The Miller house is a simple yet stupefying amalgamation of art and architecture. The brilliance of Eero Saarinen’s architectural design innovations, Alexander Girard’s vibrant interiors, and Dan Kiley’s geometric landscape design set an epitome of the mid-century modern architecture style

The Miller House by Eero Saarinen: Midcentury Modernism - Sheet1
The Miller House_©Darren Bradley
The Miller House by Eero Saarinen: Midcentury Modernism - Sheet2
The Miller House and Garden_©Darren Bradley

The house was designed as a year-round residence, commissioned and completed in 1957 for the Miller family located in Columbus, Indiana. Its design embraces the modernist principles of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe with a flat roof, full-height glass and stone walls, and an open and flowy layout. The subtle white and grey walls on the exterior strikingly contrast the colourful and vivid interiors. What makes it a masterpiece is the unique ambience that was rarely seen in that era, a blend of hard-core architecture and decorative interiors.

The Architectural Design

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The passageway with steel columns and terrazzo flooring_© Darren Bradley

The planning was quite modern and unconventional for that era, with a non-axial yet functional space arrangement. The free-flowing plan consists of a central space that embodies the conservation pit and four private areas that branch out from this public space. The plan follows a similar geometry as that of Villa Rotonda by Andrea Palladio. 

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The central space_© Darren Bradley

The central space is highlighted by modern elements like a cylindrical fireplace and the sunken pit. The skylight designed in a grid pattern supported by sixteen free-standing columns creates a beautiful drama of light and shadow in the house. The steel columns and the terrazzo flooring bind the whole building with the modernist sense. Saarinen created a timeless masterpiece for generations to celebrate his brilliant design and details in the house.

The Landscape Design

The Miller House by Eero Saarinen: Midcentury Modernism - Sheet5
The alley towards the entrance of the house_© Darren Bradley

The landscape of this house was perfectly designed by the celebrated landscape architect Dan Kiley. The design observes symmetry and geometric patterns complementing the house’s design inspired by European gardens tailored in the modernist style. The landscape around the house is divided into three parts, each having its captivation. Kiley focused on framing the landscape around the house and left the land abutting the Flatrock River with a long meadow swooping towards the river. 

The plot with Flatrock River on the west and Washington Street on the east measures 13.5 acres is left with meadows to shift the focus towards the house. Kiley paid attention to small details in the landscape, like putting up vegetation like the weeping beeches on the west portion of the house to shield it from the natural trespassers like the sun and wind. 

The approach is designed to unveil the building with an alley of chestnut trees slowly. The landscape is intended such that the building does not sit conspicuously on the site but is subtly complemented and unwrapped with the well-planned plantation of trees and bushes around it. 

Kiley treated each direction differently, considering all the natural features and micro-climate on the site. The east side of the house is planted with blocks of apple trees arranged in a grid on the lawn. The eastmost edge is treated as the boundary with alternated blocks of arborvitae planted along the edge, serving as a porous hedge boundary for the site. Crabapples replaced the redbuds planted in the north lawns of the site. Arborvitae hedge also lines the southwest corner of the house. It is noteworthy how the west side of the house is lined with honey locust trees framing a view from the house to the meadows. 

Kiley did an excellent job in framing the building with the landscape so that, on the one hand, it is not imposing on the site. On the other hand, it is revealed gradually and is framed from certain angles, which adds to the beauty of the hard-core structure designed by Saarinen.

The Interior Design

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The dining area with terrazzo tiles_© Darren Bradley

Adding to the beauty of this raw structure by Eero Saarinen, Alexander Girard designed contrasting colourful interiors for the Miller house. The vibrant fabrics and pimping finish he used for the house bring in warmth and wonderfully juxtaposes the rectilinear design by Saarinen. He designed bookshelves and cabinets along the walls mounted within the niches for a neat and orderly look, with a bay for all the equipment in the storage. Miller’s eclectic objects are focused on the display, with every other gadget having a space in the storage. 

The alternate living area with shelves in the niches_ © Darren Bradley

Girard designed some patterns for the curtains and the rugs in contrast to the simplicity of the structural layout. The dining chairs and the cushion covers that he designed are the highlights in the interiors as they comprehend the Miller family’s initials. He suggested the conservation pit in the living room to avoid heavy furniture pieces and maintain the linearity of Saarinen’s design. His choice of colours and liveliness of the interiors breaks the rectilinear geometry of the house, which brings in the character making the house a piece of timeless architecture.

This house was a breakthrough in the modernist time and was declared a National Historic landmark in 2000. It was owned by the Miller family until 2008, when Xenia Miller passed away. The members of the Miller family donated it to the Indianapolis Museum of art in 2009. It is a perfect example of what genius can be created when three very creative minds are put together.

References

  1. Yellowtrace. (2014). Miller House & Garden by Eero Saarinen | Yellowtrace. [online] Available at: https://www.yellowtrace.com.au/eero-saarinen-miller-house/ [Accessed 2 Jul. 2021].
  2. En.wikipedia.org. 2021. Miller House (Columbus, Indiana) – Wikipedia. [online] Available at: <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miller_House_(Columbus,_Indiana)> [Accessed 3 July 2021].
  3. Williamson, L. (n.d.). Miller House in Columbus, Indiana by Eero Saarinen Modern Home by…. [online] Dwell. Available at: https://www.dwell.com/home/miller-house-in-columbus-indiana-by-eero-saarinen-7565ad76 [Accessed 3 Jul. 2021].
  4. ArchDaily. (2011). AD Classics: Miller House and Garden / Eero Saarinen. [online] Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/116596/ad-classics-miller-house-and-garden-eero-saarinen [Accessed 3 Jul. 2021].
Author

Aditi is a creative soul and a firm believer in procedural learning. She looks towards building a sustainable milieu by linking the built environment to the roots of India’s culture. She is an ardent reader and holds a keen interest in art, architecture and aesthetics.

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