Photo of Miller House and Garden by Thomas R. Schiff
THE MILLER HOUSE AND GARDEN
About Miller House and Garden
The Miller House and Garden showcases the work of leading 20th-century architects and designers Eero Saarinen, Alexander Girard, and Dan Kiley.
Learn more about Miller House and Garden
It’s one of the jewels set into the famous architectural destination of Columbus, Indiana—owned and cared for by Newfields. Here’s an opportunity to experience one of the finest expressions of American modernism, an integration of house and landscape that draws upon historical precedents without repeating them, enfolding them in a compelling composition of forms and spaces that captures the genius of its designers, the aspirations of its owners, and the spirit of their time.
Commissioned by industrialist and philanthropist J. Irwin Miller and his wife Xenia Simons Miller in 1953, Miller House expands upon an architectural tradition developed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe—epitomizing the international Modernist aesthetic—with an open and flowing layout, flat roof and stone and glass walls. The rooms, configured beneath a grid pattern of skylights supported by cruciform steel columns, are filled with textiles that feature strong colors and playful patterns. Amid the residence’s large geometric gardens, its grandest feature is an allée of honey locust trees that runs along the west side of the house. In 2000, the Miller House became the first National Historic Landmark to receive its designation while one of its designers, Dan Kiley, was still living, and while still occupied by its original owners. The house showcases the work of leading 20th-century architects and designers Eero Saarinen, Alexander Girard, and Dan Kiley.
Miller House and Garden is made possible through the generosity of members of the Miller Family, Irwin-Sweeney-Miller Foundation, and Cummins Foundation.
Take the tour!
Visit one of the most important mid-century modern residences in the country, always short-listed alongside The Glass House and The Farnsworth House. This hallmark of modern design showcases the talents of architect Eero Saarinen, designer Alexander Girard, and landscape architect Dan Kiley.
The tour is $25 and takes approximately ninety minutes, including an introductory video shown before the tour begins and transportation to and from the house. This guided tour starts at the Visitors Center, 506 Fifth Street in Columbus, and guests are shuttled by bus to the Miller House.
The guided tour is oriented to adults and children over 10 – please note only children over 10 are allowed on the tour and all guests must purchase a ticket.
Who is Eero Saarinen?
Eero Saarinen was a Finnish-American architect. His works in Columbus are Irwin Union Bank (now Irwin Conference Center), North Christian Church, and Miller House. The son of architect Eliel Saarinen, he studied with his father and came to prominence in 1948 with his competition-winning design for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (The St. Louis Arch). He also designed interiors and furniture in the same simple, curving style as his exteriors.
From the Taschen book Saarinen, by Pierluigi Serraino:
- Program, rather than scale, was the focus of Saarinen’s consciousness as a designer…his goal in designing domestic architecture remained unchanged even in later years: simplicity of the plan and interior. The Miller House…embodies just such an approach with astonishing clarity.
- To complement the stark quality of Saarinen’s walls, interior designer Alexander Girard added a folk overtone to the naked surfaces. The roof overhang extends beyond the glass line to shelter a five-foot swath of open space all the way around the house. Landscape architect Dan Kiley, Eero Saarinen’s long-time collaborator, designed a natural chessboard for the site, in which the project occupies one of the squares.
Who is Dan Kiley?
Kiley and his Harvard contemporaries rejected the tenets of Beaux Arts design that then formed the core of the landscape architecture curriculum and went on to publish their own manifesto of modernism. To them, the field’s established catalogue of historical references and hierarchical spatial concepts reflected social conditions and intellectual assumptions that simply were no longer valid in twentieth-century America. Accordingly, Kiley’s garden—like Saarinen’s house—relies on a clear and strong geometric order, but without conventional symmetry, reliance on fixed points of reference, or paths of circulation that constrain the viewer’s experience. It is largely concerned with shaping spaces, composing relationships of solids and voids, and manipulating the interplay of volumes, rather than with creating specific garden views or with orchestrating complex floral combinations or bloom sequences.
The landscape’s grandest feature is an allée of honey locust trees that defines an axis along the west side of the house, extending almost to the limits of the property. With finely textured buff-colored crushed stone beneath the entire allée, the dark honey locusts stand out in sharp contrast, their lacy foliage gently filtering the sunlight. Subsequent to the allée’s construction, it received a sculptural terminus at each end: a bas relief by Jacques Lipschitz at the south and a reclining female figure by Henry Moore at the north; both were later sold at auction as part of the estate settlement.
Read more about Dan Kiley’s architectural landscape legacy
Who is Alexander Girard?
“Eero Saarinen turned the interior design details over to Alexander Girard, who enlivened the rigorous architecture with brightly colored rugs, pillows, and wall hangings. “He made the house a home,” says Kevin Roche. “His sense of color was remarkable.” Behind the cylindrical fireplace in the living room, Girard designed storage cabinets for the Millers’ collection of antiques and art from all over the world. For seating, he sunk a fifteen-foot-square conversation pit into the floor. “The kids had overnight pajama parties in there,” recalls Irwin Miller.”- from Classic Modern: Midcentury Modern at Home By Deborah Dietsch
“Most of Girard’s 3D work doesn’t exist any more. That’s the downside of working on interiors, restaurants, exhibitions. That’s one reason why it is so important that the Miller House be open to the public, as a top-quality example of what he could do for space.” – Alexandra Lange, from Design Observer
Alexander Girard’s work imbued modern interiors with strong colors and playful patterns that brought warmth and comfort to rooms that might otherwise have seemed severe and uninviting. For the Miller House, Girard designed a wide range of interior architectural details, including a 50-foot long main storage wall and the conversation pit, as well as a seasonally changing program of textiles that enlivened the interiors. Working with Xenia Miller, he selected ornaments and antiques to personalize the house. He also designed several rugs for the house, including one composed of emblems that represent family history and associations. There are ‘Y’s for Yale (Mr. Miller’s alma-mater), representations for each child, and additional symbols of meaning to the family. Some of the chair cushions designed by Girard also feature the initials of family members. His passion for folk art is also visible in the objects chosen for the interior of the house. – from Indianapolis Museum of Art website
Go to the Alexander Girard page >
The official Miller House tour video (11:30)
WTIU feature on Miller House (4:12)
COMMENTS FROM TOUR GUESTS
Lincoln, Nebraska guest - do this tour!
It is a beautiful example of a well thought out home and landscaping that has stood the test of time in its style and functionality. (posted May 2019)
Hosting friends from Belgium - A must-see Mid Century Modern Masterpiece
Our friends from Belgium were visiting us in Indianapolis and this was one place that we knew we had to take them to see. The consensus was that this is a must see for everyone. We find it difficult to come up with places to show our Belgian friends when they come to visit but this was a no brainer. They were impressed that such a incredible piece of architecture was in Columbus. (posted May 2019)
Seattle, Washington guest - detailed look at a Columbus architectural gem
The Miller House tour, focusing on a single home, was a much more detailed look at a Columbus architectural gem. The tour illuminated even the finest points of the house’s design, construction, and landscape. Do both these tours, but if you can do only one, I found this even more rewarding than the architecture tour (Yelp review by Keith L., posted April 2019)
Houston guest - Fantastic…..this alone made the trip to Columbus worthwhile...
Fantastic…..this alone made the trip to Columbus worthwhile – It is hard to capture in the written word the beauty of this house.the best of mid century architecture. Beautiful grounds as well as striking interior. A must see! (Tripadvisor review, posted June 2018)
Pasadena guest - Wow! Amazing Place, Amazing Tour...
Wow! Amazing Place, Amazing Tour – If you like architecture, do not miss this amazing tour. Incredible house and grounds that docents lead you through describing the modern architectural design, furniture, and gardens. It was my favorite home tour ever. Also, the docent was so incredibly knowledgeable and the group small enough for good interactions. (Tripadvisor review, posted Feb 2018)
IN THE MEDIA
From Travel + Leisure...
Miller House ranks alongside Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House, and Philip Johnson’s Glass House as a hallmark of Modernist design (and) it is surrounded by some of the most beautiful Modernist gardens in the United States.
From New York Style...
The stone- and glass-walled house (contains) meticulously preserved interiors by Alexander Girard, who sank the world’s first conversation pit into its living room.
I have visited my fair share of iconic modern homes, but the moment I walked in, this one felt unique.
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See Charles Osgood and CBS News Sunday Morning filming the show in Columbus.
Learn about Eero Saarinen’s ground-breaking bank design
- Learn more about J. Irwin and Xenia Miller
- Check out the Miller House and Garden Pinterest Board
- Learn about Miller House and Garden at the Newfields website
- Read about Miller House and Garden in the national media
- Learn more about the work of Alexander Girard in Columbus
- Read about the Aluminum Group on the Herman Miller website
- See what bloggers are saying about Miller House (includes many photos)
- See photos from Modern in Denver magazine
- Visit J. Irwin Miller’s childhood home and the Irwin Gardens
- Read more about the landscape architects of Columbus
- Learn more about the Columbus architecture story
- Watch the trailer for the PBS American Masters feature on Saarinen (2:22)
- Read Deborah Berke’s perspective in The Wall Street Journal
- Dig deep into the Miller House archives
- Book an architecture tour