It’s no secret I am crazy about Eero Saarinen’s work (see my past posts here and here), so finding myself in Indiana this summer, I absolutely had to visit his phenomenal work, the Miller House and Garden, located 50 miles south of Indianapolis in a small city called Columbus (~population under 50,000). I was not disappointed. The house is perfect. I immediately fell in love and wanted to move in!
Commissioned in 1953 by J. Irwin Miller (Chairman and CEO of Cummins Engine) and his wife Xenia, Saarinen was a friend of the couple’s, having previously designed a summer house for them in Muskoka, a resort area in Ontario. The house in Columbus was to serve as the Miller’s full-time residence where they could raise their five children and entertain guests and business associates.
Completed in 1957, the Miller House is the quintessential Mid-Century Modern home, featuring a vast, open layout, flat roof, walls of glass, and lots of marble. The house is configured beneath a tic-tac-toe grid pattern of skylights supported by steel columns allowing natural sunlight to flood the inside. The sleek, minimal interiors are made warm and cozy by the brilliant, whimsical designs of Alexander Girard. Girard designed the sunken conversation pit in the living room as well as a 50-foot long storage wall that displayed the family’s books and mementos. Girard filled the home with colorful, unique artwork and decorative items he found around the world as well as designed on his own, including collages; furniture pieces; an elaborate, multi-level dollhouse (with dolls representing the Miller family); table settings; and vibrantly patterned curtains, rugs, and needlepoint cushions. Xenia Miller’s colorful collection of glass objects—paper weights, boxes, vases and decanters—are showcased throughout the home, complementing Girard’s curated pieces while infusing her personality. The gardens surrounding the home are no less breathtaking. Created by the celebrated landscape architect Dan Kiley, the acres of geometrically composed grounds act as a lush, natural extension of the house.
In 2000, the Miller House was named a National Historic Landmark—this was the first instance in which the honor was bestowed on a building while one of its designers, Kiley (1912 - 2004), was still living and while the home was still occupied by an original owner (Xenia lived there until her death in 2008. Irwin died in 2004). In 2009, the Miller children generously donated the house to the Indianapolis Museum of Art. It’s been open for tours since 2011. To see photos (unfortunately interior photography is not allowed on the tour) and to learn more about this magnificent historic house, go to the Indianapolis Museum of Art website here.
Columbus, Indiana is ranked number six in the U.S. for architectural innovation and design by the American Institute of Architects. The city owes this to Irwin Miller, who in 1954, established the Cummins Engine Foundation. Initially set up to find young, talented architects to design a school for the community so Cummins could attract young, talented engineers… the success of this project inspired the design of additional public buildings in the county (funded by Miller’s foundation).
Among the many notable buildings in the area are two churches designed by two Saarinens: First Christian Church designed by Eliel Saarinen (Eero’s father) was completed in 1942; and North Christian Church, the last building designed by Eero Saarinen was completed in 1964 (Eero passed away in 1961 at the age of 51). Learn more about Columbus and its impressive architecture at Columbus Indiana Visitors Center here.
Note: According to Design Within Reach’s blog, the PBS program American Masters will premiere Eero Saarinen: The Architect Who Saw the Future in December. I’ll definitely be tuning in!
Screen shot of living room taken from imamuseum.org
Screen shot of conversation pit and storage wall taken from imamuseum.org
Screen shot of kitchen taken from imamuseum.org