Designed by Eero Saarinen, the Miller House in Columbus, Indiana, stands as one of the most iconic mid-century homes in the U.S. The floor plans, materials, and custom furnishings have made this house a paragon of modern design. Inside the rambling Prairie-style house are some of the ground-breaking styles which would later be found in many other homes across the world.
Built in 1957, this early example of Mid-century Modern was well ahead of its time. It would be quite a few years before Americans would embrace the sleek and minimalist lines of such a building. The project was commissioned by J. Irwin Miller, heir to the Irwin fortune of the Cummins Engine Company (today simply known as Cummins).
With his fortunes, Miller sought to give back to the community, but also to further the cause of modern design through the projects he commissioned across the small city of Columbus.
Miller felt vert strongly that a community’s architecture reflected its spirit and vice versa, saying: “Every one of us lives and moves all his life within the limitations, sight, and influence of architecture – at home, at school, at church and at work. The influence of architecture with which we are surrounded in our youth affects our lives, our standards, our tastes when we are grown, just as the influence of the parents and teachers with which we are surrounded in our youth affects us as adults.”
The open concept of the house came from designer and architect Eero Saarinen, famed inventor of the tulip chair and table, and architect of many modern buildings.
The interior of the house was designed by Alexander Girard, who would also become known for his innovative fabrics. Girard’s conversation pit would later become a staple of 1960s and 1970s high-end interior design and an iconic expression of a new way of thinking about entertaining. The Miller House was the first to have such a conversation pit.
The pillows, cushions, and carpet can be changed out for different seasons or occasions, which is why in photographs you see different color schemes on the same area.
The concept of the conversation pit offers unobstructed views to the outside from all areas of the living room. In this case, the stunning gardens were designed by Dan Kiley and are still known as exemplar modern landscape architecture.
The well-appointed rooms were vibrant and functional, but never overstuffed. Features like sconce lighting and floating shelves made for a decluttered look that still provided comfort.
The Malm floating fireplace wasn’t invented until 1960 which makes this Saarinen one of the first, if not the original.
J. Irwin Miller passed away in 2004 and the house is now owned by The Indianapolis Museum of Art. Miller and his wife, Xenia, donated the house (and most, but not all of the furnishings inside) to the museum. Today the building and grounds represent what it still one of the most modern homes – more than six decades after it was built.