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News July 2014

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Kudos for two Connecticut Modern properties—PART ONE, The Stillman and Huvelle Houses

July 5, 2014

This year’s Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation Awards, bestowed in April, flew under our e-news radar. The two Modern properties receiving awards are so unique and deserving of our praise we want to extend this belated recognition.

The Stillman I and Huvelle Houses, Litchfield, CT
Litchfield’s enthusiasm for Modern architecture began in 1949 when Rufus and Leslie Stillman visted Marcel Breuer’s “House in the Museum Garden” at MOMA. For a six-acre site in Litchfield, they hired Breuer to design a house on half of the site, which was completed in 1951, and later expanded in two more phases by Breuer. They sold the other half of the lot to their friends the Huvelles, with the stipulation they build a Modern house. The Huvelles chose John Johansen for their house, completed in 1953. These trendsetters led others to the Modern fold and houses followed in the local area by Richard Neutra, Herbert Beckhard, E.D. Stone and Urlich Franzen. Public schools by Breuer and Johansen also followed.

DOCOMOMO NY/Tri-State members and friends vistied these houses as part of a 2003 Litchfield Modern tour and were impressed not only by the design details and site, but by the minimal changes made over the years by the owners. Yet as the transition out of the hands of the original owners was inevitable, all were very aware of the teardown risk when there is a three-acre site to exploit.

This spring’s Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation award went to Kenneth Sena and Joseph Mazzaferro who purchased both houses and proceeded with a sensitive renovation—removing later additions and reconstructing missing original elements. This included restoring the 18 x 20 foot outdoor mural wall by Alexander Calder, a friend of the Stillmans who lived in the area. At a critical point when these two houses could have been lost, Sena and Mazzaferro chose to bring back a Modern compound with all the excitement of the original experiment by the Stillmans. Their project also received a “Modernism in America” merit award from DOCOMOMO US in February 2013.

(L) Heuvelle House, John Johansen, 1953 and (R) Stillman House I, Marcel Breuer, 1951, in Litchfield, CT. Photo: Brad Stein and Joseph Mazzaferro.