Mid-Century Modern World: The Kaufmann House

Take a tour with the Atlas of Mid-Century Modern Houses. Next stop: the home that defined Desert Modernism
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Kaufmann House, Richard Neutra, Palm Springs, California (US), 1947. Photo by Julius Shulman / © J. Paul Getty Trust
Kaufmann House, Richard Neutra, Palm Springs, California (US), 1947. Photo by Julius Shulman / © J. Paul Getty Trust

Very few of us are lucky enough to live in the kind of homes featured in Phaidon’s new Atlas of Mid-Century Modern Houses. Understandable, as the book does feature around 400 of the finest works of mid-century Modernist architecture in the world. 

However, the department-store magnate Edgar J Kaufmann, was fortunate enough to own, not one, but two architectural masterpieces. In 1935, he took ownership of Fallingwater, the masterful country home Frank Lloyd Wright built for him on the gushing waters of the Bear Run River in Pennsylvania.  

A little over a decade later, Kaufmann picked up the keys of another home, this time in the far drier climate of Palm Springs, California. Kaufmann intended to use this house in the winter, and allowed the architect, Richard Neutra, to open up the domestic environment to the elements. 

“With the Kaufmann House, Neutra took the relationship between inside and outside space to a new level of intimacy, dissolving boundaries through multiple means,” explains our new book. “The rugged beauty of the mountain backdrop and the desert ‘moonscape’, as he called it, serve to enhance the impact of its horizontals and verticals.”

Though it might look modest from the photographs, the house actually covers a substantial amount of square footage, yet Neutra’s design retains a sense of human scale. “Neutra designed a home of stone, steel and glass around a central, sandstone chimney that anchors the living/dining pavilion,” explains the Atlas of Mid-Century Modern Houses. “Other spaces radiate from this central point in a pinwheel formation, connected by covered walkways and include a guest pavilion and service/staff quarters.  

 

Kaufmann House, Richard Neutra, Palm Springs, California (US), 1947. Photo by Julius Shulman / © J. Paul Getty Trust
Kaufmann House, Richard Neutra, Palm Springs, California (US), 1947. Photo by Julius Shulman / © J. Paul Getty Trust

“Floor-to-ceiling glass, in key parts of the dwelling, link house and garden, including a glazed wall in the living room that sinks down into the floor, creating a seamless flow to the adjoining terrace and onwards to the swimming pool. While the majority of the house is single-level, Neutra also created a ‘gloriette’ on the roof – a semi-sheltered belvedere that features louvred walls and its own fireplace.”

The Kaufmann House wasn’t the first mid-century Modernist home to be built in Palm Springs. But according to architectural writer Dominic Bradbury, it is perhaps the one building that came to exemplify this city’s architectural style. "Neutra’s Kaufmann House epitomizes Californian ‘desert Modernism’" he writes in our book’s introduction. Though for the house’s lucky owner, Modernist living didn't just mean the desert.

 

Atlas of Mid-Century Modern Houses

To see more enviable mid-century modern architecture from around the globe, buy a copy of the Atlas of Mid-Century Modern Houses here. A fascinating collection of more than 400 of the world's most glamorous homes from more than 290 architects, the Atlas of Mid-Century Modern Houses showcases work by icons such as Marcel Breuer, Richard Neutra, Alvar Aalto, and Oscar Niemeyer alongside extraordinary but virtually unknown houses in Australia, Africa, and Asia.

A thorough and comprehensive appraisal, the Atlas of Mid-Century Modern Houses is a must-have for all design aficionados, Mid-Century Modern collectors, and readers looking for inspiration for their own homes. Find out more here.


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