THE PROPERTY OF ROBERT MELIK FINKLE
Furniture from the apartment of Philip Johnson, commissioned from Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in 1930
In 1938 Ludwig Mies van der Rohe emigrated to the United States and thereafter commenced the American comissions we know so well -- the Illinois Institute of Technology plan and buildings (1939-1956), the Farnsworth house (1950), the Lake Shore Apartment building in Chicago (1951) and the Seagram building in New York (1958). Less well known is his first project in the U.S. -- an apartment for the architect Philip Johnson in 1930.
The Johnson project was designed at the pinnacle of Mies's career in Europe -- the German Pavillion at the Barcelona Exposition, the Tugendhat House in Brno, Czechoslovakia and his appointment as Director of the Bauhaus--all came to fruition between 1929 and 1930. Conversely, Johnson was at a seminal point of his architectural profession in 1930, just having graduated cum laude with a B.A. from Harvard. In the preceding months, Johnson formed a close relationship with Alfred Barr, who in 1929 was appointed the first Director of The Museum of Modern Art in New York. By the autumn of 1930, together with Barr and Henry-Russell Hitchcock, the concept of the landmark achitectural exhibition and book The International Style: Architecture since 1922, was in the planning stage.
Johnson's apartment was likely America's first look at interior design by Mies and Lilly Reich, Mies's collaborator on most of his early interiors. The furniture produced in 1930 comprises a rosewood tea table, a tubular steel armchair and stool with dark blue caning, which echoed the dark blue silk of the curtains that graced the window walls, and a tubular steel coffee table, as well as a rosewood dining table, supplied by Mies probably three or four years after the initial group.
This elegant and cool-toned apartment was designed to the centimeter, transcontinentally, from floor plans and detailed measurements showing elevation, chimneys, and electrical outlets. Quite amazingly, and in the face of a metalworker's strike that delayed production by six weeks, everything from the curtain rods to the straw floor covering (Fussbodentwist) was shipped together with the Mies furniture on the S.S. Deutschland on December 23, 1930, just three months after their order on September 12th.
This group can be traced photographically through a succession of Johnson apartments and houses until some of them conclude their journey in Johnson's Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut. In 1957 Johnson gave the collection to its current owner, Robert Melik Finkle, an apprentice, to furnish his apartment in New Haven where he was studying architecture at Yale University.