The Miller House (Columbus Indiana part 2)

Yes, yes, I know I’m behind but I’m finally writing this post from Leamington Canada (north side of Lake Erie across from Clevelandish) about our visit to The Miller House (for the CEO of Cummins, his wife and five kids) designed by Eero Saarinen with interiors by Alexander Girard and landscape by Dan Kiley.

The house was finished in 1957 and influenced so much modern residential architecture that was to come.

The three designers were all at the top of their game and had two clients who understood and wanted good design and had money to get it. As Mike wrote on this Facebook post, it was the perfect storm. The openness of the living spaces to each other in particular survives to this day. The stark architecture is enhanced by the mixture of contemporary and antique furnishings and the geometric plantings and allees of trees were a far cry from the romantic gardens most popular at the time.

The Millers were friends with all three of the designers and apparently Mrs. Miller and Mr. Girard were particularly close. He even designed special patterns for the upholstered cushions for the dining room chairs which included the Miller’s monograms. Mrs. Miller and her bridge club then needlepointed these. (quite a difference from the needlepoint my mother did for her dining room chairs!)

The Miller House is often considered the first modern mansion. It is said it cost around $500,000 to build ($4.5 million today) and at least that much in furnishings and art. But unlike other mansions of its time, the house isn’t full of crown mold and gold leaf. Rather, it is full of expensive materials and details.

Book-matched slate (according to the guide but looked like bluestone to me) on the exterior and book-matched sand finished marble slabs for some of the interior.

Skylights through-out the house emphasize the structural grid and more importantly bring diffused light to even the most interior rooms. These skylights along with the exterior plantings give the whole interior of the feeling of being under a huge canopy of trees. Through the huge windows you can see out and the skylights make the interior bright but not too bright.

The granite topped dining room table has built in lighting in the base and the center was a fountain where Mrs Miller often floated flowers for fancy dinners.

This is the view from the entry, it’s not a true entry hall but the screen serves to provide privacy for the living room.

The free standing fireplace with segmented glass firescreen also helps delineate the living space

Unfortunately we were only allowed to take photos of the exterior and of the entry/living/dining room but below are some photos I found online that may help explain just how wonderful a house this is.

The Miller’s bedroom which has a view across the huge meadow to the woodlands along the river.

The modern kitchen and breakfast room. Note the builtin Nutone blender/mixer/food processor on the counter. I was the only one on the tour (other than the guide) who knew what it was-Clara always wanted one! Who knew that Joanna Gaines didn’t invent the huge kitchen island?

The family room is just off the huge living room. There is a tv behind the cabinet doors and the pool is outside that sliding door and behind the hedge.

The children’s common space. Each of the girls had there own dorm like bedroom with a twin bed and the two boys shared a similar room with a bunk bed. The space above was in between them all.

Unlike some of the other iconic modern houses like the Farnsworth House by Mies or Phillip Johnson’s Glass House, this was a house built for a family and it served that purpose for over 50 years. The children grew up here, it was used to entertain and house Cummins’ international guests when Columbus didn’t have any appropriate hotels or restaurants and finally was where both Mr and Mrs Miller lived until their deaths in the 2000s. I wish I could live in such a great house but just imagine doing so after it was made a National Historic Landmark like both of them did!

The house was given to the Indianapolis Museum of Art after Mrs Irwin died in 2008 and is open for tours through the Columbus Visitor Center. If you make it to Columbus be sure and take this tour!

7 thoughts on “The Miller House (Columbus Indiana part 2)

  1. Wow! I have seen that dreamy sunken living room (conversation pit?) in design magazines, but never new you could tour this house. I must do it one day! Thanks for sharing!


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