The Bixby House

His intention, however, was not merely to devise an interior that was visually arresting; he also wanted to promote a sense of freedom and repose. Some of the furnishings and installations were ar­chitectonic-fully engaged with the walls; others were set freely within the spaces, often at angles to the walls and thus "liberated" from the structure. Weber's rooms also mixed varying moods and ideas. The grand entry and stair, which featured Baccarat glass posts set within an aluminum railing, was el­egant and graceful, while the bathrooms were play­ful, and the rumpus room, positioned immediately beneath the entry hall, was very much about leisure and relaxation (Figs. 13-15).

The appearance of easy and informal living carried over to the house's private spaces. The bedrooms were warm and inviting, and Bixby's private study, though clearly func­tional, with a marked air of modern reserve, was nonetheless cozy and tranquil (see Fig. 5).

Weber's choices for the individual furnishings show the same blending of casualness and sophisti­cation. Most of the pieces he had custom made at the Robert Keith Furniture and Carpet Company of Kansas City; a smaller number he took from his own lines of mass produced furniture or from other modernist designers' collections (the rattan chairs in the basement, for instance, came from his friend Paul T. Frankl's shop in Los Angeles, as did one of the tables in the library). Underlying all the designs, however, was a reliance on clear form and proportion. The coffee table created for the living room, for example, was based on the idea of semicircular cutouts, flipped down to form a lower shelf (Fig. 11). But in every instance Weber's intent was to establish a pleasing and relaxing environment. "Restfulness," he told one reporter, "is more than a matter of deeply cushioned chairs. It is a matter, as well, of harmonizing lines and low, restful tones, and a sensation of unlimited space, even in a small room. That, perhaps, is an optical illusion, but it is none the less effective for all that."9

When the house was finished in 1937, the Kansas City Star hailed it as a triumph of modernist prin­ciples in domestic design.10 The newspaper's re­porter, like almost all later observers, though, may have missed its true importance. Those writing about the house then and since have all stressed its stylistic features, variously describing it as a consummate exemplar of the "streamlined moderne" or the In­ternational Style. But Weber's interiors belong re­ally to neither category. Although he drew from the vocabularies of streamlining and European func­tionalism, his rooms display an original and distinct vision of modernism, one not limited by the standard stylistic classifications. He instead took an evolution­ary approach, attempting not to forge a definable style but to answer the specific needs of his clients. "It must be our ambition," he wrote, "to express beauty in our daily commodities, through the most simple, most logical, most graceful forms and de­signs-without appearing to be freakish-and the most natural development based upon the under­standing of the problem, will be retained as the best possible solution."11

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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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