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The Remarkably Intimate Houses Of Father-Son Architects Eliel And Eero Saarinen

A new book focuses on the small-scale projects of the Finnish-American architecture family.

Architecture history is filled with father-son duos. In the 18th century, Jacques V Gabriel, the premier architect to the King of France, left his title to his son Ange-Jacques, who designed and remodeled many of the interiors and exteriors at Versailles. In the 20th century, Frank Lloyd Wright passed the architecture bug onto his son, Lloyd. Albert Speer, Hitler’s chief architect, also had a son who went into the field. One of the most famous of these architecture lineages belongs to the Saarinens, Finnish-born architect Eliel Saarinen and his even more famous son, Eero Saarinen.

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The Saarinens, who both received the American Institute of Architects’ prestigious Gold Medal award for their contributions to the field (Eliel in 1947, Eero posthumously in 1962), are the subject of a new book by architecture historian Sirkkaliisa Jetsonen and photographer Jari Jetsonen, Saarinen Houses.


The book covers the famed architects’ residential work in both Europe and America, spanning 17 projects over six decades starting with Eliel’s work in the late 1890s. Though both Eliel and Eero Saarinen are best known for their public works, like the elder Saarinen’s Helsinki railway station and Eero’s TWA building at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport, “it is through the homes they designed for themselves and others (a number of which are open to the public) that we may witness the effects of their ‘integrity of mind and spirit’ and glimpse something of their basic natures and personalities,” as Gregory Wittkopp, director of the Cranbrook Art Museum (in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, where Eliel Saarinen ran the affiliated art school) writes in the book’s introduction.

The interiors underscore both Saarinens’ love of art and decor, with decorative touches, custom-designed modern furniture, and carefully sculpted gardens. The buildings also reveal the Saarinens’ mastery of context. Both architects are known for their monumental works, including airports, railway stations, and the 630-foot Gateway Arch in St. Louis, and yet their designs are just as adroit at the scale of a family home, all of which look eminently livable and human-scale, not just beautiful.

The photographs are an intimate look at the private residences the two master builders crafted for friends, family, and clients, including Hvitträsk and Saarinen House, the two houses Eliel Saarinen built for his own family near Helsinki, Finland, and in Bloomfield Hills. Inside, we catch a glimpse not only of the Saarinens’ architectural prowess, but their smallest-scale design ideas as well: many of the homes contain furniture designed by either Eliel or Eero. The residential designs featured range from the rustic, ornamental style of Eliel’s early Finnish homes to the mid-century modernist touches of his later collaborations with Eero. The book traces Saarinen and Associates’ design evolution from the cozy, very Finnish country homes with Mansford roofs and timber ceilings designed by Eliel at the turn of the century to Eero’s mastery of the International Style and the modernist home. Eliel and later Eero traded wooden cabins for flat-roofed, glass and marble minimalist homes with ’50s conversation pits, never losing the comprehensive, detail-oriented design ethos of creating a residence that was both living and entertaining space and work of art.

Saarinen Houses is available here for $35.

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About the author

Shaunacy Ferro is a Brooklyn-based writer covering architecture, urban design and the sciences. She's on a lifelong quest for the perfect donut

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