Ingrid Spencer curates the Austin Modern Home Tour. She is a contributing editor for Architectural Record magazine and the co-director of the Waller Creek Conservancy’s Creek Show, a series of architecture installations soon to appear along Waller Creek as part of an urban redevelopment project in central Austin.
When you attend a home tour you expect to see some of the same faces along the way—it’s part of the fun. There’s a finite number of houses on these tours, and usually you’re touring at the same pace as others. After you see that same group of people at three or four houses they become like friends, and if you’re like me, you’ll strike up a conversation about a detail you saw in a previous house, or maybe something you think they should take note of on a house you saw but they haven’t visited yet. It’s a congenial atmosphere where comparing and contrasting and, yes, passing judgment on the architectural or interior choices of the homeowners and architects, is part of the mix.
As curator of some of the tours, I get to meet quite a few of the tourgoers, and because I’m very interested in finding out their opinions, I talk to them. I’m kicking myself, though, for not actually getting some names and numbers, back in 2012, when I had the great pleasure of curating some 20 tours across the country. I discovered an interesting phenomenon during my journey tracking the progress of Modern residential from coast to coast. There were people who I recognized not only from one house to the next on a particular tour, but people who were actually traveling from tour to tour. These adventurous souls weren’t spending their vacations visiting the Empire State Building, the Eiffel Tower, or even the Parthenon. Nope. They were flying out for long weekends in San Diego to attend a Modern Home Tour, then on to Denver for another, then from there to the Silicon Valley for yet another pleasurable Saturday driving from Modern house to Modern house, meeting architects and walking around Modern houses.
One such couple I did have the wherewithal to connect with is Jon and Tonya Littmann, who I met at the Austin Modern Home Tour in February this year. The Littmanns live in Denton, Texas, and they told me that since they purchased a mid-century Modern house years ago they have been really interested in Modern residential architecture, and find home tours to be an enjoyable way to feed their curiosity, as well as provide a reason to spend some time in a city that’s foreign to them. “We’re self-employed, which gives us a somewhat flexible schedule,” says Jon. “The tours give us the opportunity and the excuse to experience a city, while having a plan for a day, or for more than one day, depending on the tour we choose. It’s a real adventure for us.” The Littmanns have tour-hopped three different times now, to Palm Springs, California, Phoenix, Arizona, and Austin. They’re planning to do it again soon. “We research the city, look up what restaurants we might want to try, find an Airbnb rental, and have a great time while we’re there. We often meet people along the way and enjoy connecting with them.”
Curating the tours has given me a similar adventure to Jon and Tonya’s. Doing the research about how Modernism swept across the country in the 1920s and 30s, learning about the architects, builders, and developers who paved the way, and meeting the present-day designers who keep the legacy of Modern ever progressing, as well as their forward-thinking clients, has been astonishing and gratifying. One example—a Bruce Goff (one of the founders of a philosophy of architecture known as Organic Architecture) house in Kansas City blew my mind, which was then further exploded when we had a Bart Prince-designed house on our Santa Fe tour. Bart Prince worked for Bruce Goff, and while the houses are across the country from each other, both respond to their respective climates, sites, and eras with sensitivity and beauty. And Bruce Goff’s legacy is apparent in Bart Prince’s work, but he brings his own inspired vision to each project. There are so many such eye-opening examples—it makes me so happy to know that people like Jon and Tonya are experiencing a bit of that, while enjoying the individual cities for what they are as well.
For Jon, his interest in houses has now gone beyond just looking and learning. “I’d like to experience living in different types of housing,” he says. I’d love to stay in a lighthouse or a treehouse, or even a house made out of a shipping container.” Hmmmmm. I think I have an idea for a new kind of tour. Stay tuned!