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House of repute

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Published 9/29/2004

Where does one begin to describe the lush beauty and cool, hip design of the Saarinen House at the Cranbrook Academy of Art? Certainly, Detroit is flush with some of the finest architecture in the world built in the 1920s, thanks in no small part to the consortium of design geniuses attending Cranbrook Academy of Art during this time. But the Saarinen House is a cut above, and has been described as “one of the most significant houses built in America during the 1920s.”

So, back to the original question, where to start? How about in the dining room, where one can see the sleek table and chairs designed by Finnish-American architect and designer Eliel Saarinen, who lived in the house with his wife, textile designer Loja Saarinen. Or in the garden of Loja’s design, an exquisite example of Arts and Crafts-era landscaping.

The list of highlights at the Saarinen is too long, because in every inch of the house — its interior, exterior, furnishings, lights, lawn and utensils — one can experience the full effect of what is known as the Arts and Crafts movement, in which art was married to the physical structures of our lives by pioneering architects and designers. Saarinen was a leader of Art and Crafts and a major proponent of modernism and art deco. No object was too insignificant for his artful eye — a fork and a lamp and a window and a building ranked equally in his quest to create functional art.

Toward this end, Cranbrook leaders have worked since the late 1970s to refurbish and renovate Saarinen’s house to achieve his original intent. Indeed, while the city of Detroit has many fine examples of art that we live, work, suffer and play in, the Saarinen House is different in that it is preserved, maintained and presented in such a fine manner as to give the impression that it couldn’t have been as perfect when people actually lived there.

Even if you aren’t into design, the Saarinen House is a national treasure. Don’t miss it.

To book tours of the Saarinen House, call Elana Ivanova at 248-645-3314.

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