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Photo: Both home and gallery —Clockwise from left: floor sculpture, cherry chain, ©Bryan Nash Gill; painting, Untitled II, ©Bart Gulley; painting, Untitled 5A, ©Janet Slom, all courtesy of Art + Interiors.

As featured in HOME, Hersam Acorn Press Special Section — 2009

A labor of love is the phrase that springs to mind when viewing the artful and intelligent staging of a Philip Johnson House in New Canaan, CT by Interior Designer Victoria Lyon of Victoria Lyon Interiors of Old Greenwich. The Alice Ball House (so named for the original owner), at 523 Oenoke Ridge Road, is a classic of mid-century modern design by Architect Philip Johnson, who was one of a group of architects active in New Canaan after World War II.

Known as the Harvard Five, Eliot Noyes, Landis Gores, John Johansen, Marcel Breuer, and Mr. Johnson built about 90 New Canaan moderns that showcased their philosophy of design, which included linking the exterior and interior of their houses with floor-to-ceiling windows.

Victoria, whose firm is known for designing with fine art and collectibles, became involved with the house last fall. “The main purpose was to show how mid-century moderns can be adapted for today’s lifestyles,” Victoria said. “I also wanted to show how architecture, art and interiors could be thoughtfully integrated in the design of an 1,800- square-foot modern home.”

A Lover Of Art And Décor

Victorias’s roots in interior design and renovation go back 17 years, when she left the corporate world to do something she had always loved.

“I had previously worked for Polaroid, developing brand-new photo technology for art reproduction,” she said. “One big achievement was, at the request of the Vatican, developing and building a three-story camera to photograph Raphael’s ‘The Transfiguration.’ The result was a totally accurate life-sized reproduction.”

After leaving Polaroid, Victoria decided to follow her heart, and the footsteps of many of her relatives. “My mom is a textile designer and my grandfather an architectural historian,” she said. “Other family members are also involved in the arts and literature. I was an art major in college, and when I left the company, everything kind of jelled. I took a few courses in art and design, and my professors encouraged me to jump right into my own business.”

Today, Victoria is known for her ability to incorporate artwork in a variety of interiors. “I work on renovations and also with people who are building new homes,” she said. “I often act as liaison between client, architect and contractor. In addition, I have a good store of knowledge about landscape design.”

Photo: On display: painting, Untitled I, by ©Bart Gulley; TV easel by ©Gregory Clark, courtesy of Art + Interiors.

Staging A Johnson Modern

Victoria’s involvement with the Alice Ball house began when she approached the New Canaan League of Women Voters with the idea of a lecture and tour about adapting today’s lifestyle to that of a mid-century modern.

The success of that event led to several more. The house was the setting for a William Pitt-Sotheby’s event; evening parties for guests and friends of Victoria Lyon Interiors, including project participants, architects, builders, designers, and friends of modern architecture; and open-house tours for the benefit of the New Canaan Historical Society.

To prepare for the series of events, Victoria left no stone unturned. She decided to base her staging on a fictional owner who was both an art collector and lover of mid-century-modern architecture.

“I wanted to capture the soul of the house and do everything I could with the interior décor to bring the beautiful outside in,” she said. Built in 1953 on 2.2 acres, the house was and is relatively small – 1,800 square-feet. It has a living room/dining room, kitchen, two bedrooms, two baths, and a fully finished lower level. Outside, the home is surrounded by private, serene gardens with an Asian theme. A harmonizing studio/office has a full bath, and there is a two-car garage.

After studying the house, Victoria decided to keep the decor “clean and simple,” in keeping with the lines of the house. “I wanted to be true to the architect’s aesthetic principles and incorporate lots of vivid and unusual art,” she said. “The idea was to showcase the house while uplifting it. To bring the project to fruition, we teamed up with an array of art galleries, furniture and accessory stores, artisans and craftsmen, fine art professional lighting and audio designers, and builders, architects and contractors.

“We worked very hard to find the artists, furniture and accessories that would bring out the best in the home,” she said. “We were not necessarily looking for famous artists, and included works from a cross section – from practically unknown to very well established.”

Looking at the empty home as a canvass to be filled from a palette of visually striking vintage and contemporary decor, Victoria was careful not to clutter any of the rooms.

“We wanted to bring the lovely outside in through the gorgeous windows, and incorporate what was going on outside with what was happening within,” she said. “We decided that clean and simple was the way to go.”

In the living room/dining room area, Victoria chose neutral colors for the major pieces of furniture and accented the room with a variety of bright, modern art and unusual accessories. She used neutral area rugs on the stone floors throughout the home, with nothing added to distract from the tranquil feeling.

A striking feature of the dining area was a “floating” dining room table, which featured a slab of wood sitting on two poured-glass blocks. From a distance, it appeared the table was suspended, which enhanced the tranquility of the room. Two cantilevered wood chairs and two clear Lucite chairs surrounded the table.

The master bedroom featured a bed and bedside tables from the Artifact Design Group of Wilton. The headboard had built-in lighting on each side. Again, the room featured striking modern art and furniture placed to maximize function and carry the eye to the private outside patio and gardens that adjoin both bedrooms. Once again, there was a generous use of unique accessories.

The galley-style kitchen remains true to its original design and featured distinctive art and accessories that brought it to life. Both bathrooms have major stone elements that start from the floor and wrap up the walls, with gleaming stone counters and bright lighting.

Moving downstairs to what Victoria called the “pleasure den,” visitors discover a wine cellar and comfortable black leather furniture. Outside, it’s a short walk through manicured Asian gardens to the studio, which could be adapted to a variety of uses.

New Interest In Modern

Victoria said she believes lifestyles and attitudes are now changing to the point where modern architecture is beginning to gain a real foothold.

“There is definitely a new interest,” she said. “I really believe people are tired of being burdened by too many possessions filling their 10,000-square-foot homes. I also think people have a desire to be reconnected to their landscape, something moderns provide. There is an efficiency of design and space that people are once more coming to appreciate. I am hopeful that we are coming to the point where people want to spend money on striking architecture and art and linking the outside with the inside to achieve peace and beauty in the home. These are things that inspire rather than burden.”

Victoria worked with dozens of individuals and firms to bring the Philip Johnson house to life. They include Advanced Home Audio; Art+Interiors; Artifact Design Group; Christina Ross; Espasso; Grain of Thought; Irwin Feld Design; Joy Serate Florist; Lugh Studio; Mid-Century Modern; Mis-en-Scene; Modern State Magazine; Mondo Cane; New Canaan Wine Merchants; ROOM furniture & Interiors; Room & Board; The Royal Closet; Signorello’s of Westport; TDS Homeline Services; Waterworks of Greenwich; William Pitt-Sotheby’s Realty; Wittus-Fire by Design.

For information on Victoria Lyon Interiors, call 203-540-5350. The Philip Johnson house is currently listed with Prudence Parris, William Pitt-Sotheby’s International Realty, 203-966-2633, 203-326-1695 (cell).

Photos: Eric Roth Photography

Photo: Compact kitchen with dramatic focus: painting, Harmony, ©Mary Manning, courtesy of Art + Interiors.
Victoria Lyon Interiors   •  By Appointment: 16 Jada Lane, Greenwich CT 06830  Phone: (203) 540-5350   •  victoria@victorialyonInteriors.com