Simple gifts

By GREG COOK  |  August 18, 2009

MORE COMFORTABLE? Experts think this 1907 Greene & Greene hall chair might be more comfortable than its Wright counterpart.
Pieces like this might suggest that the Greenes were following Wright, but the exhibit's organizers stress that they were peers whose similarities have more to do with similar starting points — Asian design and the Arts and Crafts movement.

Both Wright and the Greenes sought to design total works of art — from house to furnishings to landscaping. But it's hard to get a sense of that without visiting one of their houses. There are no Greene & Greene homes nearby, but the Currier Museum in Manchester, New Hampshire, offers tours of Wright's 1950 Zimmerman House, which was willed to the museum with its furnishings intact in the 1980s. (Tours begin at the Currier, April through December; advance reservations are required.) It's a striking example of Wright's vision, as the Zimmermans had him design everything inside and out and even consulted with him about dishes and art.

The long, low, single-story horizontal structure is typical of Wright's later work. The front is red brick topped by a bank of concrete-framed windows; it looks like a cross between a Japanese temple and a Modernist bunker. But his design opens up on the back side, which seems to be nearly all glass, with views of the lawn, plantings, and trees. The lot is smaller than an acre, but the trees suggest a deep wood while screening the interior from neighbors.

The house is centered on a large brick chimney. A wide, peaked, shingled roof provides shade and shelter from the elements — and, at the left, tops an open-air carport. It's a variation on Wright's relatively economical Usonian (his abbreviation of United States of North America) homes. The cost savings — and the austerity Wright thought was good for you — came in part from having no cellar and no attic. The Zimmermans were a local doctor and nurse without children. Wright sized his house to suit the two of them. At just 1700 square feet, it can feel cozily snug or like a tight fit.

A narrow entrance hall opens onto the long living room, with its wood-plank cathedral ceiling. Four floor-to-ceiling windows between brick piers offer views of the backyard, which seems to enter the room via planters at the foot of each window. A large fireplace opens up near the center of the house. At the room's opposite end stand a grand piano and a custom wooden music stand for four, with a wooden roof disguising lights underneath. The Zimmermans liked to entertain guests with their performances. A built-in bench running the length of the room opposite the windows offers seating. Much of the furniture here is built into the house, to open up the centers of rooms.

The other notable piece of furniture is a low, square table for two in a dining space around the corner from the living room. For entertaining, a matching hexagonal table in the living room is designed to split in two, with the dining-room table going in the middle. A pair of small rectangular living-room tables are designed to fit onto the ends to accommodate even more guests. It's an ingenious solution.

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Related: Interview: T. C. Boyle, Photos: 'Seeing Songs' at MFA, Meet the Kleenex Designers, More more >
  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Currier Museum, Currier Museum, Massachusetts Institute of Technology,  More more >
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