Wallpaper - 07.2019

(Nancy Kaufman) #1
or Craig Bassam and Scott Fellows – founders of the design
company BassamFellows, known for its furniture, interiors and luxury
fashion accessories – the architecture of Philip Johnson is playing
an ever-larger role in their lives. Over a decade ago, the duo bought
a light-filled house designed in 1951 by Johnson (with Landis Gores)
for Richard and Geraldine Hodgson, just across the road from the
architect’s famous Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut (W*169).
But that wasn’t enough Johnson for Bassam and Fellows: they recently
moved their offices and studio to a 1952 Johnson-designed building
in nearby Ridgefield. The architect’s first commercial project, it once
served as the administration building for the Schlumberger-Doll
Research Center, part of the oilfield services giant Schlumberger.
Johnson had a tangential but significant connection to the
company, having already designed a house in Houston, Texas, for
the art collectors John and Dominique de Menil. Dominique was a
Schlumberger heiress – as was her sister Anne, who was then married
to Henri Doll, the renowned inventor and engineer who was the
chairman of Schlumberger’s research and development department.
The one-storey building, which is clad in grey iron-spot brick,
houses two executive offices (now occupied by Bassam and Fellows,
respectively) and a series of smaller offices that look directly into
a central conference room and a small, glass-enclosed courtyard;
around them, a series of skylights allows abundant daylight into

the building. (Coincidentally, Bassam and Fellows’ house also has
a courtyard of similar scale and form and uses the same brick.)
‘What’s so brilliant about this building,’ Fellows says, ‘is that it was
radical at the time to put a building like this in the woods’, rather than
an urban setting. ‘The company cared about the employees’ quality of
life.’ The building’s all-star design team included the lighting designer
Richard Kelly (who also worked on the Seagram Building and Louis
Kahn’s Kimbell Art Museum), the landscape architect James Fanning
(who, with Johnson, designed the sculpture garden at the Museum
of Modern Art), and Florence Knoll, who oversaw the furnishings.
Possibly because of the high-security nature of the research being
done there, the building received relatively little coverage in the press.
After the research centre moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts,
in 2006, the administrative building, along with other structures
on the 45-acre property, was left in limbo. Bassam and Fellows had
heard that there was an early Johnson-designed office building in the
area, but weren’t certain until 2010, when Bassam’s family, visiting
from Australia, happened to hear about it from local residents. The
two men tried to buy the building outright, but neither Schlumberger,
which they first approached, nor the town of Ridgefield, which
subsequently bought the property, was willing to sell. It was only after
they made it clear that they would restore the building and use it as an

office that they secured a long-term lease, and began work in 2017. (^) »


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