Jens Risom is a 99 year-old design legend. In the late 1960s, Jens, his wife Iben, and their children lived in New Canaan, Connecticut, but spent summers renting houses on Block Island, a Rhode Island seaside retreat that reminded them of their native Denmark. Risom found a prime spot to build on and researched different options for buying an early prefab, that could stand up to the island’s intense climate. He finally found a company that produced a model that cost $20,700. It could be customized to Risom’s exact specifications, and after drawing up the plans himself, Risom watched as parts were sent by “an ancient tug” from the mainland. After completion, he decided to show it off;
“The popular magazines were all saying that one couldn’t build a summer home for less than $25,000. So I contacted Life magazine and said, ‘well, I have one.’”
Life was impressed and the resulting article helped to raise the profile of modular construction. As the years rolled by, the family happily spent every summer at the house, fishing, collecting stones, and walking the trails of the island. But after decades of wear and tear, some maintenance is required. It was decided that the doors on the front wall of glass be removed and all of the glass replaced. John Spier, a local contractor, was called in to oversee the job;
“Working with big glass is always scary. But it was more nerve-racking taking the old glass out because it wasn’t safety glass. You work it out of the frame carefully, but if it shatters and breaks into big lethal shards—let’s just say we were happy to get all the old glass out without bleeding too much.”
Risom and his second wife, Henny, do not often make the trek from Connecticut but when Dwell was shooting these photos, they came to see the new renovations;
“I was worried it was going to look too new.”
What a life and what a perfect retreat for future generations. Simple is always better, especially at the hands of a master.
(Photos, Floto + Warner; via Dwell)