The Bixby House

But Tanner and Bixby's choice may also have fallen on Weber for another, more immediate reason. Weber was known for his streamlined designs and for employing clean, pure lines. What Tanner had in mind for the house was a long, low, contoured profile, with continuous "flowing" lines. Weber's aesthetic appeared to be an ideal match. It is not known to what degree the two men actually collaborated on the project; no records of their meetings or of Weber's trips to Kansas City have survived. But the interplay between the house and its interiors suggests that they must have worked together closely.

Tanner devised a two-story house with a large basement. The main body, constructed in reinforced concrete, concrete blocks, and stucco, consisted of a two-story central core flanked by wings on the northeast and southwest, the latter positioned a half story below the main section, with a terrace covered by a spreading, partially cantilevered roof.

The building's smooth walls, curved forms, flat roof, tubular steel columns, and aluminum alloy windows immediately announced it as a modernist work. But it was the interiors that set it apart. Weber was commissioned to design thirteen of the twenty-two principal rooms, including the two-story entrance hall, the formal living and dining rooms on the ground floor, a breakfast room, the family and guest bedrooms, and the "rumpus room" in the basement. Armed with an ample budget that allowed him to design custom furnishings and finishes, he lavished attention on the project, preparing a broad range of new pieces and ideas with painstaking care.The result was a deluxe version of his aesthetic.

Throughout the early 1930s, as the Depression had worsened, Weber had struggled to find work. Much of what he produced had been for large fur­niture manufacturers in and around GrandRapids, Michigan (then the center of the American furniture industry), who were eager to embrace modernism, hoping the new style would lift their flagging sales. (In the course of his work, Weber gave frequent lectures throughout the Midwest, which is perhaps how he had come to Bixby and Tanner's attention.) The pieces he created were clear and direct, though with decidedly less expensive materials than he typically employed (see Fig. 18). With the Bixby House, he had the opportunity to experiment more freely and to push his ideas in new directions.

Weber labored on the interiors through 1936 and into 1937. His surviving drawings and later photographs of the installations show that he was particularly concerned with making a livable and appealing environment. The furnishings are soft, with contoured edges and warm, inviting upholstery. Color-lost in the period black-and-white photographs-took on a significant role, as can be seen in the drawings and some of the surviving pieces: coral red, maroon, vibrant yellows, and cerulean and midnight blues were set off against black, "oyster white," or brown.6 He paid minute attention to lighting (at a time when sophisticated lighting techniques were still in their infancy), employing individual fixtures or concealed overhead lighting to spotlight various features or offer an ambient look (see Fig. 4).

To underscore the modern appearance of the house, Weber used a full array of new materials, including aluminum, linoleum, Masonite, glass block, veneered plywood, and cork paneling.7 But he also took pains to mitigate the impact of Tanner's sharply orthogonal rooms. Despite the house's flow­ing, streamlined exterior, most of the rooms were boxy and undistinguished. Weber, wanting to avoid any form of modernist regimentation-"nature," he once wrote, "isn't designed with a T-square and a triangle"8-introduced moveable and built-in fur­nishings, veneered paneling, and other devices to transform the lines of Tanner's design into lithe curvilinear shapes. A blue leather bench in the base­ment playroom, for example, extended out into the room in a two-thirds circle (see Figs. 13-15); the dining room featured a large round freestanding table, with upholstered chairs bent into similarly soft, rounded shapes (Fig. 17). Weber continued the theme of circles and rounded forms in the grand foyer, which was framed by a dramatic curving stair and featured an inlaid linoleum floor in shades of gray with accents of coral and black (see Fig. 1).

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by Émile Jacques Ruhlmann (1879-1933), 1926. Macassar ebony, amaranth, and ivory. Metropolitan Museum of Art. By Cynthia Drayton

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