Most people know about the wonderful art collection at Manchester’s Currier Museum of Art, but unique to its collection is the Zimmerman House.
The Manchester home — designed by world-renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright — is considered one of the best examples of his Usonian architecture in the country, remaining largely unchanged from the residence that was lovingly lived in for over 30 years.
To say that Wright built houses is like saying Bill Gates or Steven Jobs build calculators. Wright dreamed and dreamed big. His “United States-style,” or Usonian, houses were supposed to be homes that just about anyone could afford. They were more of his attempt at a cultural movement than an architectural style.
In the decades before World War II, he had been thinking about urban planning and renewal and building affordable homes for the masses. His first Usonian homes were built in the late-1930s and were the first steps of his “Broadacre City,” a master-planned community some 70 years before its time.
In reality, only 60 Usonian homes were ever built, the last in the late 1950s.
Isadore and Lucille Zimmerman were the “yuppies” of their day — medical professionals, no children, well off, but not independently wealthy. They loved hiking, music and art, and were frequent visitors to the Currier.
Planning for their home began in 1949, and the couple took possession of it in 1952. The contracted price was $36,000 but topped out at a final cost of $55,000.
The stylized ranch is typical of the Usonian style — a single-story structure on a concrete slab, separate public and private spaces and a joining carport — not a garage. If anything, the architectural style is Mid-Century Modern flavored with Wright’s Prairie Style, a later Midwest interpretation of the Arts and Crafts movement.
Something between a yacht and a log cabin, much of the 1,450-square-foot home is made of hand-picked Georgia Upland cypress wood, a mellow honey color. A narrow hallway opens to a deceptively expansive living room, which comprises nearly half of the living space. Clerestory windows set into deep pockets of sculptured concrete let in light and break up an otherwise massive space. Their head-high placement also allows for views while imparting privacy, something the Zimmermans craved after living on a busy street for so many years.
The back wall of the very long house is almost all glass, typical of many of Wright’s designs. It frames unbroken views of the landscape on the three-quarter-acre lot.
The museum partnered with the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension in Manchester to restore the gardens.
The centrally placed kitchen provides a buffer between the entertainment area in the living room and the two bedrooms.
At first, the kitchen seems like a typical 1950s ranch galley kitchen — long and narrow. Upon closer inspection, the lofty open ceiling and soffits provide an airy space as well as storage and display areas. True Formica countertops in a gentle red color pick up the hue from the red brick walls. A skylight provides natural light in what would otherwise be a dark interior room.
The master bedroom is cozy and has windows that open to the backyard. An attached full bath is something many homes today do not have.
The second bedroom also doubled as Lucille Zimmerman’s sewing room, and features the home’s second full bath.
Everywhere there are unique touches that only a master like Wright could have designed. Cantilevered exterior eaves flow continuously into the interior cathedral ceilings. This theme is echoed in the wood shelves that are built into the brick and wrap around the walls. Glass walls jut out into the landscape, bringing the outdoors in and drawing the eye away from the true load-bearing brick. Long, straight planes of wood, brick and poured-concrete flooring are softened by the organic curves in the grain of the wood, the green plants and the Zimmerman’s ethnic objects d’art.
The architect designed not only the built-in couches, but most of the other furniture pieces, pottery, even the mailbox. Nowhere are utilities and lighting apparent, but seem to perform their tasks efficiently in the background. The attached carport has a view of the backyard and is crowned by the same cypress that soars overhead in the interior.
Lucille Zimmerman lived in the house after Isadore’s death in 1984. She bequeathed the home to the Currier upon her death in 1989.
The Zimmerman House reopens for tours beginning April 1. Twilight tours of the home begin in May.
For more information and reservations, call the Currier at 669-6144 or visit currier.org.
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This article appears in the March 18 2005 issue of New Hampshire Business Review