7 Mostly Midcentury Modern Things to do in New Canaan CT

WHY GO: Mid Century Modern things to do in New Canaan CT? What that’s all about? Well, New Canaan, an hour commute by train into Manhattan, was the quintessential John Cheever-esque suburb, pioneered first by farmers, and then by strivers, achievers, and, surprisingly, a futuristic, visionary type of architect.

Philip Johnson's Glass House compound, New Canaan CT
Philip Johnson’s Glass House compound, New Canaan CT

Though Philip Johnson, designer of The Glass House, is the most famous, he was just one of The Harvard Five: architects and instructors from the Harvard Graduate School of Design who settled in New Canaan in the 1940’s. John M. Johansen, Marcel Breuer, Landis Gores, Eliot Noyes and Johnson all made their mid-century-modern mark on this staid ‘burg in Fairfield County CT.

However, only one of these, The Glass House, is open to the public. So, come to New Canaan to delve into the life of a world-renowned architect, walk the 80 natural acres of a new kind of Church, and stay for contemporary cuisine in an antique inn with Revolution-era cred on this offbeat Connecticut Getaway.

Expand your Connecticut visit with a stay in Norwalk CT,  Ridgefield CT, and/or Stamford CT. All are a 10-20 minute drive away. Greenwich CT is about 30 minute drive.

New Canaan is also one of the Best Romantic Getaways in CT.

Midcentury Modern Things to Do in New Canaan CT

Glass House with manmade "mist" art installation, New Canaan CT
Glass House with manmade “mist” art installation, New Canaan CT

TOUR: Philip Johnson’s Glass House

After Johnson’s death in 2005 (at the age of 99), fans of this mid-century modern starchitect deliriously awaited the opening of his transparent home and property, the Glass House. Guided tours sold out fast, at $100 a pop, when first offered to the public in 2007.

Even now, because only 13 people are allowed at a time, a visit to Johnson’s inner sanctum might prove to be a tough ticket. So book far ahead.

Tour the Glass House Complex

Expect to walk a lot on uneven surfaces on your 2 ½ hour tour. Of course the Glass House is the star of Johnson’s 49 acre property. But your narrated amble will include at least three other outbuildings. Begin in downtown New Canaan for a short orientation at the Visitor’s Center. From there a van transports you to Johnson’s property on Ponus Ridge Rd.

Interior of Philip Johnson's Glass House, New Canaan CT
Interior of Philip Johnson’s Glass House, New Canaan CT

The 1949 Glass House itself – 55 ft long, 33 ft wide, with a tad over 1,800 square feet – features Johnson’s original furniture from his Mies van der Rohe designed New York City apartment.

The kitchen, bedroom, and living areas are open to the elements. The surrounding forest and undulating lawnscapes seen through glass walls are nearly indistinguishable from the interior. Thankfully, the green-mosaic-tiled bathroom is enclosed for privacy.

The Brick House, Ghost House and More

Brick House, the yin to Glass House yang; New Canaan CT
Brick House, the yin to Glass House yang; New Canaan CT

The Brick House was designed at the same time as the Glass House. The polar opposite of the Glass House, the Brick House features just a few porthole-shaped windows in the rear of its seemingly impenetrable rustic brick exterior. In his later years, Johnson moved into this more private abode.

Sculpture Gallery on Glass House campus, New Canaan CT
Sculpture Gallery on Glass House campus, New Canaan CT

Other structures on the property vary in form and function. Johnson used them as guest homes, studios, galleries, and physical plants. One, the Ghost House, appears like a mirage in the woods.

Approaching the Sculpture Gallery on Glass House Campus, New Canaan CT
Approaching the Sculpture Gallery on Glass House Campus, New Canaan CT

The solarium-bright Sculpture Gallery is meant to invoke the whitewashed hillsides of the Greek Islands, with staircases that mimic random narrow streets of Santorini.

Entrance to Painting Gallery, Glass House Compound, New Canaan CT
Entrance to Painting Gallery, Glass House Compound, New Canaan CT

Johnson called the bunker-like Painting Gallery a “Berm House,” because it was built into a manmade mound of dirt. The gallery is accessed through an entrance that could just as well lead into a bomb shelter.

But once inside, you’ll see works of Frank Stella, Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, David Salle, Cindy Sherman, and Julian Schnabel showcased in brightly lit off-white galleries a proper modern art museum would drool over.

"Da Monsta" at Glass House Compound, New Canaan CT
“Da Monsta” at Glass House Compound, New Canaan CT

One of Johnson’s last installments, built in 1995, “Da Monsta” is a fractured, deconstructed, Frank Gehry-like red and black space, so named because Johnson felt it had the qualities of a living thing. Tours from $25 for a one hour “concise” tour of the Glass House only to $100 for 2 1/2 hour tour. RSVP required.

FYI: The Glass House is one of the Getaway Mavens 10 Perfect Places to Pop the Question in Connecticut

Grace Farms, New Canaan CT
Grace Farms, New Canaan CT

VISIT: Grace Farms

Before Grace Farms opened in 2015, there was much speculation about how this cultural and humanitarian center serving local and global communities would be integrated into a wealthy, private, rural-suburban community.

Since then, skepticism has turned to acceptance, as Grace Farms has fostered understanding between people from all walks of life and religious backgrounds, with stunning grounds, beautiful modern buildings, and interfaith programs that lift the spirit.

According to the website, “Grace Farms is a welcoming new place, where a building designed by SANAA is seamlessly integrated into 80 acres of open space for people to experience nature, encounter the arts, pursue justice, foster community, and explore faith.

A diverse natural habitat in the northeast corner of New Canaan, Connecticut, this former horse farm is home to numerous varieties of flora and fauna. Approximately 77 of the 80 acres will be retained in perpetuity as open meadows, woods, wetlands, and ponds.”

Grace Farms, New Canaan CT
Grace Farms, New Canaan CT

Grace Farms is a very special place, hewing to its five core initiatives – nature, arts, justice, community, and faith – with utmost respect towards others. It’s worth visiting no matter what your religious practice. Free to visit, but you must register online. See website for open hours and dates. 

Interior of Fish Church Stamford CT on HisTOURy Midcentury Modern Tour

TOUR: Midcentury Modern Homes By HisTOURy Tours

The fantastic HisTOURy Tour Co. runs intimate town-specific coach bus tours throughout New England and other states. Billed as “Historic Tours By Design,” these deep dives into Midcentury Modern homes and buildings in many towns and regions, are well researched. Guides on each bus provide running commentary about the structures outside your window. And, you’ll also get a chance to get off and tour several  homes and buildings on each tour – and then enjoy a light meal together afterwards.

HisTOURy Founder, Georgette Blau, served on the Norwalk (CT) Preservation Trust for ten years and understands the necessity of preserving our past through engaging – and really fun – education. While HisTOURy Tours run many Midcentury Modern and Colonial Home tours, it also conducts themed Historic Home tours (e.g. Artist, Author, and Actors homes) in many New England towns. Check website for available tours, locations, and themes – and to sign up. 

ART/WORKSHOP: Silvermine Arts Center, Silvermine (border of New Canaan and Norwalk CT)

Silvermine was established in 1922 by a group of artists in barn near an old mill house, on the banks of the bucolic Silvermine River.  In 1924, the Silvermine Guild of Artists was incorporated. Many of these artists became the standard bearers for Midcentury Modern Art in the early 30’s. Since then the Silvermine Arts Center has morphed into an arts and crafts school for both children and adults.

The Silvermine Arts Center offers plenty for romantic couples to do. Come in for a fun 2-hour “One Night Stand” painting, clay, acrylic, tie-dye, collage, etc. workshop, or to just peruse the work of students in Silvermine’s art gallery. There’s always something going on, so check website for dates, fees, and gallery hours.

Other Things to do in New Canaan Connecticut

ART/WALK: Waveny Park and Carriage Barn Arts Center

Designed by the famous Olmsted Brothers, the 300+-acre Waveny Park serves as New Canaan’s Central Park. Laced with paved paths, walking trails, undulating fields, forests, picnic areas, frisbee golf, a swimming pool, paddle sports, and ponds – and the Carriage Barn Arts Center – Waveny is both a recreational and arts bonanza for the town.

The Carriage Barn Arts Center – within the park – offers programming, classes, performing and fine arts: an all in one. You don’t have to sign up just to walk in to see contemporary art in the stone barn’s gallery.

BIRDING/HIKING TRAILS: New Canaan Nature Center

Opened in 1999, the 40 acres New Canaan Nature Center features programming for people of all ages. There’s a Children’s Garden, and events for families. But, if you’re in town and need a leg stretcher, or know what a Big Year is – this Nature Center has just what you’re looking for.

Join the NCNC Hiking Club for a brisk winter or summer hike. Go on an early morning Bird Walk with a Senior Naturalist. Or sign up for floral arranging class. Check website for program fees and Nature Center hours.

PICKLE/TENNIS: Mead Memorial Park

If you can’t be away from your beloved Pickleball for one day, try the public Pickle and tennis courts at Mead Memorial Park, a New Canaan town park managed by the Parks Department. Mead Park borders Bristow Bird Sanctuary, and encompasses a large 4.75-acre pond – for more recreational opportunities.

Where to Eat in New Canaan CT

There’s no shortage of delicious food in NC. Try the Farmer’s Table and Cherry Street East for American staples with farm-to-table cred. For international flair, check out La Pescaderia for great Arepa’s and other Venezuelan food. And Pesca Peruvian Bistro for fresh seafood.

Where to Stay in New Canaan CT

Entrance to Roger Sherman Inn New Canaan CT

EAT/STAY: Roger Sherman Inn

Ask locals if they’ve dined at the Rodger Sherman Inn, and they’ll say, “not in 30 years.” By the 2000’s, this Connecticut landmark had seen much better days. However, in 2008, Joseph and Nes Jaffre purchased the inn, and have been restoring it to the elegant inn and restaurant it is today.

The Roger Sherman Inn was named for the Founding Father who helped draft the Declaration of Independence.

Though Roger never lived in New Canaan, his niece, Margaret Sherman, and her husband, Reverend Mitchell did. They built what is now an inn as a private residence in 1740, and started a boarding school to prepare young men for Yale College. It was the very first private school in New Canaan.

The building changed hands many times over the years, with owners who expanded the original structure in their own ways: adding rooms, porches, and more. The result is a rambling whitewashed historic inn and restaurant that has once again is known as a fine French dining destination.

Jean Zuber Mural at Roger Sherman Inn New Canaan CT

Check out a couple of paintings on the restaurant walls that hark back to the inn’s Colonial-era origins. In the early-1800’s, famous wallpaper artist Jean Zuber depicted two Revolutionary War era scenes. More symbolic than true-to-life, they were wildly inaccurate. One, for example, shows the Surrendering of Cornwallis at West Point NY, when in fact the surrender took place in Yorktown VA.

Guest room at Roger Sherman Inn New Canaan CT

Interspersed throughout a rambling 18th and 19th century building, Roger Sherman Inn’s 17  rooms have been recently renovated. The inn faced the wrecking ball in 2016, and then the community saved it. Thank goodness it did. Check website for room rates and menues.

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  • Malerie Yolen-Cohen

    Malerie Yolen-Cohen is the Author of the cross-country travel guide, Stay On Route 6; Your Guide to All 3562 Miles of Transcontinental Route 6. She contributes frequently to Newsday, with credits in National Geographic Traveler, Ladies Home Journal, Yankee Magazine, Shape.com, Sierra Magazine, Porthole, Paddler, New England Boating, Huffington Post, and dozens of other publications. Malerie’s focus and specialty is Northeastern US, and she is constantly amazed by the caliber of restaurants and lodging in the unlikeliest places.

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