his open grid frame, and use[d] 'freestanding posts' to help support a built-in piece of furniture" (House & Home, June 1954, 106-110). The one-story house had a rectangular plan. The center of the house contained utility space and the bathroom. The northern part contained the study/guest room and three bedrooms. The southern part contained the living room (which had a metal fireplace), the kitchen, and a multipurpose/family room. House & Home was enthusiastic about the inclusion of this multipurpose room: "The room also works as a dining area, as a laundry and workroom, and as a playroom. It is so placed that it can be controlled from the kitchen" (House & Home, June 1954, 106-110). A large deck, sheltered by the cantilevered roof overhang, extended across the southern facade of the house. After the Lees sold their house and moved to Lee House 2, the property had several different owners: John Morton Poole IV (1955 acquisition), Kathlyn C. Thurrott (1964 acquisition), Tyrus L. and Kathryn V. Homewood (unknown, acquired between 1964 and 1971), C. Kleinsinger (1971 acquisition), and Donald Swisher (1977 acquisition). Swisher, an architect at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), reversed some alterations made by earlier owners, returning the house to Lee's original design, although the fireplace was moved to a new location (Lee, 2008). In 1978, Katrina Giuriata purchased the house, and in 1991, Suzanne Cerny acquired the property.

In 1993, Peggy S. McConnell purchased the property. During this same year, McConnell completed some interior alterations, constructed a two-car garage on the property, and extended the existing wood deck to create an uncovered wood deck at the southeast corner of the house. When McConnell was selling the house, a note in the realtor listing stated "house rebuilt from studs up since 1993." It appears that this is referring to the interior alterations. In 1997, Eugene A. and Roseanne C. Diserio acquired the property.


National Trust for Historic Preservation, 2009.