Mitchell House

Hillcrest. Architect: Robert W. Hess, 1956

West facade

Location: Hillcrest
Architect
: Robert W. Hess
(architectural plans)
Year built
: 1956
Original Owners
: Mr. & Mrs. Franklin Mitchell
Current ranking: 12 (view details)

This compact, modular-looking house was designed for an executive of the Reuter Organ Company, Franklin Mitchell, and his wife and three children. Mr. Mitchell was a master of organ design and voicing. He asked the architect, a young modernist named Bob Hess, to design a house that could incorporate a pipe organ in the living room. An organ was never installed, but in its place is a room with excellent acoustical properties and a dimensional quality that is dynamic and fluid — an architectural hymn keyed in space and light.

The dynamics of the interior resonate immediately upon entry. On the main level, the living, dining and kitchen area share a low-angled, exposed ceiling that gently descends from the upper-level bedroom suite until it reaches the vertically ascendant fireplace and the cross beam, creating a pleasing asymmetry and dynamic juxtaposition of form, line and scale. This is further enhanced by ceiling shadows that are cast by light entering from large south-facing windows, which gives these spaces a wonderful three-dimensional quality. They also flow beautifully, reducing traffic and wasted effort. This is what modernism is supposed to do: marry space and light for relaxed living.

Some issues were not completely resolved. A disconnect was noted between the main floor and raised bedroom suite, but it is somewhat smoothed over with natural wood ceiling beams that penetrate into the space, visually tying the two main structures of the house together. Here, the articulation of the interior structural systems is particularly well done. A slightly off note was also found in the odd configuration of the garage space, but it does not distract from the overall harmony of the architecture.

Living-dining area

Living-dining area

Entry (kodachrome)

Entry (kodachrome)

View from second-level bedroom suite

Fireplace hearth

Kitchen

Kitchen

Living room wall with framed architectural drawings

Living room (photo: Akiko Takeyama)

Stairway leading to upstairs bedrooms

Stairway leading to upstairs bedrooms (photo: Akiko Takeyama)

Another view of living-dining area

Another view of living-dining area (photo: Akiko Takeyama)

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