Cranbrook Academy Revives Eliel Saarinen's House
BLOOMFIELD HILLS, MICH.
EVERYWHERE you look in the Saarinen House, subtle harmonies of color, form, space, and texture soothe and rest the eye or engage it in wonder. One alcove invites relaxed conversation. Another, reading and quiet thought. Each room has a completely different feeling by design, yet each is related to all the others, and the effect of the whole is a soothing, peaceful haven.Skip to next paragraph
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Saarinen House is undergoing meticulous restoration at the Cranbrook Academy of Art 20 miles outside of Detroit. It is named for Eliel Saarinen, the academy's first president and its resident architect, who designed, built, and lived in the house from 1930 to 1950.
The exterior, built of buff-colored brick with Indiana limestone detailing and a slate roof, is two-story, and resembles the European row houses common to Saarinen's native Helsinki.
Saarinen also designed the other structures on the sprawling Cranbrook campus, including studios, a boys' school, a girls' school, a science institute, the art academy, and finally, the art museum.
The tender care with which he built his family home has been revitalized in what will become the community's second museum, scheduled to open in May of 1994.
The art academy has had only five presidents. The second, third, and fourth made changes in the house to accommodate their own family needs and tastes. But the fifth president, Roy Slade, decided to return the house to its original (and lavishly documented) state after he took over the reins of the school and took up residence in the president's house in 1977.
In 1988, Mr. Slade turned over the curatorial responsibilities to Greg Wittkopp, the Cranbrook Art Museum's director, and the most involved tasks of detective work began. Since then, 170 paint samples have been analyzed, fragments of wallpaper have been discovered and reproduced, recessed light fixtures have been liberated from burial beneath wall board, all the principal pieces of furniture have been restored by collectors and family members, and nearly all of the important textiles have been located and preserved, and many of them reproduced.
``Saarinen believed that architecture should encompass all the arts,'' Mr. Wittkopp says, ``and that therefore, the architect as designer should be responsible for designing all aspects of the building.''
Saarinen was a master of subtleties, a genius of details and surfaces. Deeply influenced by the Arts and Crafts Movement of the period, his modernism was always tempered by the humanism of handcrafted objects, Wittkopp points out. From the rugs on the floor, to the chandelier, chairs, cushions, book covers, dishes, placemats, silver services, china, lamps, and andirons in the fireplace, Saarinen, in collaboration with his wife, Loja, governed every aspect of design.
Loja, a textile artist who founded the weaving department at Cranbrook and a commercial weaving company, designed and oversaw the making of remarkable curtains, rugs, wall hangings, and upholstery.
Looking through any doorway in the house reveals a series of exquisitely balanced planes and lines, colors and textures. The colors are predominantly gray, russet, green, and various off-whites. The wood tones of the floor and some of the paneling are deep gray-brown, smooth and cool. Rugs are used architecturally to direct the eye and define the axis in the room. The large studio where Saarinen and Loja drafted their designs was warmed and finished with another large handwoven rug of Loja's design.