Most architecture enthusiasts will know the Glass House, Philip Johnson’s modernist masterpiece in the midcentury-modern haven of New Canaan, Connecticut. Much less known, however, is the Booth House in rural Bedford, New York, Johnson’s first commission and a project that would inform his major works to come. This important early design is now under threat and urgently seeking new ownership.
Built in 1946, four years after Johnson’s Harvard Graduate School of Design thesis project and three years before the Glass House, the Booth House is the first postwar structure by a Bauhaus-inspired American architect, and a groundbreaking addition to a town populated with traditional homes. Like the modernist Case Study Houses that would soon begin rising in Southern California, the Booth House was born out of a postwar enthusiasm for experimentation and using new materials to build economical homes for common folks.
The 1,450-square-foot abode was erected with concrete blocks and steel beams and columns. The living experience centered on a simple open plan with a statement brick fireplace and 28 feet of glass walls overlooking scenic grounds—an idea that would be taken to world-famous extremes in the Glass House.
But with two private bedrooms and generous storage, the Booth House is a lot more family-friendly than its New Canaan counterpart. And that’s exactly how it has been used over the years.
In 1955, architect and architectural photographer Robert Damora and his wife, architect Sirkka Damora, began renting the house. The Damoras were deeply embedded in the budding modern architecture scene in the Northeast, and Robert had photographed many works by modernist architects like Marcel Breuer and Philip Johnson (Booth House included, as seen in the circa-1976 shots above).
The Damoras eventually purchased the small but elegant nature retreat in 1964, and proceeded to add about 900 square feet of below-grade space (with access to a rounded sunken courtyard) and a standalone 800-square-foot studio with ample skylights for Robert’s architectural drafting work. “When you find an environment that soothes your soul, there is little motivation to move on,” Matt Damora, the couple’s son, writes about the house on Docomomo.
But by the early 2000s, his parents were elderly and the house, located on two woodland acres, became increasingly difficult to afford, maintain, and navigate—the car parking area is quite the walk away, Matt tells Curbed. The family was gearing up to sell.
In 2010, shortly after Robert Damora passed away, the family finally listed the house on the open market for $2 million; the price tag and architectural history attached brought renewed attention to this hidden gem. But due to specific financial circumstances surrounding the property and a post-recession market unfavorable to premium architectural properties, a deal was never made.
This time around, the Damoras are offering the property with a guide price of $1 million, hoping for a fast sale. The urgency comes from the family’s financial need to sell the property quickly, ideally to a preservation-minded buyer who appreciates the architecture, or risk losing the home to redevelopment, a common fate for small midcentury homes in the region. The Damora family can be reached at email@example.com or 718-230-8858.