Though Finnish-American modernist Eero Saarinen is widely known for his large-scale projects, including the St. Louis Arch, the Brandeis University campus, the Bell Labs Holmdel Complex, and the TWA Terminal at JFK Airport, he did design a handful of homes over the course of his relatively short career. The credit for bringing Columbus, Ind.'s Miller House into being can be laid at the feet of J. Irwin Miller, the wealthy industrialist whose personally funded architectural advocacy earned the small town the nickname of the "Athens of the Prarie." By 1953, when Miller's own Saarinen commission was built, he had already brought a few other Saarinen-designed works to Columbus (his Cummins Foundation would pay the design fees if architects for civic projects were selected from a shortlist he provided), but it was the Miller House that became known as one of America's most iconic residences.
That reputation was bolstered in 2009, when Miller's widow died and left the home to the Indianapolis Museum of Art, which undertook a $2M restoration before opening it up to the public. Below are 28 photos from the pre-makeover days by Balthazar Korab, the late architect and photographer who became Saarinen's in-house documentarian, taken between 1953 and 1957 and culled from the Library of Congress. A great example of the often-bashed, long-forgotten conversation pit is the star of the series, pictured with different sets of cushions and pillows swapped out according to the season but handpicked in their entirety by Alexander Girard and textile expert Jack Lenor Larsen. Girard designed the interiors for the home, including a 50-foot-long modular storage wall with sections that alternate in color and depth.
Also on display is a poppy, geometric Girard rug and a few custom chairs whose cushions were hand-embroidered by Mrs. Miller's sewing circle based on custom monogram patterns created by Girard. Behold, the full set:
· 1957: The Miller House [Retronaut]
· The Miller House: America's Unsung Midcentury Residence [Curbed National]
· A Midcentury Modern Gem Called the "Athens of the Prairie" [Curbed National]
· All Eero Saarinen coverage [Curbed National]