Enduring Modern Classics

Who says you can’t go home again?

A couple weeks ago, my sister Pam and I got invited to lunch at the house we grew up in.

Smilow-Usonia-House

The house is located north of New York City in a Frank Lloyd Wright community called Usonia. Usonia Homes was founded In 1945, a 100-acre rural tract was purchased by a cooperative of young couples from New York City, who were able to enlist Frank Lloyd Wright to build his Broadacre City concept. Wright decided where each house should be placed. Wright designed three homes himself and approved architectural plans of the other 44, which were designed by such architects as Paul Schweikher, Theodore Dixon Bower, Ulrich Franzen, Kaneji Domoto, Aaron Resnick and David Henken – an engineer and Wright apprentice.

The layout of the community was planned by Wright with circular plots, preserving most of the original trees and “encouraging the flow of the land”. The community was named “Usonia” in homage to Wright, whose ideas on the way Americans should live together guided their plan.
My family moved to Usonia in 1962. It was the first resale of a home in Usonia and for my parents it was like winning the lottery. The house designed by Aaron Resnick, was everything a modern enthusiast could dream of. Resnick summed it up nicely in this New York Times piece. ”We were united on several concepts: we wanted natural or organic houses, we wanted a sense of community spirit and we needed homes that could be built inexpensively. And, of course, we were all admirers of architect Frank Lloyd Wright.”

Smilow-Usonia-House-2

The new owners had generously offered to have us over for lunch. They were curious what it had been like to grow up in the house they now owned. As the day approached I was nervous to visit and remembered how hard it had been to leave this wonderful house and community.

My sister Pam is an artist and I am a product and graphic designer. Pam and I  count Usonia, both for its architecture and for the close knit community as a major influences in our lives, art and style. Obviously the fact that we were surrounded by our father, Mel Smilow’s furniture (Smilow Furniture) and artwork–as seen in the above picture–was also a major influence.

Pam-and-Judy-Smilow-in-Usonia-Home

Here I am, on the right, with my sister Pam, sitting on the concrete ledge (our favorite spot in the house) in front of a roaring fire. After a really lovely lunch, I was charmed and impressed by the new owners interest and dedication to the house and community. This time it was easier to say goodbye.