written by:
November 5, 2012

Today the Iconic Houses website, a new resource for travelers and fans of 20th-century houses, goes live. With its handy map interface, the site identifies dozens of iconic Modernist houses around the world, most of them open to visitors and some even accommodating overnight guests. An app for the iPhone and iPad is also in the works.

Inside Fallingwater on iconichouses.org
1 / 4
The Aalto House on iconichouses.org
2 / 4
Le Corbusier's Villa la Roche
3 / 4
Mies's Villa Tugendhat on iconichouses.org
Photo by 
Originally appeared in Restoring Mies's Villa Tugendhat
4 / 4
fallingwater iconic houses
Inside Fallingwater on iconichouses.org

Iconic Houses is the brainchild of Natascha Drabbe, an architectural historian and herself the owner and curator of a house museum in the Netherlands. Dwell talked to her about her new venture, which she hopes will help preserve the heritage of last century’s often beleaguered modern homes.

What gave you the idea for iconichouses.org?

It all started when my husband, the architect Mart van Schijndel, died, leaving me to decide the future of the famous house he built in Utrecht. In 2008, I set up a foundation to open the house up for people to experience it, and in the visitors’ book a certain comment mentioned several more iconic houses by other architects, some of which I’d never even heard of. So that set me off searching, and it was hard to find the information I wanted. I quickly realized that there was a need for a resource that brought together all the important houses of the 20th century.

Before our website, there was no place you could go to quickly locate these unique houses and plan a visit. Now, if you’re staying in Paris, for example, our site allows you to see that you’re close to the only house Alvar Aalto built outside Finland. And there are houses where you can even stay overnight—for example Vann Molyvann’s hidden gem in Cambodia. So it seemed a good idea to combine travel and these iconic homes.

aalto house
The Aalto House on iconichouses.org
How many houses are currently on the site?

We are starting out with a hundred, but we expect to have lots of new submissions after our launch. We’ve developed stringent selection criteria, to ensure that we feature only the best—places like Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater and Mies van der Rohe’s Villa Tugendhat, but also lesser known places in Asia and South America.

As well as houses on the site there is lots of background on their creators and history, and news about projects, events and developments. For example, the plan to construct Adolf Loos’ unbuilt house for Josephine Baker in China.

Have you visited all of them yourself?

I’m trying, and so far I’m up to 40. For the past few years I’ve organized every single break I’ve taken to view houses, and stay in them wherever possible. It’s important to experience the architecture, and staying overnight is the best experience possible. I’ve had wonderful times staying at Haus Schminke and the Bauhaus apartments in Dessau, for example.

You must have uncovered some great stories in the process of your research.

Often quite sad ones. Many times the houses are like orphans when they lose their original owners. Take Eileen Gray’s house—its last owner was murdered in the house and it was left empty for years, its windows smashed. Now it’s being restored and will hopefully eventually be open to the public, but it’s a long process and a huge endeavor to rescue these houses from neglect and oblivion.

villa la roche corb
Le Corbusier's Villa la Roche
Along the way to creating the site, you also founded the Iconic Houses Network.

Yes, because as a curator of a house museum, you have quite a difficult and lonely job. I wanted to see how other curators managed, and many of those I contacted had the same idea. So we created the Iconic Houses Network in order to share knowledge and expertise, to jointly promote ourselves, and to try to keep more important houses alive. These are difficult times—we have to contend with scarce funding, understaffing and sometimes even the prospect of demolition. So it’s important to work together. On our organizing committee are Iveta Cerna of Villa Tugendhat in the Czech Republic; Kimberli Meyer of the Schindler House in West Hollywood; Lynda Waggoner of Fallingwater in Mill Run; Susanna Pettersson of the Alvar Aalto Foundation; and myself. So it’s a very international initiative.

Are there big differences in the house museum situation in different countries?

I’m very inspired by the commercial approach of some of the houses in the USA—some are amazingly successful, and it seems everyone’s childhood includes a family visit to Fallingwater. There, a new tour starts every 12 minutes! Fallingwater’s Linda Waggoner says Americans are "house museum happy." That’s something we in Europe can only envy. Modern houses aren’t so prominent in the European public consciousness, probably because there’s a far bigger range of other heritage sites that they have to compete with.

villa tugendhat Exterior
Mies's Villa Tugendhat on iconichouses.org Photo by David Židlický.
As you say yourself, running a 20th-century house museum is fraught with difficulty. Are you optimistic?

I hear from museum curators all the time now that visitors are currently mostly interested in how people lived—so that’s a great opportunity for museum houses. These days, it’s hard to find funding in cold cash, so you have to look for other forms of support. I’ve been fortunate in finding companies to sponsor the Van Schijndel House in maintenance services—that’s a huge expense for any house museum.

I think we have to be more creative about getting repeat visits—organize more events, music or talks, or dinners, the way they do more in the States, and also be more creative about finding sponsorship and other initiatives. I think the Iconic Houses website is part of that. We hope it will encourage more people to visit more houses, and so help keep these unique places alive.

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

45 dva 2270 persp1 cmyk 0
The prospect of retirement doesn’t just signal the end of a career; it offers the chance to recalibrate and re-prioritize in life.
July 25, 2016
You don’t have to choose between sustainable energy and curb appeal.
July 19, 2016
jakemagnus queensland 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
July 06, 2016
content delzresidence 013 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 29, 2016
abc malacari marwick stair 01 0
A simple set of stairs is a remodel’s backbone.
June 28, 2016
Design Award of Excellence winner Mellon Square.
Docomomo US announces the winners of this year's Modernism in America Awards. Each project showcases exemplary modern restoration techniques, practices, and ideas.
June 27, 2016
monogram dwell sf 039 1
After last year’s collaboration, we were excited to team up with Monogram again for the 2016 Monogram Modern Home Tour.
June 27, 2016
switch over chicago smart renovation penthouse deck smar green ball lamps quinze milan lounge furniture garapa hardwood
A strategic rewire enhances a spec house’s gut renovation.
June 26, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent coralie gourguechon treviso italy cphotos by coralie gourguechon co produced by isdat planche anatomique de haut parleur1
Coralie Gourguechon's paper objects will make you see technology in a whole new way.
June 26, 2016
green machine smart home aspen colorado facade yard bocci deck patio savant
Smart technology helps a house in Aspen, Colorado, stay on its sustainable course.
June 25, 2016
Compact Aglol 11 television plastic brionvega.
The aesthetic appeal of personal electronics has long fueled consumer interest. A new industrial design book celebrates devices that broke the mold.
June 25, 2016
modern backyard deck ipe wood
An angled deck transforms a backyard in Menlo Park, California, into a welcoming gathering spot.
June 24, 2016
dscf5485 1
Today, we kicked off this year’s annual Dwell on Design at the LA Convention Center, which will continue through Sunday, June 26th. Though we’ve been hosting this extensive event for years, this time around is particularly special.
June 24, 2016
under the radar renovation napa
Two designers restore a low-slung midcentury gem in Napa, California, by an unsung Bay Area modernist.
June 24, 2016
Exterior of Huneeus/Sugar Bowl Home.
San Francisco–based designer Maca Huneeus created her family’s weekend retreat near Lake Tahoe with a relaxed, sophisticated sensibility.
June 24, 2016
light and shadow bathroom walnut storage units corian counter vola faucet
A Toronto couple remodel their home with a special emphasis on a spacious kitchen and a material-rich bathroom.
June 24, 2016
Affordable home in Kansas City living room
In Kansas City, an architecture studio designs an adaptable house for a musician on a budget.
June 23, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment oak vertical slats office
By straightening angles, installing windows, and adding vertical accents, architect Aaron Ritenour brought light and order to an irregularly shaped apartment in the heart of Athens, Greece.
June 23, 2016
kitchen confidential tiles custom cabinetry oak veneer timber house
A modest kitchen addition to a couple’s cottage outside of Brisbane proves that one 376-square-foot room can revive an entire home.
June 23, 2016
feldman architecture 0
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 22, 2016
Blackened timber Dutch home
A modern dwelling replaces a fallen farmhouse.
June 22, 2016
hillcrest house interior kitchen 3
Seeking an escape from bustling city life, a Manhattan couple embarks on a renovation in the verdant Hudson Valley.
June 22, 2016
Atelier Moderno renovated an old industrial building to create a luminous, modern home.
June 21, 2016
San Francisco floating home exterior
Anchored in a small San Francisco canal, this floating home takes its cues from a classic city habitat.
June 21, 2016
modern renovation addition solar powered scotland facade steel balcony
From the bones of a neglected farmstead in rural Scotland emerges a low-impact, solar-powered home that’s all about working with what was already there.
June 21, 2016
up in the air small space new zealand facade corrugated metal cladding
An architect with a taste for unconventional living spaces creates a small house at lofty heights with a starring view.
June 21, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent marjan van aubel london cwai ming ng current window
Marjan Van Aubel makes technology a little more natural.
June 21, 2016
urban pastoral brooklyn family home facade steel cypress double
Building on the site of a former one-car garage, an architect creates his family’s home in an evolving neighborhood of Brooklyn.
June 20, 2016
Modern Brooklyn backyard studio with plexiglass skylight, green roof, and cedar cladding facade
In a Brooklyn backyard, an off-duty architect builds a structure that tests his attention to the little things.
June 20, 2016
the outer limits paris prefab home living area vertigo lamp constance guisset gijs bakker strip tablemetal panels
In the suburbs of Paris, an architect with an eco-friendly practice doesn’t let tradition stand in the way of innovation.
June 20, 2016