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!



Indiana this time-long post ahead, you’ve been warned!

We left the Ohio version of Columbus on Memorial Day morning headed for Indiana’s Columbus which was abut 2 hours away. We stopped for lunch outside of Cincinnati and for lunch we tried Cincinnati Chili at a local chain Skyline Chili. Here they put their chili over spaghetti with cheese on top-that’s called chili three way, which is what Mike had. I had mine five ways, adding onions and beans. It was very tasty but after seeing the picture my friend claudia asked-have you taken your Lipitor?

They also serve hot dogs or coneys as they called them in a similar fashion. You can see some loaded on the coney rack the guy is holding in the picture below.

I wondered if it’s someone’s job just to grate cheese all day!

After lunch and a little more time on the road, we arrived in the other Columbus.

Lots of folks have asked why we were going out of our way to visit this small town of less than 50,000. Coming to Columbus is part of any architectural pilgrimage. The city has an incredible collection of modern buildings designed by many of the most influential architects.

This collection was brought about due to the influence and money of Irwin Miller, the longtime CEO of Cummins (Engine), Inc.

The first project that started the push for great architecture was the First Christian Church (designed by Eliel Saarinen, a Finnish Architect. He initially declined the congregation’s request but after Mr. Miller met with him and noted that the congregation wanted a building that reflected their values and community, Eliel agreed.

This church was built in 1942 so imagine how different it was from other churches at the time. It’s lack of decoration, asymmetry, lack of stained glass are just a few things that set it apart from other churches being built at that time.

The interior is all about light. The ceiling soars especially after the relatively dark and low vestibule (though thankfully Eliel didn’t go as low as Frank Lloyd Wright!).

What decoration that exists is typically achieved by revealing attachment methods or by simple manipulation of materials as with the doors below.

Eliel was the father of Eero Saarinen, who later designed the St. Louis Arch, the TWA terminal at JFK among others. He had a small hand at 1st Christian while an intern at his dad’s practice. The light fixtures are attributed to him.

More (lots more of his work to come). For me, it was so great to experience in person a building that I had seen since starting college. While I understood it had greatly influenced churches to come, standing in it let me see how parts of it had evolved into similar pieces of my Mother’s church in Charleston. I had similar thoughts in many of the buildings we visited during our time in Columbus.

After WWII ended, the city was growing and a new school was needed. Cummins Foundation (Mr. Miller really) offered to pay the design fees for the school if the School Board would select their architect from a list of 5 architects recommended by the foundation. This was the beginning of the Cummins Foundation Architectural Program.

Lillian Schmidt Elementary school by Harry Weese was the result of this first effort. It is easy to see the impact this school had on future schools. The classrooms with high ceilings and lots of windows greatly reminds me of one we recently worked on in Houston-

The architectural program continues today though the guide said the last building built under it was finished in 2008. The Cummins Foundation will pat the design fees for any non profit or government building. So lots of churches and such…and of course Cummins’s buildings.

A mental health building by James Polshek which spans a creek. He also designed the Clinton Library we visited in Little Rock last year on our Christmas trip.

The library designed by I.M. Pei who designed the glass pyramid at the Louvre, the East Wing of the National Gallery in Washington and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame which we will visit a few days after being here. Mr. Pei died a month or so ago at the age of 103.

The ice skating warming house by Harry Weese

Cummins Engine Plant #1 which was clad in a design by Harry Weese to consolidate the disparate buildings.

Weese used a similar design on the research building he designed nearby.

An addition to Engine Plant #1 by Kevin Roche.

Roche also designed the international headquarters for Cummins. This huge 200,000 square foot building covers two or three city blocks adjacent to downtown but is barely noticeable as it has setbacks and is covered in many places by plants.

AT&T switching station recladding by CRS. The first picture below is how it looked originally. Unfortunately, the plantings proved problematic and were removed.

Newspaper building by Myron Goldsmith. The glass windows allowed all who passed by to be able to see the presses (which were of course painted Columbus (Cummins?) red.

Eliel Saarinen’s son, Eero also left his mark on Columbus. In 1954 he designed the first modern bank. While other banks looked like Greek temples, his was at ground level and all glass. The tellers were not behind cages but open and available to customers…and there were drive up windows!

Today, it is used as a conference center by Cummins.

Eero also designed North Christian Church for an offshoot group from First Christian (designed by his father you’ll remember). It is said that this building is the one he most wanted to be remembered for. He told Mrs. Miller that he hoped when he got to the pearly gates that he would be welcomed with, “oh you’re the guy who designed that great church” Certainly one can see the influence this church made on many others across the country-none of which are as powerful on the exterior.

The Church is much more intimate than First Christian and while joy as light filled, is still brighter than my pictures show. It’s my opinion that St. Peter might have said to Eero, that you’re the guy who designed that church that isn’t quite as good as your Dad’s!

The Church is basically all steeple. I was surprised to learn that the entire roof is supported by just six huge steel members:

Eero’s most impressive building in Columbus was the house he designed for the Millers. Here is a taste as it deserves (and will receive) a whole post!

Mr. and Mrs. Miller were also great supporters of the arts. When I.M. Pei was designing the library he told them that the plaza out front needed a Henry Moore sculpture, so they bought one and donated it. Of course it also does a great job of framing the First Christian Church.

They also became great supporters of Dale Chihuly and provided the chandelier and adjacent art for the Columbus Visitor’s Center’s stair.

The city has held a temporary sculpture exhibition a few years ago and due to the popularity of one work, the city purchased it.

There is also some fine historical architecture in Columbus including the County Courthouse.

Immediately behind the courthouse is the county’s veterans memorial. We were lucky enough to visit on Memorial Day and were both greatly moved by it. On the columns are engraved letters typically from service men and women written to family just days before they gave their lives for our country.

Columbus is also home to one of the few remaining ice cream parlors so of course we had to visit! One side of the parlor is the working restaurant while the other half is devoted to old ice cream fountains and other historic pieces including music devices. Oh and the ice cream was delish!

Mike and I both felt like none of the buildings well except for the First Christian Church and the Miller’s House (to which I will devote a whole post) are the best example of the architect’s work, rather it is the concentration of work by these leaders of architecture that makes a visit to Columbus so worthwhile. We highly recommend that you go out of your way if necessary to spend some time in this great little town.

Brunch, Athletics, & Architecture

Had a nice day today. We went to the popular cafe a block or two away for brunch. Turns out it was a buffet which was just ok but the made to omelets were tasty. The sad part is that Ohio law doesn’t allow alcohol before 11 am on Sunday which means it was more breakfast than brunch. 😢. Guess it also explains why the only reservations I could get were for 10 am.

After brunch…ahem breakfast, we lazed around the apartment a bit and then headed to the Columbus suburbs to catch a little of the North American regional gay rugby championship. As you can see there was a big crowd watching but the biggest crowd was at the beer tent which I failed to photograph.

The “old boys” (those over 35 years old) match was going on so we watched a bit of it. One fellow stole the ball and worked his way from one end of the field all the way to score. Those “old” boys play pretty well!

Mike was texting with his brother Chris, who asked what was the difference between rugby and gay rugby. I sent him the pictures below as evidence of the difference. (FYI, it wasn’t raining! LOL)

From the athletic field we headed back into town and did a windshield tour of The Ohio State University. It’s a huge campus and the older part is pretty and green. The newer parts are very urban.

The real reason to drive through was to see the Wexner Arts Center designed by Peter Eisenman in his deconstructionist style. I remember when the building was being lauded and criticized when it was first designed and built.

The towers near the entrance are a reference to the “castle” that had previously been on the site while the metal grid was a reference to scaffolding to symbolize the building not being complete.

Eisenman was one of the five architects profiled in a book in the early seventies- New York Five. The others included Michael Graves and Richard Meier (my fav among the five). Eisenman was more of a writer and educator than the others. He also designed the convention center here in Columbus. I suspect because of his ties to Wexner who was the President of The Limited.

We have enjoyed our time in Columbus and hope we get to come back sometime.


Ohio that is.

We had an uneventful drive from Uniontown to our Airbnb here in Columbus, Ohio although we were in three different states in under an hour. Our last stop in Pennsylvania was to check out my name sake borough….it was nothing to write home about 😢

We then quickly passed through the vertical panhandle (wonder what natives call it?) of West Virginia-I had no idea it existed and quickly found ourselves in Ohio.

Our Airbnb was as advertised. It isn’t the most luxurious but it is literally a block off High Street in the Short North Art District. High Street runs north or south (more or less). Ohio State University’s campus is to the north, downtown is to the south and south of downtown is the brewery district. I suspect our friends George and Doug will be exploring it when they visit Columbus later in the summer.

This part of High Street has lots of bars/restaurants all of whom have weekday afternoon Happy Hours. During HH most have half price beer, wine, cocktails and appetizers or small meals. Happy Hour sounds so much better than Early Bird Special! Anyway, we have taken full advantage!

Wednesday Night-local wheat beer and a double barrel aged Woodford. We shared some duck wings for supper.

Thursday Night Mike has a kiwi mule and I had a prickly pear Collins. We shared arancini, olives and then a white pizza.

Last night we had summer cocktails and then shared some really tasty dry rub wings, a HUGE wedge salad (we brought half of it home-it’s what’s left on the platter and is likely to be supper tonight) and a wonderful Ruben (with house made corned beef).

We averaged under $41 per night including tip so since it included alcohol we feel like we got some great deals…and food!

Today we rode the free circulator bus downtown to Columbus’ riverside park system. We got on it a block up High Street and rode it all the way south through the Brewery district (didn’t look as happening as up here at Short North). Our first stop was at Bicentennial Park to see the fountain where we watched young (and not so) frolic in the water.

We then walked part of the Scioto Mile a beautiful walk along river generally headed back in the direction of our place. The picture at the top of this post and the ones below are from along the walk. We were impressed with how clean the city is throughout and how many people were out here and everywhere we went.

we enjoyed several of the shady gazebos on the hot day including the one below which Mike so eloquently describes!

Leaving the riverside, our walk took us through the arena district, home to the Nationwide (Insurance-they are based here) Arena and lots of apartments and sports bars…and at least one dentist. Do you think it’s her real last name?😂

There was a cancer fund raiser going on today but rather than the usual run or walk, this was a (bar) crawl! Lots of groups in colorful T-shirts or costumes at all the bars in the arena district. It’s a fundraiser I can get behind!

The end of our walk was at the North Market. What a great place! Lots of prepared food stalls-Indian, Mexican, Vietnamese among others as well as donuts, breads, spices, ice cream, etc. and on Saturday and Sunday morning there is an outdoor section with real farmers!

We went upstairs to try “Hot Chicken Takeover”. The owner apparently visited Nashville, had some hot chicken, came home and perfected his recipe, opened a food truck and then after that success a couple of brick and mortar locations. It was really good-too hot for me but Mike enjoyed and thankfully they offered it in several heat levels including “cold”. The coleslaw and Mac n cheese were both incredibly good.

We really appreciated the “always free” tea!

From the market we walked a few blocks back to High Street and “circulated” back to our Airbnb. It’s a hot and humid day (88 degrees) so I think we will enjoy the air conditioning the rest of the afternoon and evening.

Tomorrow we have reservations for Brunch at the local highly recommended cafe and then hope to take in a rugby match or two if it’s not too hot. The gay rugby league championships are taking place here this weekend so will be interesting to see a sport we haven’t watched before.

For anyone considering a trip to Columbus, we recommend it. It’s clean, friendly and cheap (as long as you take advantage of weekday happy hours and have the daily soup with ice croutons!)

Laurel Highlands.

Greetings from Uniontown in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania! We left Washington this morning about 10:30 after a delicious breakfast at Bob & Edith’s Diner.

I even got to have a half smoke without having to go into the district to visit Ben’s Chili Bowl.

After making it out of the awful traffic around the capital we headed up through Maryland towards Pennsylvania. Along the way we stopped and took a short walk at one of the parks along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. The canal was built after the Erie Canal was completed and had started to hurt the economy of the area. Unfortunately it was never completed all the way to the Ohio River, but it did provide for the transportation of coal and other goods from West Virginia to the Chesapeake Bay. The C&O Canal was used until 1924. Currently, the Canal is visible in most places but at others it is completely overgrown and even has trees growing in the middle of it-but the haul trail where the Mules walked to haul the flat boats is now a very popular bike trail.

We also saw Mama & Daddy Duck along with their new chicks! (Sorry for crappy focus but they were moving fast!)

We stopped in the Maryland mountains in Flintstone for a quick lunch at “The Girls Cookin”. Tasty lunch but we weren’t sold on some of the decor!

Our focus of the day was not the Canal or squirrel friends at lunch, rather we had tickets to tour Kentuck Knob. This Usonian house by Frank Lloyd Wright was built in 1956 for Mr & Mrs Hagan, purveyors of ice cream in this part of Pennsylvania. They knew the Kaufmans for whom FLW had designed Falling Water which is about 30 minutes away. We visited it a number of years ago and it’s remarkable.

Kentuck Knob is much simpler but just as interesting. The Hagens initially intended for the house to be sited on the overlook shown at the top of this post. But as usual FLW had a different idea!

He sited the house up against the knob which is to the left in the picture. below.

You can see in this view from on top of the knob just how the house is integrated into the knob.

The chimney at this end of the house serves a fireplace in the master bedroom. The central chimney is at the core of the house. The public areas are to the right of the front door while the private spaces (3 bedrooms and 2 baths) are to the left.

As with all FLW houses, he designed every detail including built ins and furniture. We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside but this one of the light post gives you an idea.

The Hagens paid extra (about $5000 in today’s dollars) to have FLW sign his design. The red square tile with his signature is right at the front door.

Of course as with all Wright designs, the carport and the rest of the house was built to human scale-as long as you were no taller than FLW (5′-5″ tall). Needless to say I had to watch my head at all the low spots. Thankfully, he usually uses the low ceilings in corridors to contrast with higher ceilings in the living spaces.

The interior of the house is all wood or stone and really beautiful and from all the rooms the view is out across the Terrance and towards the beautiful woods.

The huge cantilever rood overhangs serve to shade the terrace and protect the windows from rain. According to our guide, they can leave all the windows open during a summer rain and never have to worry about any getting inside.

While no photography was allowed inside, it appears my phone accidentally took a picture in the kitchen. I am so glad this accident happened as it shows the stove which I wish Frigidaire would reintroduce. Each of the burners is self contained and folds up to provide counter space when not in use! In the picture below the kettle, red pot and yellow pot are on burners being used while one burner between the kettle and the red pot.

After our tour, we left the house behind and walked (guests are shuttled up to the house) back to the tour entrance through the woods where the current owner displays some of his art collection including a piece of the Berlin Wall.

We had a tasty taste of Hagen Ice Cream at The gift shop and then found our way to the Hampton Inn about 20 minutes away.

Tomorrow we are off to Columbus.

Lovely Day

Had a lovely day with Yost, his mom Ammie, his kids Nick and Maggie (Mike’s godchild), Sam and his mom. And of course Maggie’s son Aaron who is now 11 months old…and getting cuter by the minute!

As with our last visit only Yost, Ammie and Sam seemed to make Aaron truly happy so no pictures of Mike or me holding him this time. 😢

We discovered that Nick’s birthday is later this week so a candle was quickly found for the cake Mike made (and we had already cut for Friday night dinner) and had a singalong wishing him a happy birthday as he made his wish.