On a Clifton street lined mostly with Tudors and other traditional homes, the big, white, modern house stands out.
But it turns out that the Lowrie Home is a standout on its own: It’s thought to be the first of its kind Golf, at least in Cincinnati.
Yes, the home’s owner believes it was the city’s very first Modern residence. And he ought to know: Jay Chatterjee is the former dean of the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning (DAAP). He said UC historians could find no modern home older than the 1935 International-Style house that he owns with his wife, Janet.
As of Feb. 21, its architectural significance has put the home on the National Register of Historic Places Jackets & Coats.
It was designed by architect George Marshall Martin for University of Cincinnati professor S. Gale Lowrie and his wife, artist Agnes P. Lowrie. As Chatterjee understands it, the couple initially planned to build a Tudor home, but Martin convinced Mrs. Lowrie to do something different.
The house they built instead must’ve been a shock to the neighbors back then.
In its proposed nomination to the National Register, Beth Sullebarger, a local historic preservation consultant, described the home this way: “Asymmetrical in plan and elevation with a flat roof, smooth white walls, horizontal banding, casement windows of varying sizes, and setbacks that create second-story terraces.”
“It must’ve looked very strange,” Chatterjee said. “But I’m sure (the neighbors) explained it away: ‘Oh, she’s an artist.'”
The home was certainly ahead of its time: Even on the street where it sits, traditional homes were built after it. (But it’s not completely alone in its “otherness.” The house next to it appears to be Art Moderne, and there’s a Frank Lloyd Wright house across the street Sunscreens.)
The Chatterjees Eyewear & Accessories, who bought the house in 1983, are its third owners. They’d been living in Cincinnati since 1967 after moving here from Boston. (They met on the tennis courts at Harvard.) It was a perfect fit with the modern furniture – pieces designed by famous names like Herman Miller, Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe – the professor had been collecting since the 1960s.
“The goal was always to find a modern home,” he said.
His wife may have had that idea even before he did. “At age 8, I designed a house by myself,” she said. Her mother didn’t like it: She thought it was “too modern Cycling.”
When they found their own modern home, it wasn’t quite the dream house.
“It was in bad shape,” Jay Chatterjee said. “I had to gradually update it over many years. But I haven’t changed anything. It’s all the original design.”
That means things like the one-of-a-kind chrome railing, designed for the home, and the matching patterns in the entry door and nearby light fixture are still there. Two bathrooms are distinctly 1930s, with yellow and black tile in the master, green and black tile in the guest bath.
Chatterjee’s modern furniture looks right at home in the sunken living room with the large fireplace that warms it on wintry nights. Along the back of that room and the adjacent dining room, home to a burnt olive table that Chatterjee designed in the 1960s, four sets of French doors open to the patio.