An Era’s Icon Is Remodeled
Nothing is forever, not even a Record House from mid-April 1984. And while it seems a little soon for a 20-something structure to be remodeled, the Izenour House, in Stony Creek, Connecticut, designed by Venturi Rauch and Scott Brown Architects (now Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates), has just been through a facelift under a new owner.
The Izenour House has long been an icon of Postmodern design, with its exaggerated gable roof; cartoon-size, flat, fat columns; and pilot’s-wheel window. Built for George Izenour, the theater designer, the house has a special meaning since his son, the late Steven Izenour, an integral member of the firm that created the building, was its principle designer.
When Alan Landis, a real estate investor, bought the house two years ago from George Izenour, he wanted to renovate it, in some cases replacing exterior materials with more durable and expensive ones. Landis commissioned Connecticut architect Nelson Denny (who had studied at Yale’s architecture school under Charles Moore in the late 1960s) to undertake the renovation: Denny substituted a standing-seam, lead-coated copper for the original cedar-shingle roof, re-sided the cedar-shingle exterior walls, added teak trim instead of cedar to windows and doors, and inserted a new steel frame in the house, among other moves.
The north facade, with its huge pilot’s-wheel window, has retained much of its appearance. However, on the south facade facing the Long Island Sound, Denny removed the fat columns and a broad expanse of exterior stairs leading to the waterfront. As Landis explains, the decorative columns blocked the view, so he and Denny kept only two of the four columns, now rendered in galvanized tubing. Denny incorporated the cascade of outdoor stairs into the body of the house to enlarge interior spaces by about 500 square feet, and added a deck and hot tub. He also removed the sloping shingle roof, and inserted a flat, lidlike canopy, thereby altering the proportions of the fan light and tympanum. Inside, the architect replaced the diamond-patterned, parabolic ceiling with a coffered, barrel-vaulted one, again to give the interior more space. Presumably, however, such an alteration would affect George Izenour’s carefully engineered acoustics.
All in all, it was an expensive and elaborate process, executed to address the particular needs and desires of the new owner, as well as solve the wear-and-tear on a structure built on a somewhat modest budget. The problem is that the modifications rob the original of its design spirit. This is a situation many architects face with new owners of their houses and is one not easy to resolve. It should come as no surprise that neither George Izenour, now 93, nor his grandson, John (now with Venturi Scott Brown), has been to see the house.