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Mies van der Rohe's
Farnsworth House
Plano, Ill.

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Farnsworth House To Be Sold
by Victor M. Cassidy

The Mies van der Rohe-designed Farnsworth House, located on the Illinois River about 60 miles southwest of Chicago, is being prepared for sale, according to sources close to the deal. Peter Garth Palumbo, a member of Britain's House of Lords, has owned the property since 1972.

Mies designed and completed the house between 1946 and 1951 as a weekend retreat for Dr. Edith Farnsworth of the Northwestern University Medical School. The house, which has been likened to a Greek temple, is considered a prime example of the International Style.

According to Franz Schulz in his 1985 biography of Mies, the building is "unlike any house conceived before it." It is "a totally glassed-in rectangular box, consisting of roof slab and floor slab -- the latter suspended five feet above the open ground, partly so as to ride above the level of the river's occasional floods." Visitors enter by stairs at one end of the house.

The interior is a single space with a core containing the kitchen and bath. Freestanding cabinet-closets define the sleeping area and a living room, which has a fireplace and a view of the river. Mies specified Roman travertine for the deck and floor and hand-built primavera woodwork. The exterior steel is painted white.

The Farnsworth house was built on 9.6 acres of land, but Lord Palumbo has expanded the site to 150 acres and created a wooded sculpture park next to it with over 22 works by Harry Bertoia, Anthony Caro, Jim Dine, Andy Goldsworthy, Ellsworth Kelly, Richard Serra and others. The site is especially beautiful in spring when thousands of planted bulbs and native wildflowers bloom.

For many years, persons wishing to visit the Farnsworth House had to contact the caretaker, who would show them through by appointment. About 500 people visited annually. In spring of 1997, the house opened to the public and has kept regular hours ever since.

Since the house has not yet been put on the market, nobody knows who might wish to buy it. The price will surely be high because rapid development in the surrounding area has made the riverfront land quite valuable.

VICTOR M. CASSIDY writes on art from Chicago.

Sponsored by AXA Nordstern Art Insurance.