5 October 1951
Commission Brief - Dexter M. Ferry, chair of the board of the Ferry-Morse Seed Company of Detroit, donated the house from the connection he had with the school as his two daughters, two sisters, daughter-in-law, and nieces were alumnae of Vassar College. Breuer had previously completed an addition to Ferry’s home in Baltimore, however it was his daughter, Edith Ferry Hooper that suggested Breuer receive the commission as he had completed the first of two modernist houses in Baltimore for her.
Design Brief- Having previously worked for the Ferry’s, Breuer’s style was nothing new to the family. However, the International Style was a drastic change from was seen on the Gothic, traditional campus. This building would be the first of three modernist buildings commissioned by the first female president of the college, Sarah Gibson Blanding, to bring this style of architecture to the school.
Significant Alteration(s) with Date(s)
Renovations began in 2000 after Fergusson hired Herbert Beckhard, who previously worked with Breuer, as he was familiar with his style but would also have an idea of how Breuer would solve a modern problem while staying true to the original form. Beckhard’s associate Yutake Takiura said they modified it based on what they believe Breuer would do now. Heart Cypress replaced plaster ceilings, the original cerulean Breuer Blue of the lounge and the original crimson-orange Breuer Red on the underside of the building were restored, the heating and plumbing systems were revamped, the roof was patched. The original furniture was replicated although in a different layout. Eames chairs used in the dining room, true to the original design.
Breuer began designing the house in the late 1940s with construction beginning in 1950. The house was built in a “binuclear” layout where the ground floor and upper floor were laid out in a T-pattern as sound from the downstairs common spaces would not travel into the upstairs private living areas. The ground floor was designed with sliding doors and moveable panels to have a series of flexible spaces that could change depending on the function. The upper private living area is constructed of steel sitting brick piers and appears to float among the treetops. It is oriented from east to west so that both sides of the room are in direct sunlight during the day. Breuer also designed most of the bedroom furniture and was involved in the detailing including selecting furniture from other designers such as Saarinen, Eames, and fabrics from Knoll Associates.
Floor to ceiling glass doors made up the exterior walls of the ground floor to bring in natural light as well as expand the living space by bringing the inside out into the landscape. Former Vassar president and architectural historian Frances Fergusson said Breuer “modified the strict machine-like modernism of the 1930s into a very particular American mode that included modern stone materials and an interest in texture and linking the building to the landscape.”
The binuclear design created a space “in which public and private activities are formally separated by volume and spatial composition…With transparency to the outside world, slate floors that convey a sense of visual and emotional unity between the indoors and the outdoors, and a sense of sunny airiness due to the large open glass windows, Ferry is quite conducive to a house that concerns itself with the living environment and nature.”
The building is an example of Breuer’s idea “that beauty serves a practical purpose and that practicality is beautiful.” The aesthetic choices in the design and the idea of communal living emphasized his Bauhaus education in “the social responsibility of art and design.” At the dedication ceremony Breuer said “When you experience a building, its space, its walls, roof, windows, the brick, the stone, the glass, you probably never realize that it is the expression of many individual efforts, coordinated. And I mean this not in a technical sense…That this ‘cooperative house’ of Vassar stands now as it is, is actually a result of those human colors and social actions which you probably would never take into consideration when you think of architecture.”
"Ferry House." Ferry House - Vassar College Encyclopedia - Vassar College. Accessed July 18, 2017. https://vcencyclopedia.vassar.edu/buildings-grounds/buildings/ferry-house.html.
Kim, Dakota . "Our House is Bauhaus." Vassar, The Alumnae/i Quarterly, Winter 2006. Accessed August 3, 2017. https://vq.vassar.edu/issues/2007/01/features/bauhaus.html.