George Matsumoto designs the ultimate party house.
Located in Sedgefield, North Carolina, just outside of Greensboro, the Thrower House (1961) stood as a set piece for 1960s-style socializing. Wanting a home designed for entertaining both large crowds and small groups, Edwin and Polly Thrower (owners of a large furniture company) hired architect George Matsumoto to create a modern residence that could accommodate anything and everything- from intimate visits from family, small dinners with friends, and lively cocktail parties of 150 guests. For the Throwers, hiring Matsumoto proved to be a shrewd move. The prolific North Carolina modernist, who had already proven himself a master of manipulating space, developed a house plan that offered both quiet moments and buzzing atmosphere, a true showstopper that according to Architectural Record (1962) served "both art and function."
In order to give the Throwers the flexibility and variety they so desired, Matsumoto designed an adaptable residence steeped in the couple's idea of "southern hospitality". After a number of preliminary designs, the architect came up with a 5,000-square-foot house centered on a large interior courtyard (House and Garden (1964) called it "a house with an open heart"). Sliding floor-to-ceiling glass doors tied the nearly square court to the main rooms of the home and could stay open most of the year due to the mild climate. With the glass doors pushed to the side, crowds of guests flowed easily through the well-choreographed indoor/outdoor spaces. During smaller gatherings, doors would be closed, making each room a self-contained setting for quiet conversation. Open to the sky but screened from nearby neighbors, the planted courtyard became the physical center of both the house and the party, a welcoming space with plenty of air for visitors to mix and mingle.
From the courtyard, Matsumoto layered a series of versatile rooms that would allow guests to freely circulate. Along the open court, public spaces like an expansive living room (divided into three separate areas with diverse seating arrangements), dining area, study, and family room could be opened up as one large space or closed off into separate areas depending on the type of entertaining planned. Wide terraces accessible from these same rooms (and seamlessly integrated into the landscape) offered even more space to congregate. Thoughtfully separating the public and the private, Matsumoto placed the more personal rooms- bedrooms, bathrooms, and utility closets- at the corners of the house, shielding them from the transparent courtyard with white brick walls.
In the Thrower House, Matsumoto's remarkable ability to choreograph space and movement is on full display. With a creative approach to planning (dare I say brilliant, maybe?), the architect created a warm, welcoming atmosphere for entertaining, one that took full advantage of outdoor spaces and the natural flow of chattering crowds. He utilized practical materials like brick and vertical board on the exterior and wood and ceramic tile on the interior to streamline the maintenance that so often comes with preparation for guests. The Matsumoto aesthetic- graceful geometry, precise proportions, and expanses of glass- provided not only an ideal stage for socializing but also the perfect backdrop for the clients' impressive modern furniture collection.
Today, though the Thrower House still stands, Matsumoto's original design has undergone extensive alterations, including a pitched roof covering the interior courtyard (see it on Google, if you must).
For me (and I'm a huge fan), Matsumoto's early residential designs in North Carolina seem so effortless and easy in ways that are unlike anything else of the period. At the same time practical and radical, Matsumoto's work (especially in his smaller residences) impresses not by grandiose gestures or over-the-top materiality but by its elegant ability to suit the human condition. You can read more on George Matsumoto in North Carolina here, here, and here.
And as always- thanks for reading!
Image at top:
Joseph Molitor from Architectural Record Houses 1962.
This architectural historian cannot stop thinking about buildings, food, and that vintage rug she found online.