February 26, 2018

Richard Meier Reflects on the 50th Anniversary of Smith House

A ramp announces the entrance to the Smith House. Photography by Mike Schwartz.

Richard Meier was 31 and had only just left Marcel Breuer’s office to start his own practice when opportunity came calling: the chance to design a weekend house on a stunning waterfront property in Darien, Connecticut. Fifty years later, the rest is history: his 35,000 square-foot Smith House, completed in 1967, looks fresher than ever.

The Interior Design Hall of Fame member attributes the lasting power of the architecture to its precision. “I remember going up there when the builder was laying things out and saying, ‘I can’t believe it: there’s 1/8 inch I can’t find.’ That’s how perfectly he followed the drawings. The eighth must have been somewhere out in Long Island Sound!”

The double-height windows of the second level’s living area are interrupted only by the brick fireplace and chimney, which is painted white. Photography by Mike Schwartz.

The Smith House is largely seen as a triumph of avant-garde architecture, but Meier doesn’t necessarily agree. “If you drive around Darien,” he says, “most of houses have white vertical wood siding. Painting it white seemed quite natural. It’s a New England tradition.” Hence the redwood exterior and the oak strip flooring. Though, he admits, “It doesn’t really look like those houses.”

Indeed, the Smith House is closer to Meier’s Getty Center than a classic saltbox. “It has a wonderful human scale,” Meier says. “And it’s remarkable: it has the same relationship to the landscape vegetation. It looks the way it did 25 years ago.” Back then, the house was awarded the AIA’s Twenty-Five Year Award. “They should have a 50 Year Award,” he laughs. Right again.

The chimney extends down to the lower level dining area. Photography by Mike Schwartz. 
A view from the southeast elevation. Photography by Mike Schwartz.
Private areas, including bedrooms, are tucked into the front of the house, while public areas face the rear. Photography by Mike Schwartz.
A circular staircase connects the second level to the ground floor. Photography by Mike Schwartz.

Recent DesignWire