The Studio, a one-room workspace and library, was referred to by Johnson as an “event” on the landscape. From the Glass House, it is approached through a field of tall grass and wetlands. When first completed, the Studio’s stucco exterior was bright white, but later Johnson painted it a soft brown color, described by colorist Donald Kaufman as “stone greige.”
The interior walls are lined with bookcases filled with 1,400 volumes on architecture, from nineteenth century tomes on German architecture to more recent publications on the work of Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, and J.J.P. Oud. The selection of books demonstrates the scope of Johnson’s architectural interests, from broad surveys of European, Japanese, Islamic, American, and ancient architecture to monographs on contemporary architects.
The interior niche faces a small window that looks out at the nearby Ghost House. While the space has a fireplace, it has no bathroom. Primary lighting comes from a skylight located in the conical dome.
Walking Tour with Philip Johnson, 1991
“I built the Studio 15 years after the Painting Gallery. It was answering a need this time, although an invented need. I used to work, writing articles and sketching, in a corner of the Sculpture Gallery. That was fine, but again, you’re distracted by wind, the sun, the waving of trees. It’s very hard to work where you have nature. Nature and work don’t go together; you’ve got to put blinders on. And it’s very important to get isolation. I said, well, let’s build a work place. Everybody has one, don’t they? Every writer has a little cavern down on the edge of the lake. Every writer I know does. And if he doesn’t he should build one right away. Le Corbusier had his little hideaway in Southern France. So I said let’s get a hideaway. That’s a silly word but that’s what I felt like. So I built this little building, however, and this time I almost had the work of sculpture. The Studio is a work of sculpture in addition to being a useful room. Incidentally, you notice there’s no path there. Again, I didn’t want to destroy this lonely building sitting in the middle of a New England field. I thought that image would tie this in to the American landscape. It ties this in to my place. And why should I encourage people to walk up to it anyhow? It’s a hideaway. So I wade through the water. I put on boots all winter and I slosh through it. Changing your shoes as you go from one house to another is a very important part of the day.
So I go to the study, which is a very small room with no water, no telephone, no loud speakers of any kind, just air conditioning, thank you very much. An air conditioned monk’s cell is what it is. It’s meant for contemplation. There is indeed a window because I want to know orientation. I want to know whether it’s raining or not. It’s pleasant to look up from one’s work. But really the important thing is the sense of concentration.
Then I took that opportunity of building this crazy thing to extend the landscaping. It’s an eye-catcher; it’s a folly. It’s another object in the landscape from the Glass House. I sit in the dining room of the Glass House and watch the light change on that cone. The roof of the study has, as you notice, a cone. A cone catches the light very differently from a vertical wall or a dome or a flat surface. It’s very sculptural; it makes a shaded light as it goes around. And so you watch the play of the thing as you would if it was a piece of sculpture, that’s true. It was much more important that that be sculptural than the other buildings I have added because it was so prominent in the main landscaping view.
It’s far away from the house for obvious reasons, otherwise I wouldn’t feel separate from the house. I’d keep finking out on myself and say, ‘Oh, well, I’ll just go get another pencil.’ You know that excuse? You can – there are many ways of stopping work. It’s very hard to put the seat of the pants on to a chair and just plain work. So you need a little help now and then. Sharpening pencils is excellent. It’s too bad we use automatic sharpeners now because they make it easy; it should be very difficult and you learn how to do it with your knife. Mies van der Rohe wouldn’t allow pencil sharpeners in the office, no sir.
Anyhow, how do you keep from work? Everybody has his own way. But now that I’ve got the study, I’m surrounded with the spirit of work – I really am – it makes all the difference in the world. An idea comes to me here that wouldn’t have in 100 years in the Glass House because of the chipmunks and all the beautiful animals and the hawks.
My view out the window in the Studio is not big enough to distract me if I don’t want it to. It’s fine if I do want it to. You have a view out of a cell but just a view, a restricted one. You’re not in nature. It’s a little tiny relief from tension. But mostly you’re surrounded with, in my case, books because books to me are the most exciting decoration in the world and if you really want not to work, you can say, oh I do have to look at that one, don’t I? And you get up and spend the next 20 minutes looking up something in a book that you shouldn’t be looking at. But nevertheless, at the end of a couple of hours you’re deep in work that you never thought you’d be able to start. And so an enclosed small room is of great importance.”
Interview conducted on behalf of the National Trust for Historic Preservation by Eleanor Devens, Franz Schultz, Jeffrey Shaw, and Frank Sanchis.