Down the road from Mohawk Mountain Ski Area in Cornwall is a small house with a sizeable pedigree.
House VI, reputedly the second house designed by acclaimed architect Peter Eisenman, is visible from Great Hollow Road, though travelers along the wooded rural way might miss catching sight of it.
A quick glance falls on an old schoolhouse that stands at the foot of the dirt driveway. A longer look reveals a contemporary structure that has been variously termed as “modernist” and “deconstructivist” in style; the architect is said to have regarded it as “postfunctionalist,” not an example of form following function.
The house, which is also known as the Frank Residence, was built in the early 1970s, while the schoolhouse dates back to 1865, the Civil War era.
The property owners, Suzanne and Richard Frank, commissioned construction of the residence and also the renovation and expansion of the schoolhouse.
The couple, who lived and continue to maintain a residence in New York City, wanted a getaway place of their own in the country.
“Dick had gone to summer camp in Kent and Winsted as a boy and liked this area, which is why we were looking around for a place here,” said Mrs. Frank.
A real estate agent took the Franks to three locations and they decided the schoolhouse property was just the place for them, but it was too small and needed to be renovated to suit their needs. The property had been owned by Armstead Fitzhugh, a landscape architect who had an installation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the late 1920s.
There was also “the wreck of an old building,” which had served as the schoolmaster’s house, Mrs. Frank said, noting that “half of House VI came to be constructed on its foundation.
Mrs. Frank, who was employed by Mr. Eisenman at the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies in Manhattan at the time, said they showed him the property and asked him what it would cost to tackle the school house.
Mr. Eisenman was one of what was termed “the New York Five”—including Michael Graves, Charles Gwathmey, John Heiduk, and Richard Meier; architects of reputation that took hold in the late 1960s.
Mrs. Frank said that Mr. Eisenman was familiar with the area, as he had an old farmhouse in Falls Village.
“He said it would cost $30,000 but for that money we could have a new house on the property instead,” she recounted.
Mrs. Frank said she jumped at the opportunity to have a house designed by him, as she really liked the residence known as House I, which he built for a client in New Jersey.
Both houses are part of a series of designs the architect designated by number.
The Franks’ 1,500-square-foot, one-bedroom residence took longer to build than they expected and cost twice as much as the original estimate, according to Mr. Frank.
“We were very much part of the process,” his wife said, pointing out that they were on the property a considerable part of the construction period (1972 to 1975) and lived in the schoolhouse, which now serves as a guest house and a study and studio space for Mrs. Frank, an author and architectural historian.
Mr. Frank, who is now retired, was an established photographer with a studio in Manhattan who was well-known for his food photography. His work is included in the book “Explorers of Light,” which features the work of 55 top photographers “that define image-making for the nineties,” according to its literature.
Needless to say, Mr. Frank photographed the construction of their getaway home every step of the way.
“It was an exciting and challenging time,” Mrs. Frank said, recalling the construction of their home, which took three years to build.
It was a verdant period of architectural thought in more ways than one.
“The Institute of Architecture and Urban Studies was a think tank,” said Mr. Frank.
“It was the place for architectural thinking in this country in the 1970s and ’80s,” said Mrs. Frank, who said she was employed there as a researcher and librarian for 12 years.
Their house in is the end product of a conceptual process in progress, as Mr. Eisenman was known to be a theorist.
In an interview with Austin Williams that appears online on the NBS Learning Channel, Mr. Eisenman, who is described as “one of the founding theorists of postmodern architecture,” said, “To theorize about your work means your work contains an idea. … The only architects worth their salt have in fact theorized in some way or another about their work.”
Mr. Frank said there was “a lot of back and forth” in Mr. Eisenman’s thought process and their discussions with him as their house took shape.
House VI has been greatly parsed, and its success debated, over the ensuing decades, with many visitors, including renowned architects, coming to experience it in situ, the Franks noted.
Mrs. Frank, in a written communication, said, “The most prominent architects who I can remember hosting were Frank Gehry, Philip Johnson, Kenneth Frampton and Laurie Hawkinson and Henry Smith-Miller.
“When Johnson came he called the house a masterpiece. Edgar Kaufmann, Jr., commissioner of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, praised it. Critic Paul Goldberger wrote it up in the ‘New York Times’ magazine and did it in the form of an interview with us. Many, many other architects came early on who Peter brought during the week, like Richard Meier and John Hejduk (dean of architecture at Cooper Union).
“Robert Stern, who is very well known in architectural circles and indeed by the public at large, and has been the very successful dean of architecture at Yale, had a very different style than Peter’s but publicized his architecture and particularly House VI in his TV series, ‘Pride of Place.’
“The house is a much-published item and drew many opinions—sometimes people thought it inconvenient to have a column next to the dining table. But let me reiterate, it’s a most commodious house and is almost always bathed in beautiful light. The windows are varied in size but are almost all but the four operable ones large-scale, to accept the outside inside. They make the trees accessible to us; they give us a spiritual dimension that even surpasses the one that inspired me in House I these many, many years ago.”
Mrs. Frank talked about the house’s virtues and construction difficulties in detail in her book “Peter Eisenman’s House VI: The Client’s Response.”
In a written communication, she noted that the duration of its construction was “long because of its complexities. At its completion, we beheld intertwining posts/columns, beams and glassed-in slots working in an asymmetric tall two-story space, which according to a Getty publication authored by Kristina Luce deduced that Peter’s 4-square and 9-square drawings made for an adventurous condition. But this was counteracted by the humane proportions of the members, following the erudite Fibonacci series (e.g., the additive progression of numbers like 1+2+3+5+8+13), on which Le Corbusier based his Modulor proportional system. The outcome is, therefore, a reflection of the contemporary life conditions of security and uncertainty working in tandem.”
The homeowners needed to undertake structural repairs in the late 1980s, which, Mr. Frank said, made the house’s condition “better than ever.”
“We had to put a new roof on, because of the winters here, and decided to cover up some skylights,” he noted.
The skylight over one of the house’s two prominent staircases, the green stairway, was covered over, but the stairwell remains light-filled, due to the large window alongside it.
The red stairway is perhaps the interior’s most striking feature—an upside down stairway to nowhere.
The front and rear facades are without entrances and notably punctuated by vertical panels of glass, which, along with the skylights, bring a lot of natural light in.
“The quality of light” is what Mr. Frank said simply he enjoys most about their residence, sharing that his favorite place inside is their sofa underneath the skylight over the living room.
“It is beautiful here in every season.”
“We have loved living here,” he said.
Mrs. Franks echoed her husband’s sentiment, adding that it is “an exciting, poetic space.”
“We wanted a house that was grand in design and modest in size, and that is what we got,” she said.
She elaborated on this in a written statement.
“We also desired comfort and that’s what we received,” Mrs. Frank stated. “The forms, again, smacked of the above-mentioned effects, and were both playful and solemn. The most obvious of these were the red and green stairs: the forest green steps went up to the second floor with a sliver of a void on the topmost riser, while the complementary poinsettia red upside-down stairs had a slot as well. These voids and the red stairway indicate Eisenman’s playful AND serious intention of reading the house upside down. This levitating condition was echoed on the outside forms as well: on the east façade the house’s side facing the driveway coming in had some cantilevered box-like spaces hovering over a recessed pit filled with the sturdy pachysandra never perishing even in the winter months.”
She described the plan and utilization for the interior space as well.
“Peter had asked each of us what we would do in the house to get an idea of how to allocate the room spaces. The result was a conventional living/dining, kitchen and bedroom. The dressing room upstairs was later made into a study for Dick. All of these rooms were open originally to capture the free-flowing space of modernity. (Later, we added conventional doors for the sake of privacy.) This study space, paired with the bathroom and shower were both boxed, cantilevered volumes extended to overlook the brook way below. When I borrow this study for a time it is wonderful to hear the gurgling or rushing brook and look towards the west, towards the giant old maple tree, holding the bird feeders and watch these winged creatures as they pause momentarily to partake of their sunflower seeds.”
The couple noted that they renovated the schoolhouse in 1984, when they had a pool constructed on their nearly six-acre lot.
“There is a bedroom in the original schoolhouse bay with its 1865 coved ceiling and a living/kitchen space in the 1940s bay. The latter has a working fireplace which adds to its romantic appeal. In 2010 Dick asked our grounds keeper to build in the screen porch in the back as an insulated study for me, which I really like and in which I spend quite a lot of time.”
The time has come, Mr. and Mrs. Frank said, for them to put their getaway home on the market.
“It is not on the MLS, but already there has been a lot of interest in it, including from abroad, with people saying they can’t believe an Eisenman property has become available,” said Stephen Drezen, a broker associate with Litchfield Hills/Sotheby’s International Realty.
The asking price for House VI and the second dwelling and nearly six acres of land, which is bordered in part by a rushing brook, is $1.4 million.
Mr. Drezen said, “We are marketing it as a work of art.”