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Featured Home: Keck + Keck

A fine example of Keck & Keck brothers'
mid-century modern architecture and interior design!

This incredible home is near Chicago, built in 1955. It's owned by a couple with a great collection of 1950s interior decorative objects and furniture. The house is a "passive solar" design by famed architects George Fred Keck and William Keck (Keck + Keck), who are widely known for their "House of Tomorrow" and "Crystal House" designs shown at the 1933-34 Century of Progress fair in Chicago. After looking for a year to find the house of their dreams, they first spied this house from the back, seeing the floor-to-ceiling windows as they were cruising around a beautiful neighborhood they dreamed of moving to. Of course it wasn't for sale yet, but eventually, it came on the market. After being the first people to see it during the realtor's open house day, they knew "this was it" and put it an offer. That was 14 years ago, and it started an odyssey of detective work, research, remodeling (to original specs, of course) and collecting.

After living in the house for a few months, the owners realized that all their old furniture had to go. This house demanded something special, and original to the house. The red Eames chair inherited from a relative was the first piece that looked right. Then, the search was on for mid-century modern furniture and objects to complete the interior.

Many books were consulted to get the look. Cara Greenberg's Mid-Century Modern was an inspiring start, but a vintage book called Design for Modern Living, published in 1962, provided the right feel. The book was found at the O'Hare antique show, one of the many shows and auctions that this couple frequents. Vintage Knoll furniture featured in the book became the quest, and pieces were eventually found to create the living room look.

An Arteluce tri-cone lamp was a lucky find at the Winnetka Modernism Show, and gradually, over the years of attending shows and auctions, mid-century Italian glass became a major focus. The couple is "addicted," and has built a major collection and become experts in the field. Again, using books for research, and attending shows and auctions has been the best way to find pieces and hook up with other mid-century enthusiasts.

The name "passive solar" refers to the ingenious energy efficient design. It is truly a great machine for living. The house has a flat roof and huge south-facing windows with carefully designed overhangs to let in lots of warm sunshine in the winter months, yet very little in the summer months. It has radiant heat inside the floors in part of the house, forced air in the rest. It retains the original trademark Keck window vents - all the windows are fixed glass panels, and wooden doors alongside the windows open to reveal a screened wooden vent. The vents can be left open all summer for great circulation; it is totally secure, and does not let the rain in.

"Minimalism, and Lots of It" is this couple's mantra. The living room with sofa and chairs by Florence Knoll, a chrome Diamond chair by Harry Bertoia, an LTR table by Charles Eames and a mobile by Hotchkiss, a red Eames DCM chair, a Saarinen womb chair, the Arteluce lamp, and a Nelson slat bench/table, and a 1921 Steinway, among other great items.

"The kitchen is where we break out and have fun," say the couple about their colorful display of vintage dinnerware including Fiesta, Starburst, Metlox California freeform, and fun items like 1950s barbecue trays (those bright red metal ones with the hysterical images of bbq chefs on them), shown here with one of their George Nelson clocks made by Howard Miller Clock Company. "We use all the dishes and love to cook on weekends. Nothing is too precious to use although we hand-wash rather than trust it in the dishwasher."

The media room was a challenge to somehow make a projection TV with a wall-size screen and a mis-matched but well chosen set of audio components. After much research and attempts at designing their own system, Modernica saved the day by agreeing (being coerced may be a better term) to build them a custom ESU (Eames Storage Unit) to their specs. Stock Modernica pieces completed the room, and provide great storage for record albums, CDs and videos, "keeping the mess behind closed doors." The entertainment room includes storage cases designed by Charles Eames and a steering wheel clock and a ball clock by George Nelson.

The master bedroom features a fireplace flanked by two aluminum group chairs by Charles Eames, an Alvar Aalto coffee table, and vintage modern art glass and pottery by top designer names. The tall yellow piece at left is a Lino Tagliapietra and the pottery includes a collection of Eugene Deutch pieces.

The master bathroom is done in Mondrian-style tile... spectacular and luxurious are but two of the words which come to mind! The couple stayed up many late nights with their computer designing the tile pattern after their favorite painter.

The sun room features a Heywood-Wakefield sofa and matching chair, 2 vintage rattan chairs, a triangular Higgins Rondelay glass on the wall, and green Italian Raymor pottery. Plants are housed in vintage pottery collected at antique malls and garage sales. "Living in this home is a wonderful experience, from the warm, sunny winter days where the passive solar design truly works, to the cool summer afternoons where the breezes drift through and the air conditioning is rarely used. It has been one of the most rewarding experiences to restore and enjoy "modern living" at its best." The home is similar in style to one of the now-famous Eichler homes of the same period, but this home is much more rare and obscure. Keck + Keck, who haven't really been publicized much, were highly influential architects of 20th century modern design with many design awards to their credit. There are two books available on their houses, but in general, people need to know and learn more about them. Below you will find more sites with great insights into this incredible designer home and the architects behind it.

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