The Kalamazoo, Michigan house built for James and Sally Kirkpatrick between 1955 and 1958 is a furniture enthusiast’s dream. Indeed, while it would be unfair to downplay the beautiful design of the house itself, it is clear that its major strength resides in how it utilises the sumptuous furniture collection intended for the house.
Vital in this abundance of modernist furniture was the relationship between the architect who built the house, George Nelson, and the furniture manufacturer he worked for, Herman Miller. Nelson worked as the company’s director of design from 1945 and oversaw the firm’s shift from traditional furniture pieces to modernist influenced designs, most notably, an array of Eames classics such as Lounge Chair and the Shell Chair.
The plan for the house was agreed upon through letter correspondence between the Kirkpatricks and Nelson, whose wife had shared a room with Sally Kirkpatrick at college. Along with his associate Gordon Chadwick, George Nelson was sought out after the Kirkpatricks’ disappointment at the original plans for the house. Nelson proceeded to create a house that really considers the furniture an extension of a home’s overall layout and design.
In one room sits a custom made L-shaped sofa that Nelson designed specifically for the space. The window frames of the room and the red door in the background contribute a sensuous depth to the sun-dappled atmosphere.This is further enhanced by the polished white marble floor which offers a somewhat obscured reflection of the scene from the window.
In another room a small Nelson Table is surrounded by four Eames “Wire Chairs”, not too dissimilar from the Eames “Shell Chair” in its 1957 iteration. Nelson has both the table and chairs customised so as to bring them closer to the ground, all the better to enjoy the view of the trees outside. There is nothing surplus in this scene, no unnecessary visual clutter, no adornment, only the things that need to be there.
Meanwhile, in a distinct deviation, another living room, while still decked out in Herman Miller sofas, features an ornate rug, hanging plants, and a distinctly out of place shock of purple. It’s a surprisingly cosy interlude what with the white fireplace holding the room together, but a welcome one nonetheless.
Before getting ahead of ourselves with the furniture collection, it would be unfair to overlook the design of the house itself, which is exceptional in its own right. Throughout the building the motif of long vertical parallel lines recurs: on the cantilevered staircase, in the galley-style kitchen cabinets and most explicitly all along the exterior of the house. Perhaps it is just coincidence, but the shape seems to really evoke something of the furniture itself, the clean, consistent lines capturing something of the dynamism of the Wire Chair or the precise right angle of the customised Nelson sofa. Almost like a Mondrian painting in its celebration of the rectangle.
Photos via Curbed
Either way, it is another instance of George Nelson’s brilliant correspondence between the design of the house and its furniture. And so, having recently gone on the market, it is a relief to find that the sale of the home includes most of this original furniture.