Exterior view of the Fisher-Kahn House

photo by: Don Freeman

December 29, 2014

What It's Like to Live in a Louis Kahn House

Most people associate the revered Modernist architect Louis Kahn with his enduring institutional buildings, such as the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, the National Assembly Building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, Connecticut. But Kahn designed houses, too—extraordinary dwellings filled with natural light and beloved by their owners. One of the nine in existence, the 1967 Fisher-Kahn House in Hatboro, Pennsylvania, was deeded to the National Trust in 2011 through an agreement with its original owners, Doris and Norman Fisher.

The National Trust created a strict protective easement for the property and found a preservation-minded couple, Charles Firmin-Didot and Bianca Sforni, to buy it. A story in the Winter 2015 issue of Preservation magazine takes a closer look at the house’s past and present, but here we’ve included some reflections on what it’s like to be there from those who know it best.

The house’s living room in 1977

photo by: Don Freeman

The house’s living room in 1977.

Nina Fisher, daughter of Doris and Norman Fisher: “It’s a very livable house. Its moods shifted with our own moods, almost like the set of a play. I remember putting on music in the living room and lighting a fire in the fireplace. I’d have candlelight or low lighting and listen to music, lying on the sofa while looking out at the red maple tree. You could create a mood that suited you at that moment. Other times it was more playful and treehouse-y, poised at the edge of the outdoors. It’s very malleable. We often would have family dinners at the coffee table in front of the fireplace, and a whole other mood was created. The ceiling was so high, the mood could be contained. You could create little pods of light."

Interior of the Fisher-Kahn House with desk and chair

photo by: Don Freeman

A work by Bianca Sforni, the house’s co-owner and a fine-arts photographer, hangs on one of the distinctive lime plaster walls.

Bianca Sforni, co-owner of the Fisher-Kahn House: "This is a house of light; it always changes perspective. All the seasons are good here, because it changes so much. It’s a classical house in the purity of the design, the lines, in the geometrical relationships. It’s classical in that it will not pass—we will always recognize it. It’s very much like a boat, this house. It’s a place where I can think. It’s a wonderful place to write. You have just the birds that surround you. The space changes according to the time of day or night; the space around you, it expands or shrinks according to the light."

Interior of the Fisher-Kahn House with simple wood furniture

photo by: Don Freeman

Firmin-Didot and Sforni have furnished the living area with simple wood pieces.

Charles Firmin-Didot, co-owner of the Fisher-Kahn House: "It takes time to cover the walls, but I am not even sure we want to put too much [up], because we are enjoying the contrast between these lime [plaster] walls and the wood and are enjoying the space as it is. The house is so comfortable for the eye, meaning every corner is a pleasure and is calm as well. There is nothing irritating your eye. Early in the morning, when you wake up, the light is magical. You sleep really well here. There is this great fireplace, like a column of a temple inside the room. It heats the room so well. The big windows are facing almost north, to receive the forest. It’s like being in a Monet painting."

William Whitaker, curator, University of Pennsylvania Architectural Archives and co-author, The Houses of Louis Kahn: "I like coming back again and again, because the house gives you something different each time you come. Most places don’t do that. Most places present you with something safe and simple—repetitive. And that can be nice in some ways. But this, especially in terms of the light and how nature is revealed in it, it’s always a surprise. Even when it’s a rainy day or snowing, the house is responsive to that. I’ve given many tours [here], and that’s the thing I can give, is some sense of the wonderful changeability. You make sure you point it out to people so they get this sense of these tiny little dramas happening throughout the day. I think it’s that accumulation of moments that makes living here something quite wonderful."

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Meghan Drueding is the managing editor of Preservation magazine. She has a weakness for Midcentury Modernism, walkable cities, and coffee table books about architecture and design.


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