IIf you’re reading these pages, chances are you don’t like anything more than taking a good look at other people’s houses. Below is a selection of five of the best house museums in the world: inspiring, creative, but ultimately delightfully domestic spaces that have been preserved as they were when the owners lived in them.
Casa Luis Barragán, Mexico City, Mexico
Casa Luis Barragán is the home of the Pritzker Prize-winning architect, who built his home in this former working-class district of Tacubaya in Mexico City. Completed in 1948 and inhabited by Barragán until his death in 1988, it is widely regarded as the purist expression of Barragán’s “emotional architecture” and is the only Unesco world heritage site of its kind.
From the outside, the vast concrete facade, barred and austere, hides the extraordinary inner beauty. Arriving from the street, visitors gather in a sparse lobby lit by yellow-tinted glass. Described as a “decompression hatch,” it creates a state of sensory expectation: what’s next?
Visitors will find the rest of the house just as Barragán left it: sparsely furnished with chairs collected from local flea markets and devotional objects (crosses, angels, skulls) collected on their travels. Natural light is carefully calibrated throughout – a golden rhomboid deliberately lands on the desk in a room specifically designed for Barragán to make and receive phone calls. (The phone, desk, and chair haven’t been moved for over half a century.)
Weightless stairs connect the three levels and a sober palette of wood, stone and thick adobe makes up the sometimes monastic space, which Barragán enlivened with paint colors that could compete with the Mexican sun. Burnt orange, Calpol pink, egg yolk yellow and a kind of institutional lilac cover the soaring walls of this extraordinary home that will undoubtedly remain a pilgrimage site for architects, designers and artists for decades to come.
Kawai Kanjirō Memorial Museum, Kyoto, Japan
Crouched on the tatami mat in the home of Japanese poet, writer, sculptor, and potter, Kawai Kanjirō, is a carving of a hollow dog. Kawai made the object out of recycled wood when the house was first built in 1937. Bright as a conker, Kawai used it as an armrest all his life and kept it full of dried persimmons, his favorite snack. It is just one of the pieces that brings life to the home of this extraordinary artist.
Kawai was one of the main figures of the mingei (“Folk art”) movement that developed in Japan in the 1920s and argued that beauty was found in everyday and utilitarian objects made by anonymous artisans as opposed to “high art”. As you explore the rooms of Kawai’s humble home and study, the plot is articulated.
Kawai believed that “lifestyle is work, work is lifestyle”. It follows that your home is a total expression of your art, hand-built to your own design and filled with only your favorite possessions. In addition to the fruit-filled dog, there are astonishingly simple displays of everyday objects on every patinated surface.
In the garden, visitors can explore the wood-fired oven that Kawai used to bake his pieces, some of which are now housed in the V&A. Visitors will also see a perfectly round stone on the outside. This was a housewarming gift that the always curious, always playful Kawai routinely rolled across the gravel, enjoying it from various positions before moving on.
Farley House, East Sussex
Farley’s House became an unlikely gathering place for writers and artists after photographer Lee Miller moved here with artist Roland Penrose in 1949. From the outside, this beautiful red brick farmhouse reveals nothing – you can imagining Pablo Picasso, Max Ernst, Joan Miró, Man Ray, and Leonora Carrington missing it completely before getting completely lost in the single-track country lanes surrounding Muddles Green.
Behind the traditional exterior, visitors are soon immersed in the intimate and colorful world of the surrealists. Like nearby Charleston (the rural headquarters of London’s Bloomsbury group), almost every surface was marked by the creative imagination of those who passed by, from the spectacular Penrose fireplace mural to the tiles created by Picasso and incorporated into the dashboard behind the Aga.
The works of many of those who visited Farley’s hang on the blue, yellow and pink walls, while the extensive collection of Miller and Penrose sculptures can be explored in the garden. (The house also has Lee Miller’s archive of 60,000 negatives, manuscripts, and short-lived articles.) The rooms have been left exactly as they were: there are cigarette butts in the ashtray and the in-house bar is fully stocked. It is as if the owners have run to pick up another friend from the station.
Villa of Eileen Gray E-1027, Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France
Built on stilts on a dizzying hillside terrace overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, Villa E-1027 was Eileen Gray’s first architectural creation. An all-white Modernist masterpiece with a colorful past, it was conceived as a seaside house in the shape of a boat for pioneering Irish designer and architect and her partner, Jean Badovici. (The name is derived from the interrelation of her initials: E for Eileen, 10 for J for Jean, 2 for B for Badovici, 7 for G for Gray). The couple worked on design for three years between 1926 and 1926. 1929 and they lived together for only two, before parting ways.
The interior was as meticulously planned as the main structure. Gray designed every piece of furniture, including the circular and adjustable chrome nightstands, now considered a classic in 20th century design. The revolving screens, shelves and labeled storage devices were designed to give each guest their own space and a place to store their pillows (pillows).
But the clarity of Gray’s vision was lost shortly after his departure. In the 1930s, Le Corbusier, a friend of Badovici, painted several controversial murals on Gray’s all-white walls in a seemingly deliberate act of desecration. During World War II, German soldiers used the outer walls for target practice.
The villa was in a state of total disrepair before being purchased by the Conservatoire du Littoral in 1999. In 2014, the Cap Moderne Association embarked on a six-year program to restore the building to Gray’s exacting standards. It reopens to the public this summer.
JB Blunk House, Inverness, California
American sculptor and “chainsaw master” JB Blunk made this redwood cabin between 1958 and 1962. It is a living, breathing work of art. Even the bathroom sink, carved from a single piece of cypress and textured with a chisel, remains a functional work of art. In a 1977 interview, Blunk said: “I consider this whole place (house, studio, fruit trees, orchard and chickens) to be a great sculpture.”
The cabin is surrounded by nature on a south facing slope of Inverness Ridge overlooking the valley to Tomales Bay. Large sculpted river and beach stones collected by Blunk line the driveway and driveway to the house. As visitors get closer, they walk past the Entry Arch, a massive sculpture carved from a single piece of ancient redwood in 1976.
Inside, Blunk’s paintings, ceramics, objects and sculptures merge. “My father made everything from the doorknob to the dishes we dine on,” recalls Mariah Nielson, Blunk’s daughter, who lives with her family in the house and uses his studio.
Before his death in 2002, Blunk made it clear that he wanted to share this regenerative haven with others. Over the years, Nielson has invited friends, artists and designers to visit and work on site.
“Sharing this place with others and seeing the creative energy continue to flow from artist to artist is an especially rewarding way to uphold Blunk’s legacy,” says Nielson.
The home will open to the public for monthly tours in 2022.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism