|Contact name||Scott Laughlin|
|Home area||4,552 sqft|
|Lot Area||4 acres|
When one thinks about iconic 20th Century modern Architects, there are two names that come to the forefront, Louis Kahn & Philip Johnson.
Another name that belongs in that category is Hugh Newell Jacobsen. Mr. Jacobsen studied under Mr. Kahn at the Yale School of Architecture and apprenticed with Mr. Johnson upon earning his Master of Architecture degree in the mid 1950’s.
As Vincent Scully referenced in his introduction to Jacobsen’s complete book of works, published in 1988, “Jacobsen’s instinct is for precision, clarity, and elegant formality, all his buildings and projects share these qualities.”
Jacobsen is relatively unknown around Philadelphia, as his office is located in Washington D.C., but his body of work is vast, and global. His clients have included Meryl Streep, James Gardner & Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and he has been described as “one of the world’s 50 top Architects” by Architectural Digest.
“What I do is look at the vernacular architecture, not the great palaces and things, I take just the regular ordinary house, barn, outbuilding, smokehouse, wayside church and I abstract it, I clean it up.” says Mr. Jacobsen.
He is best known for his modern, pavilion-based residences, composed of simple, gabled forms, rectangular in plan. There is a playfulness to his crisp symmetry and taking the context of a simple vernacular and surprising the viewer, owner and guest with a modern twist to a classic form.
Here in Meadowbrook, Mr. Jacobsen was tasked with creating a modern home on a sloping hillside in 1988. Nearly invisible from the road, one turns down a pea-gravel drive past a series of perfectly placed White Pines & Hemlocks. From the moment you turn down the drive, there is a sense of calm discovery.
The first glimpse of what is to come appears to be the back side of a barn.
The placement of the driveway is just as critical as the placement of the house itself, for a sharp 120-degree turn to the West reveals a remarkable village-like cluster of 5 buildings on the left with the barn across the drive. Each section has a different roof shape and each is clad in a different pattern of wood or brick.
Hence, the name of the home is “A Village of One’s Own”!
Three massive chimneys reach for the sky and the entire structure is covered in cedar shingles on the roof. There is a crispness and symmetry to the varying “buildings” from the 6-dormered Federal-style living room to the glass, pyramidal sky tower that was inspired by an 18th Century lantern house over the entry foyer.
Ornamentation is eliminated, with box gutters hiding the downspouts and it is completely void of any fenestration. The forms themselves are the decoration, and it is simply brilliant!
“Good architecture doesn’t really over-power its surroundings, it makes the site look better.” Mr. Jacobsen stated.
From the entry courtyard, the home appears small & simple. The site, however, afforded the architect with the ability to design a reverse plan where the public living spaces occupy the main level. This first floor is high like a treehouse with views out to the canopy of trees that fill the rear yard. The private living quarters occupy the full lower-level with complete connection to the grounds through a series of symmetrical sliding glass doors from every room to the flagstone walkway across the entire rear of the house.
With Southern exposure, the way the sunlight plays across the rear of the home is magical. No matter what Mother Nature delivers on any given day, from sun, to snow to rain, the experience & connection to the outdoors is magical.
Mr. Jacobsen commented “I have been obsessed with light in all of my buildings, and I learned so much from Lou about what light is, and color and so on, and if there’s anything, I am obsessed with that.”
Before you enter the house, the detached garage is designed to house 4 vehicles. Facing the home, a series of 5 square windows with individual shutters pays homage to horse stalls, while the 5 dormers on the 2nd floor flood the loft/office space with Southern light. The garage and office have their own heating system.
The home is grand without being grandiose. There is a quiet elegance that offers multiple experiences.
One enters into the 2nd of the pavilions. The bluestone floored foyer is bathed in light from the glass sky tower above and two large windows facing the rear patio & grounds. Centered in the foyer is the powder room with a 16’ ceiling that has a mural painted by Hugh Newell Jacobsen himself! It’s a whimsical interpretation of Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam!
The two-story (20′ gabled ceiling) living room to the left of the foyer is the first of many surprises. A series of 6 dormers cut through the soaring ceiling while 8 symmetrical 8’ tall floor-to-ceiling windows ground the living room to the outdoors. Centered on the gable wall is the first of five wood burning fireplaces with a hidden wood box tucked to the right & a square window off-centered to the left. Another ingenious design of Jacobsen’s is the placement of interior window shutters to control the flow of light.
A glass door connects to the elevated tile floored terrace, which is also connected to the dining room. Frameless glass walls provide unobstructed views of the tree canopy.
The third pavilion provides another signature Jacobsen element, the 25’ tall library walls & circular steel staircase to the private quarters below. This section also houses a massive “roof light” on the Southern slope of the pavilion.
The 4th pavilion houses the dining room & kitchen. Similar to the living room, yet juxtaposed with the gable walls facing the rear & front yards, soaring 18′ ceilings in the dining room and large windows provide the perfect backdrop to enjoy the changing seasons with family & friends over great meals. The 2nd wood burning fireplace is centered on one side wall with hidden storage closets.
The kitchen is the definition of efficiency, with cabinetry on all four walls and a large central island. Double ovens, a SubZero side-by-side fridge and a series of square windows overlooking the entry court provide the perfect vista to see guests as they arrive.
The 5th and smallest of the pavilions houses the mudroom & breakfast room with the 3rd wood burning fireplace. There is a smaller terrace directly off the breakfast room for more intimate, al-fresco family meals.
Descend to the private quarters below, and the family room/study continues with the stone flooring seen in the entry foyer. The library walls continue downstairs all the way to the rear doors to the back yard. The entire lower level has 10’ ceilings.
Another unique element that Jacobsen designed into the lower level is the fact that every rear-facing door and window has built-in pocket shutters that slide out to control the light into all the bedrooms, office and family room.
The master suite occupies the entire space under pavilions 4 & 5 and is a refuge of simple, classic forms. The sleeping chamber has a custom-designed Jacobsen canopy bed and the 4th wood burning fireplace. A paneled wall flanking the fireplace hides three distinct doors. The door to the left provides access to the private home office with the 5th wood burning fireplace. To the right of the fireplace, one panel hides storage, while the 3rd door opens to the understated, yet elegant en-suite bath. A private water closet is tucked behind one door, while direct access to the large walk-through closet can be gained from either the bathroom or the sleeping chamber.
Along the entire North wall of the lower level is a hallway that contains various storage closets and the laundry. The 3 remaining guest bedrooms occupy the space below pavilion #2 and the living room. One guest bedroom has its own en-suite bath, while the remaining 2 guest bedrooms share a Jack & Jill bathroom.
The mechanical room & storage are tucked all the way at the end of the hall.
Outside, the majority of the grounds have been kept natural, yet Jacobsen elected to cut two wide allees to force perspective to the distant woods. Several large trees near the home have been equipped with uplights to highlight the trunks.
As one walks down the rear sloping yard, and turns around, it is only then that one can appreciate the scale & ingenuity of Jacobsen’s design. A full three stories from the rear elevation, the wide, asymmetrical incorporation of the 5 pavilions still remains balanced.
As featured in the April 1989 issue of House & Garden, the author summarized it perfectly, what truly define this magical property.
“Wit has been defined as the unexpected copulation of ideas. In the Jacobsen house, the wit arises from an inversion of expectations; the house is a village; a traditional exterior masks a Modernist interior; the shutters are inside. The inversion continues in the library where a staircase (steel) spirals down, not up; the bedrooms are not in the dormers, as you would expect from the outside, but downstairs, in a ten-foot high row of rooms notched into the hill… part Mount Vernon, part villa. The house is really two houses; a village from the drive, a mansion from the woods.”
In closing, I found this statement from Jacobsen most interesting. “I found with clients that come in from Coca-Cola Colonial houses, it’s just a matter of talking to them, saying it’s OK to have no mullions on your windows so you can see outside, and it’s a teaching, learning experience. It was for me when I started studying architecture, and it is with every client, so they get to understand that architecture without order, is not architecture.”