Noyes House 2


Eliot Noyes


1954


Description

The Noyes House is sited in a grove of trees adjacent to a brook on a six-acre lot. The one-story, flat-roofed house was designed with a courtyard plan: a bedroom wing in one rectangular pavilion separated by a square, open courtyard from a parallel living wing in a second rectangular pavilion. Covered but open concrete walkways were designed to connect the separate pavilions of the house. The roof is flat and is continuous over the entire building.

Noyes emphasized the difference between the axes of his house by contrasting solidity and transparency. On the north (entry) and south (rear) façades, he used solid fieldstone walls with no openings except the entries into the courtyard (which can be closed with heavy barn doors). On the east and west façades of the perpendicular axis, he used five bays of floor-to-ceiling glass set between wood-covered steel columns. This arrangement gives the house privacy from the road (north), effectively using the stone to camouflage the house within the rocky, wooded setting. On the other axis, the arrangement allows the natural settings to merge with the interiors. The east and west window walls and the window wall in the courtyard allow light and air to move through the house. Plastic "bubble" skylights give additional natural light to both pavilions of the house.

The window sash and the sliding doors are made of steel, painted black, with 1/4 plate glass panes. All exposed trim is square edge cypress stained a deep brown. The barn doors and wall of the bedroom pavilion facing the courtyard are covered with flush, tongue-and-groove vertical boards. The exterior soffits are plywood, painted white.

The courtyard was treated as an active living space and an integral part of the designed landscape. Additional structures on the property include a shed (built 1964), and a studio (built 1976), both designed by Noyes. Along the side of the property is a brook dammed by Noyes to create a natural pool.


Significance

Noyes House 2 was designed by Eliot Noyes for his family after they outgrew their first house in New Canaan (Noyes House 1, 1947, no longer extant). According to the assessor property street cards, the property for Noyes House 2 was acquired by purchasing at least two different lots. Noyes and his wife Mary acquired the lots between 1952 and 1953 from Annis S. Gilbert. Completed between 1954 and 1955, Noyes House 2 was featured in Life and Time magazines, was awarded the AIA Award of Merit in 1957, and based on the amount of media coverage it received, is the most famous of all the houses Noyes designed. The Noyes House was featured on multiple Modern House tours in New Canaan, including the 1953, 1955, 1957, 1959, and 1963 tours. The house was built by Borglum & Meek, who also built Noyes House 1.

The house demonstrates Noyes's appreciation for New England's natural materials, particularly fieldstone walls. Though the major walls were built of local stone, the secondary and courtyard façades are primarily glass and steel, rendering the house decidedly Modern. In Noyes's words, the house is "a fortress on one side and all glass on the other" (Bruce, 116). The house was among the first to use wall-size sheets of glass to open up the living area into the outside courtyard. This allowed the house to blend with its environment and to make an unobtrusive statement from the exterior. With basic, rectilinear spaces separated by elements of function rather than configurations of material, the Noyes House is the ultimate expression of its designer's concepts of what an ideal house should be. Noyes himself referred to it as "a very hard-boiled piece of architecture" (Bruce, 110).

Noyes wrote in his 1963 essay in Life Magazine, "It is no coincidence that an architect often expresses himself most clearly in a house designed for himself and his family. As an architect, he will have thought a lot about how people could live as opposed to how they do and how by architectural means he could expand the scope and richness of life within the house" (Life, 15 February 1963). As the house built expressly for Eliot Noyes's own family, the Noyes house stands as the perfect encapsulation of the architect's structural and aesthetic ideal.

After Eliot Noyes's death in 1977, the ownership of the house was transferred to Mary D. Noyes and the Estate of Eliot Noyes. In 1979, it was transferred to Noyes Family Properties, Inc. The property is still owned by the Noyes family.

Very few alterations have been made to Noyes House 2. The Noyes family sold two acres of their original lot to the Blake family c. 1970, leaving them with just over six acres. The original tar and gravel roofs have been replaced with EPDM. The "bubble" skylights were replaced with flat glass units. The courtyard walkways and the shallow terraces along the east and west façades, left as bare concrete to save money, were later finished with flagstone pavers as originally intended. After Noyes's death, his wife enlarged the master bedroom c. 1977 by removing a partition wall. The master bedroom plan changed from a rectangle to an L-shape and the number of bedrooms was reduced to four from the original five. The original plywood ceiling tiles were replaced in kind. The storage shed, studio, and natural pool have not been altered since their original construction.


National Trust for Historic Preservation, 2009.