Well, good readers, Mark and I survived the trip down to Richmond last week to tour the Rice house by Richard Neutra. I’d even go as far as saying we thrived rather than just survived! I’ll spare you the details of the early morning drive south, other than to say that there was a necessary outfit change just prior to the tour and I am so thankful for a nearby Starbucks- not for its coffee but for the availability of a changing table in the bathroom. [Side note: fold-out changing tables in public bathrooms are great, but can we please start demanding that a hook be available nearby to hold the diaper bag?! Moms- let’s get together on this one. Just like there should be a hook on the back of every stall door for our purses, there NEEDS to be a hook near the diaper changing area. I’ll do my part as an architect to lobby for these!]
So, we were able to start the tour rested and fed (and changed!) and that made for a much happier baby. We also lucked out with two very nice gentlemen who carpooled to the site from the Virginia AIA office with us. One was a Richmond native who told me lots about the Fan District and surrounding neighborhoods and the other entertained Mark in the back seat. They didn’t seem to mind squeezing into my tiny vehicle made smaller by the car seat that takes over the back, and one even offered to carry Mark’s diaper bag (though, it is an Orla Kiely bag and what design-minded person wouldn’t want to carry that bag? Dr. Jay doesn’t even mind carrying it)!
On to the Neutra house- okay, okay, it’s the Rice house by Neutra. It was nothing short of spectacular. First of all, it’s situated on an island. An ISLAND! On the James River. How incredible is that? We had to cross a bridge specifically built by the Rices for accessing the island.
Here’s a view of the James from the drive leading up to the house.
It was a gorgeous spring day. Our tour guide was Bodil Hanneman, Director of the Foundation Board put together to preserve this amazing work of architecture. She is also a personal friend of the Rice family (Walter Rice has passed away but his wife Inger is still living). Here is Bodil Hanneman, who is also an architect.
She explained that the Science Museum of Virginia acquired the house back in 1996 when the Rice family donated it. It is the only house in Richmond built in the International Style. It was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1999. She has been working hard with a team not only to determine how best to proceed with renovations and repairs but also to help raise money for the cause. She mentioned that one of the contractors told her that if they hadn’t intervened when they did, the house would have surely fallen within five years because it was in such a state of disrepair. There was extensive water damage due to the poor drainage of the flat roofs.
See the River out there? I must mention that all these shots were taken by me while I had Mark on my other arm, so they are not my best work but I certainly tried to capture some details. I don’t think there were any artificial light sources on at the time of our tour, so you can see how well this house receives daylight.
All of the fireplaces were double-sided, this one to both the interior and exterior.
This fireplace in the living area doubled with a fireplace in the master bedroom. That’s a cork floor, by the way.
Most of the furniture was built-in, a total work of design by Neutra. He was known for getting to know his clients really well, and was said to want to “be in love” with them before he worked for them. Apparently he spent a week with the Rices before he took on the design of their home. He was reportedly not thrilled to be working in Richmond but was quite taken with the site available to him and that was one thing that swayed him.
Here are a few more interior shots.
One side of the master closet which lead to the bathroom. There were matching bathroom/closet sequences from the master bedroom, and the bathrooms each had sunken tubs.
Here’s a shot in the dining area with the marble wall which extends from the interior to the exterior.
See the glass?
Mark absolutely loved that wall.
He couldn’t stop touching it and got upset when I finally pulled him away. It was Georgia marble. What can I say, the boy has really good taste.
Some shots of the pool:
Here are some of the stairs leading to it:
You are not mistaken- that is a very treacherous pathway leading to the pool. And though there will eventually be a railing along that rooftop balcony, there wasn’t one originally!
I feel so fortunate to have been able to take this tour. Having learned about houses like this all through school, I didn’t think I’d be able to see a Neutra house unless I took a trip to California. Having one so close in Virginia is incredible and it makes me so happy that there is such an effort to preserve it. I came away from this experience certain that Neutra was a true master of the plan. Each space was so carefully thought out and developed. It was by no means an enormous house, but Neutra made the most of every square foot and it of course felt more spacious because of all the glass and the fact that there was so much indoor/outdoor living. That part may have made more sense in California, where Neutra was used to working. Nonetheless, I have a wonderful memory of the day, as a mother and as an architect.
One last photo for you. I won’t do this often, but I have to share this with you.
Mark charming our tour guide:
Actually, I think he was charmed by all the zippers on her jacket, and maybe you had to be there, but it was a hilarious way to end the tour.