System House

John Black Lee and Harrison DeSilver



The System House is set on a terraced site with the house placed at a lower grade than the driveway and outbuildings. It is accessed by a wood bridge leading to the front door. The two outbuildings, a garage and a workshop, are located on either side of the driveway.

The house has a square-shaped footprint and is very symmetrical. The roof of the building extends beyond the wall plane on all four sides, creating a deep overhang that provides shelter for the ground-level patios and second-floor balconies, and sun protection for the large windows and doors. The outer edge of the roof is supported on thin piers. The house has a bi-level plan: the main entrance opens onto a stairway that leads upstairs to the bedrooms and downstairs to the public living spaces.


The System House was constructed in 1961 and designed by John Black Lee and Harrison DeSilver. The house was built to show that good design and construction could be completed at a reasonable price by building on a modular system, in this case, a 6" module. The System was devised to use stock materials to keep costs down. The exterior wood panels were prefabricated in two designs: a solid wall panel and a panel designed for fenestration. To cut down on expensive finishing costs, structural elements were designed to be exposed. The deep overhangs allowed for simple and inexpensive glazing details.

One of the architects, Harrison DeSilver, was the first occupant of the house. DeSilver came to New Canaan in 1960 after attending a Modern House Tour, and the System House was one of his first projects. He purchased the lot in 1960 and the house was completed in 1961 in time to be part of the 1961 Modern House Tour in New Canaan. In March 1963, the house plans were featured in "Better Homes For All America," published by Better Homes & Gardens, and were offered for sale at $15. Over 1,000 plans eventually sold. In 1964, the house won a "Homes For Better Living" award in a program sponsored by the American Institute of Architects, House & Home magazine, and The American Home. The article in House & Home stated that the sloping land was bulldozed 5" below grade before construction began, and John Black Lee confirmed that he designed the site to be terraced, a technique he often used in sloping lots (Lee, 2008). Each room in the house opened to a terrace or balcony and the interior had a flexible floor plan. The house was priced at $32,000 without the cost of land (House & Home, July 1964, 66-67).

In 1969, Donald R. and Barbara A. Homer acquired the house. The house lot was subdivided from 4.97 acres to 2.97 acres probably during the 1960s. A workshop was added to the property in 1975. In 1997, Benjamin S. Thompson and Rebecca A. MacDougall purchased the property. Robert M. Pederson and Andrew Mersmann acquired it in 2002. The windows and doors were replaced in 2006. It appears that no other major alterations have been made to the exterior of the house since its construction.

National Trust for Historic Preservation, 2009.