Tuesday, October 12, 2010

19 Demar Rd. in Lexington -- Techbuilt Classic

Designed by Carl Koch, the "Grandfather of Prefab" (Progressive Architecture, 1994), this Techbuilt classic, a three-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath 2615 s.f. home is a fine example of the pioneering modernism that Koch applied to mid-century homebuilding as returning GIs and a surge in Boston-area technology firms created more demand for housing young families. Bill Janovitz and John Tse are thrilled to offer this property for the listing price of $639,000. It will have an open house 1-3 on Sunday 10/17/20. Please contact me with any questions or to set up a private showing: bjanovitz@hammondre.com.

The House

Set on a wooded 3/4 acre, the siting takes full advantage of the natural beauty of Lexington's Middle Ridge/Turning Mill neighborhood. Vast expanses of glass open up the living area in the rear to meet the large, level, and private backyard. The open floor plan offers a natural flow. From the foyer (an addition consistent with the modernist aesthetic), one is drawn down the stairs of the split entry toward the views from the windows in the main living area. You will be forgiven for being distracted by the view and failing to immediately notice the newly refinished hardwood floors. The flexible first floor layout consists of a dining area, an airy, open main area, and a cozy nook formed in part by the fireplace and exposed chimney. It is easy for one to picture him or herself curled up with a book, perhaps a rare edition of Koch's own At Home with Tomorrow. **

Adjacent to the main living area is a room currently used as a 24X25 family room and spa, also an addition to the original structure. A hot tub is in one corner. One could easily see this room as an office large enough to house a home business, a home gym, a playroom, or as it is currently used. Sliders open up the back wall to a patio.

Flanking the living area in the other direction is a huge (20X16) eat-in kitchen with an island. From the walls of windows, watch family, pets, and/or wild turkeys gamboling (as the "wild" variety of turkeys are wont to do) in the backyard while you prepare dinner or wash the dishes at the sink (no need to actually wash, though; of course there is a dishwasher.)

A large half bathroom and laundry room complete the main living area.

Back up through the foyer, a few steps lead you to the main hallway, which in turn opens to three bedrooms and a full bath. A second full bath is included en suite for the master bedroom. All bedrooms feature the cathedral ceilings afforded by the post-and-beam construction. And one of the bedrooms opens up via sliders to use the top of the family room as a deck of sorts. In fact, the seller informs us that the construction of the below structure was designed to support a future deck (as with all such features, a buyer would be responsible for performing his/her own due diligence to verify).

The house had a new roof put on in 2009. There is a two-car garage with plenty of storage. But if you are a pack rat and still can't find enough room for your "I'll get to it someday" restoration project of broken Eames chairs, or your collections of moldy Dwell magazines, there is an additional storage shed.

(click any image to enlarge, if your browser allows)

The Neighborhood

Most people in Lexington know the area as Turning Mill, but it started out being referred to as Middle Ridge. Though it is now a large area of eight or nine streets, it started down here around Demar, with Techbuilt houses designed by Carl Koch, before growing further north and west and incorporating other modern designs, most notably, the Peacock Farm-style house plan designed by Dan Compton and Walter Pierce, who founded Lexington's Peacock Farm neighborhood on the other side of town. There have also been some Deck Houses built. The expanded part of the area is now referred to as "Upper Turning Mill."

Residents love the area due to its proximity to Estabrook Elementary school (adjacent) and because it offers membership in the Paint Rock swimming pool. It also borders the vast Paint Mine conservation area, with beautiful walking trails. The Lexpress bus runs through. And a quick zip takes you down backroads to Whole Foods, Staples, Super Stop & Shop, Marshalls, and so on in Bedford, or back the other way into the center of Lexington. And it is not far from Route 128.

The Architect

There is an understandable reluctance on the part of everyman to
build his counsel of nuts, bolts, and chromium. The industrial
revolution will help us realize our dreams if we can handle it, but we
haven't handled it too well so far. Although it is pathetic to think
we can escape the pressure of competitive business, the battle of
home-office transportation, and a compulsion to drive ourselves too
far, too fast, too much, by escaping into fantasy in the shape of an
eighteenth-century farmhouse, it is understandable that we try.

In our general progression of skills, building somehow lags far behind. Not 50 years behind, perhaps -- but not much less, at that. It goes still by hammer and handsaw -- agonizingly slow, inefficient, and more wasteful of money and people than we can any longer afford. The greatest irony of all is that it is so set about by habit, prejudice, false enthusiasm, and obsolete local constrictions that in a land of free enterprise the look of our urban landscapes is as comfortless, imitative, and repetitive, often, as any dictator could wish.

Carl Koch, preface to At Home With Tomorrow, 1958

Middle Ridge was originally "conceived and designed in 1955 by architect Koch as a neighborhood of Techbuilt homes." Koch had already had successfully designed the first modernist development in the Boston area, Belmont's Snake Hill (1941), Concord's first housing development, Conantum (1951), Weston's Kendal Common (1950).*

Koch came to the region when he attended Harvard School of Design, during "the confusing period between Beaux-Arts Eclectic and all-out Modern."*** It was a period (circa 1937) that overlapped with Gropius' time at the school, but for the most part, it seems Koch regarded his "contemporaries" the school as "leaderless or rudderless." More significant in the development of his own professional philosophy and style was a six-month tenure he spent in Sweden with Sven Markelius (1940-41), "which left him with an enduring admiration for the Scandinavian approach to life, democracy, and architecture."*** Certainly one can easily observe the themes of what is typically regarded as the Scandinavian aesthetic -- simple, clean, and functional design.

The eight-house neighborhood of Snake Hill, it seems, was an experiment in creating inexpensive housing for his own family. It is set on winding road high on a hillside off of Route 60 in Belmont.

A lovely Ezra Stoller shot of a Snake Hill home

In 1947, he designed the Acorn House (later merged with Deck House). His aim was to create well-designed and stylish housing for a good value (i.e. inexpensively) for middle classes by producing a modular construction system, manufactured in a factory controlled environment, which could be transported to a building site and assembled in a few days. However, the Acorn house was met with "resistance from local governments" and building code problems. **** More on Acorn history, by Lloyd Alter here.

(By the way, it seems Mr Alter's piece on the demise of Acorn/Deck/Empyrean (sourced liberally from the Boston Globe article linked at bottom) might have been, well not premature, but new life has been given to the first two brands, with a newly resuscitated Deck/Acorn.)

Far more successful were the Techbuilt houses, which, while certainly progressive architecturally, were more in line with prevailing trends and tastes. According to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, over 3000 of these houses were built, utilizing six different models. At least three were built in New Canaan, Ct., that other hotbed of Northeastern modernism, but it seems as though Lexington and Concord have the highest concentration and the highest amount of Techbuilt homes still preserved today.

Sources include:

*Lexington's Historic Survey of neighborhoods and housing stock

**Modernism 101

***McCallum, Ian (1959), Architecture U. S. A., New York: Reinhold Pub. Corp., pp. 170–174 via Hathi Trust



Boston Globe, "Prefab Pioneer Folds" Ted Seifer, December 24 2008

Ezra Stoller Shots

Thanks for architect, Tim Techler (his link is included on the right), for pointing us toward the Esto.com site, which includes some invaluable shots of Moon Hill taken by Ezra Stoller.

More on Ezra Stoller.

Friday, October 1, 2010

7 Moon Hill Rd. -- The Mann House

The spirit of exploration and invention, led by philosophy, can be present in an office. Ideas are welcomed from wherever they come. Architectural music is orchestral rather than solo. Every member is involved.

-- Sally Harkness, on the "collaborative" part of The Architects Collaborative (TAC) firm

Sally Harkness was the principal TAC partner behind the design of 7 Moon Hill Road, the Mann House. The original owners were Harold and Muriel Mann.

The house is currently being offered for sale for $995,000 via Hammond Real Estate, with listing agents, Bill Janovitz and John Tse. The first available viewing time is Sunday, October 10, open house 1-3 pm.

One of Moon Hill's finest examples of TAC-designed pioneering modernist homes, the Mann House has renovated and expanded over the years. The open floor plan flows through the living room, family room, kitchen, and dining room. Hardwood floors have been recently refinished. The main hallway leads to five bedrooms, including two suites. A vast sunroom with spa hot tub squares off the floor plan; two-car heated garage with workshop and storage areas, designed by TAC partner, Dick Morehouse. There is approximately 3487 s.f. of living area. Walls of thermal windows overlook the professionally landscaped grounds (7 Moon Hill Road was known informally as "the Garden House.") A rare offering of a special home.

Depending on your browser, all images should enlarge when clicked.

Some of the Notable Features of 7 Moon Hill Road

Living Room/Family Room

-Recently refinished hardwood floors
-Open floor plan includes large dining area
-Family room/television area, also could work as dining room
-The flexible floor plan is great for entertaining -- large parties and smaller, more intimate dinners alike
-Custom built-in book shelves and other original architectural features
-Glass doors to enclosed three-season porch
-Tree-top views through abundant windows
-Thermal walls of glass with thermal blinds


-Updated in the 1990s
-Subzero Refrigerator installed 2000 (+/-)
-Bosch Dishwasher
-Granite tile
-Custom cabinets
-Large space divided by island
-Abundant cabinets
-Separate entrance from side of house
-Double wall ovens

Master Bedroom

-Walk-in closet
-Built-in dressers
-Second closet
-Built-in desk
-Large shower stall in en suite bath

Guest/Au Pair/In-law/Teen Suite

-En suite full bath
-Walk-in closet
-Separate entrance, glass doors to three-season sunroom/patio
-Direct access to attached greenhouse

Additional Three Bedrooms

-Various built-in desks, dressers, custom closets

Entry Level

-Gracious entry foyer with marble tile, built-in bench and shelves, and large closet
-lexible room with fireplace -- could be a playroom, den, rec room, library, or its current use as a home office. Walls of windows allow plentiful natural light
-Laundry room
-Half bath with marble tile
-Utility room


-Five zones of radiant and hot water baseboard heat
-Wall-unit air conditioning (two mini-splits and two traditional wall-installed units)
-Water main located in garage
-Propane heat in garage


-Original house designed by Sally Harkness, noted partner of The Architects Collaborative (TAC). Additions and expansions also designed by TAC partners
-Windows replaced with insulated glass approximately 10 years ago on all living areas
-Original built-in desks, bureaus, and bookshelves throughout
-Most likely cork-tile floor under carpets in hall/bedrooms
-Master bedroom extended circa 1980s, designed by Norman Fletcher
-Hallway display case
-Motion-sensor exterior lighting

Three-Season Sunroom/Enclosed Patio
-Walls of glass sliding doors with screens
-Year-round hot tub/spa
-Six skylights
-Custom-built free-standing flower boxes.


-Rubber roof replaced about 1995, updated around 2000 (all dates approximate)
-Vertical siding
-Perimeter drains installed around rear and sides of house and in front of garage (street side)
-Greenhouse attached, with direct access to bathroom. 7 Moon Hill Rd. was informally known thoughtout Six Moon Hill neighborhood as “The Garden House.”
-Professionally landscaped

Two-Car Garage

-Designed by Dick Morehouse
-Heated, propane
-Workshop area with sink and bench, in rear
-Separate storage room

Here is a shot of the original house, prior to expansions, renovations, and other changes. The viewer will note that the original bookcases seen in this shot are still featured in the current iteration of the house.

More archival Moon Hill shots here.

About Moon Hill and TAC

There are two ways to go -- towards competition or towards collaboration. A contest can be stimulation, but as a way of life competition is wasteful. Time and energy are dissipated in overlapping efforts. The efficiency of collaboration lies in interaction directed towards the solution of a problem. A world that believes only in survival through competition must always be at war. And if the winner is preoccupied with winning, he may find himself on a mountain he never would have chosen to climb. In architecture, rivalry may lead to irrational design; it may put aside a direct solution in favor of a more sensational one.

To fight for conviction is another matter, and this fits in with collaboration. The essence of collaboration is the strength of the individual. When collaboration is operating as it should, a good idea will be carried by conviction, recognized by others without loss of their own prestige.

-- Sally Harkness

In 1947, one young group of forward-thinking architects, The Architects Collaborative (TAC), founded by Bauhaus pioneer, Walter Gropius -- who had fled Germany and joined Harvard University Graduate School of Design -- purchased 20 acres of land on the east-central side of Lexington and formed a non-profit corporation for the community they named Six Moon Hill.

According to personal interviews with some of the partners and residents conducted by Aram Demirjian, the land had been owned since 1908 by a retired automobile dealer, described as "a stubborn and slightly intimidating man... suspicious of TAC's motives for their desire to purchase his land," which was a wooded hill and on the east side of town, and thus convenient to the TAC office in Harvard Square. Ultimately a deal was struck with the former auto dealer, who had held on to six 1920s-era Moon cars in a barn on the property. Appropriately, the development was named Six Moon Hill.

Laid out on a cul-de-sac, they set aside common land to leave as open space, including an area with a swimming pool. They built about 26 houses in the International modernist style: walls of glass, open floor plans, flat or slant roofs, simple and inexpensive materials, austere lines, nestled thoughtfully into the landscape. Though they at first might have seemed out of place—European modernist statements plopped down in the middle of wooded Lexington and adjacent to farms—they actually reflected the old clich├ęs regarding New England Yankee frugality, sensibility, and working with materials at hand. As an article in the Boston Globe pointed out not too long ago, the houses of Moon Hill “remain remarkably unpretentious and livable.” And, when one stops to think about it, what would have been more out of place than Grecian columns on a farmhouse in the middle of a New England field when those originally started appearing? The Moon Hill houses were as unassuming, if not more so, than the good old white-clapboarded colonials dotting the town. Unlike reproductions of that familiar style, the modernist architects saw no need to busy up the facades of their homes with fake shutters, mullioned windows, cupolas and the like. And the use of rubber, tar and gravel, and other new building materials and techniques did away with the need for steeply gabled roofs to dump away the snow, rain and other byproducts of the New England climate.

More photos and information about TAC, Moon Hill, Five Fields, Peacock Farm and more, found here at our Modernism in Massachusetts site.

Six Moon Hill on Wikipedia