Categories: Architecture, Arts, Hartford

Hartford’s “Façade House”: The Unique Home of Chick Austin

The Austin House
The Austin House, 1993. Photo by Szaszfai – National Register of Historic Places

Located at 130 Scarborough Street in Hartford’s historic West End, the A. Everett Austin House is the former home of A. Everett “Chick” Austin Jr., the director of Hartford’s Wadsworth Atheneum from 1927 to 1944. A true visionary, Austin, along with his wife, Helen Goodwin, designed their Neo-Classical Revival house after Italian architect Vincenzo Scamozzi’s 1596 Villa Ferretti at Dolo.

A. Everett Austin Jr., age 35. Photo by George Platt Lynes, 1936 - National Register of Historic Places

A. Everett Austin Jr., age 35. Photo by George Platt Lynes, 1936 – National Register of Historic Places

A. Everett “Chick” Austin Jr.’s Unique Home Design

Although the Austins hired New York City architect Leigh H. French Jr. to build their home (and in 1940 sought the help of Helen’s cousin Henry Sage Goodwin to design a bedroom addition), the design was essentially Chick’s. Set on nearly two acres, the two-story, 3,000-square-foot house is set apart from most every other home by its long and narrow design–86 feet long, 18 feet wide, and only one room deep. Its front, adorned with pilasters, is flat, but provides an illusion of depth.

The house’s interior is as unique as its exterior. Many rooms in the house take up the full depth of the structure, and from the rooms one can see both the front and back yards. The Austins decorated the first floor with predominately 17th- to 20th-century Italian and German furnishings, while providing the second floor with a modern flair, including designs from Bauhaus artist Marcel Breuer.

Entertaining Salvador Dali and Gertrude Stein

Austin’s life was as interesting as the art he loved and acquired while he lived at 130 Scarborough Street. His home was a gathering place where he entertained the likes of Salvador Dali, Le Corbusier, Gertrude Stein, Alexander Calder, and many other performers, artists, and intellectuals of the period. The start of World War II, however, curtailed not only Austin’s social life, but also his ability to acquire works for the museum. In 1944, while in a disagreement with the museum’s trustees, Austin resigned his position as director. He left Hartford two years later.

Living room, the Austin House, 1993. Photo by Eugene Gaddis - National Register of Historic Places

Living room, the Austin House, 1993. Photo by Eugene Gaddis – National Register of Historic Places

Although Austin no longer resided in Hartford, his wife Helen and his two children stayed in their Scarborough Street home until 1985 when they donated the property (including most of its furnishings) to the Wadsworth Atheneum. (Chick Austin died in 1957, his wife Helen passed in 1986). The property is now in the Wadsworth’s permanent collection and open for tours. In 1994 the house became a National Historic Landmark.

LEARN MORE

Websites

“The Austin House.” Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, 2016. Link.

Documents

Gaddis, Eugene R., and David Ransom. “PDF- A. Everett Austin Jr. House.” National Register of Historic Places, 1994. Link.

Books

Gaddis, Eugene R., and Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, eds. Magic Façade: The Austin House. Hartford, CT: University Press of New England, 2007.
Gaddis, Eugene R. Magician of the Modern: Chick Austin and the Transformation of the Arts in America. New York, NY: Alfred Knopf, 2000.
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