Bringing Modernism Home: The Eero Saarinen-Designed Miller House Joins the Indianapolis Museum of Art

Bringing Modernism Home: The Eero Saarinen-Designed Miller House Joins the Indianapolis Museum of Art
A view of the conversation pit in the main living area at the Miller House and Garden.
(Courtesy Indianapolis Museum of Art)
"Kids will always find a way to extract fun, even from modernism," says Bradley C. Brooks, director of historic resources for the Indianapolis Museum of Art. To prove his point, Brooks relates stories told by the five children who grew up in the Eero Saarinen-designed Miller House, of massive pillow fights in the sunken conversation pit and roller-skating around the terrazzo patio beside 10 acres of gardens landscaped by Dan Kiley. When those same children donated the house in 2009 following the deaths of their parents, the museum began preparing it for its new, more sedate existence as a monument of midcentury style.

Completed in 1957, the luminous glass-and-slate structure was built in Columbus for the industrialist J. Irwin Miller. It was Miller’s second Saarinen commission, following a bank, also in Columbus, a town he turned into a mecca for architecture enthusiasts. Through decades of use by the large family, his wife, Xenia Simmons Miller, meticulously maintained the home, so that at its opening this spring, nearly all the contents were original.

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Among Saarinen’s inspired moves was his skylight system, which washes the interior’s white-marble walls with radiant sunshine. Designer Alexander Girard collaborated from the start with the architect and the Millers, lending the sleek house an unexpected playfulness with his vibrant decor, including pillows in a mod scheme of pinks, reds, and oranges ringing the conversation pit in the living room, above. For Brooks this combination reflects the building’s function. Placing the home in the same rank as Philip Johnson’s Glass House and the Eames House, he notes, "This is the only one that was built as a real family residence."

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"Bringing Modernism Home" originally appeared in the July/August 2011 issue of Art+Auction. For a complete list of articles from this issue available on ARTINFO, see Art+Auction's ` July/August 2011 Table of Contents.

Learn more about the Miller House and Garden and the IMA by watching the video below: