The Field, Corning, New York: Property of Mr. and Mrs. James R. Houghton
Things have a way of turning out better than one might anticipate. As young newlyweds in the mid-1960s, Maisie and Jamie Houghton lived for a brief spell in Zurich and Brussels surrounded by a burgeoning world of contemporary art and design. Having each been raised in a traditional New England household, they envisioned their future in stark contrast. Possessed by anything modern, and equally blessed with derring-do, the couple returned from an exciting four years in Europe eager to build a modernist house in Corning, New York in which to raise a young family.
The resulting cement and glass structure at the end of a long and leafy drive was designed with the input of a family friend, David Beer, and the young architects Terry Twitchell and Nancy Miao. Twitchell’s father, Ralph Twitchell, was one of the founding members of the Sarasota School of Architecture and Paul Rudolph was a partner in his firm for many years. The Field, as the house is known, took Corning by surprise in 1972.
“I never thought you had it in you!” quipped Maisie Houghton’s aunt, the legendary decorator Sister Parish, when she first witnessed what they had wrought. A slightly brusque remark perhaps, but after all, cinder block was sheer anathema to Sister… Truth be known, soaring ceilings and a concrete tower all seemed slightly overwhelming to Maisie Houghton too, who recalls furnishings were spare in the early days.
However, with the help of Albert Hadley, whose definitive flair for contemporary design was legendary, the interiors quickly took shape. Hadley imposed a structure by tailoring custom bookcases, a desk, and many upholstered sofas and chairs to anchor various rooms. To this orderly backbone, the Houghtons added decorative 19th century Japanese screens to cover the vast expanses of white walls. 1970s glass-topped consoles, dining and coffee tables furthered the modernist quest and, as if by osmosis, a smattering of family relics (in the form of English furniture) suddenly seemed less stuffy. The end result neatly skirted Sister’s predicted disaster.
The best way to accumulate art is through experience. Layering becomes a process — not a lesson — and equally, a dash of eclecticism signals strength and character. Just as The Field matured over decades to become a sum of all its parts so, it appears, did family instinct trickle down concretely.
— Written by Angus Wilkie
In our Fine auction on April 22-23, 2017, English, Continental & American Fine Art, Furniture and Decorations, we will be offering property from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. James R. Houghton, The Field, Corning, New York.