In 1952, Richard S. Davis, a senior curator at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, commissioned Philip Johnson to design a residence on a hilly, eleven-acre site on Smith’s Bay of Lake Minnetonka. This area had long been home to important examples of domestic architecture, including the Victorian summer cottage that Davis demolished to make way for Johnson’s mid-century work.
The striking, reddish-brown brick house is L-shaped in plan and features a main rectangular element with a central, glass-walled, sky-lit atrium around which the public and private elements of the house are arranged, including a living room, dining room, library, and bedrooms. The entryway features teak walls, woodwork, and doors. The brick of the exterior carries through to the interior of the structure to provide a backdrop for the client’s extensive contemporary art collection. A separate rectangular structure attaches to this primary one and completes the L- plan. It contains the kitchen, two bedrooms, utilities, and garage. A brick terrace on the southwest extends from the public spaces of the main block of the house toward the lake, providing a strong view toward it from the elevated perch. Johnson borrowed the house-on-podium scheme from his friend and colleague Mies van der Rohe, who famously elevated Edith Farnsworth’s glass house in Plano, Illinois, to deal with seasonal river flooding.
At the time of the Davis commission, Johnson had already paired his own Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut, completed in 1949, with a brick guesthouse on the site. In Minnesota, Johnson merges the main house and guesthouse, using brick on the perimeter, but inserting a glass box into the center of the main house as an interior courtyard and atrium. To a large degree, these glass and brick volumes display the simple clean lines and lack of ornament that had typified Johnson’s work since he first became interested in the International Style, which he helped introduce to the United States through a 1932 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. By the time Johnson was working on the Davis house, he was serving as the head of the museum’s architecture department.
Mike and Penny Winton purchased the house in 1965. In 1987, they added a Frank Gehry-designed guest house to the property.
Hammel, Bette Jones. Legendary Homes of Lake Minnetonka. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2009.
Schulze, Franz. Philip Johnson: Life and Work. New York: Knopf, 1994.