The modern house of then -- on many levels

Lafferty House Niskayuna Civkin blueprint

A 1947 Victor Civkin blueprint for the Lafferty House.

The latest batch of recommendations for the the State and National Registers of Historic Places for New York includes a handful of sites around the Capital Region, including the sorts places you'd expect like churches and a rural historic district.

It also includes a site you might not expect: a suburban home in Niskayuna.

The home in question is the James M. and Eleanor Lafferty House, which is in a neighborhood just off Rosendale Road. It's been nominated as a representative of the modern movement. And the home's national register nomination form is an interesting read (including diagrams and photos) -- especially if you're interested in midcentury design.

It's glimpse into both residential architecture of the time and also GE's efforts to create the kitchen "of tomorrow." (No, wait, The kitchen... of tomorrow.)

A clip from the site's national register nomination (broken out into paragraphs for easier reading):

The Lafferty House was built between 1947 and 1950 to the designs of Victor Civkin, director of the General Electric (GE) Kitchen Institute (Home Bureau) from the 1930s through 1952. Civkin's contract with GE allowed him to develop a private practice, and most of his clients at this time were GE executives and high-level professional employees in the GE Research Lab in Schenectady.
He produced two types of buildings for these clients - Modified Traditional (Colonial Revival on the outside, modern floor plan on the inside) and Modern (International or Contemporary). The Laffertys (and their Research and Knolls Power Atomic Laboratory neighbors on Hedgewood Lane) preferred his Modern designs. These emphasized horizontal masses and "modern" materials like concrete block, steel-framed windows, and window walls, juxtaposed against vertical redwood siding and a massive fieldstone chimney (at least in the case of the Lafferty House).
Civkin's Modern style clearly owes much to the "Organic" style popularized by Frank Lloyd Wright. In addition to this mix of natural materials, the Lafferty House provides maximal privacy on the façade and opens onto the landscape at the rear through window walls and terraces.
However, one design feature seems to be characteristic of Civkin. The Lafferty House is built on five levels, dedicated to different uses and set into the sloping site. The lowest level (basement) holds the utilities; the laundry level is devoted to parking and domestic chores; the main level accommodates family living and entertainment; the fourth level contains family bedrooms; and the top level was James Lafferty's personal study. Civkin seems to have been one of the very first to embrace this style and elaborate beyond two or three levels.

There are a lot of interesting details in there, including bits like the story in which Civkin, the architect, applied for a mortgage to build a split-level home in Connecticut and got pushback from the bank because, in its opinion, the house was just too weird.

Another bit like that: Civkin was an early proponent of the "work triangle" design of kitchens.

Comments

I saw a house listed in Niskayuna last week and was surprised / impressed by the MCM design. It seems to be in the same neighborhood as the Lafferty house; perhaps another Civkin.

http://www.realtor.com/realestateandhomes-detail/1170-Mohawk-Rd_Niskayuna_NY_12309_M35401-39914#photo0

I howl a lot about how I hate split-level houses and most modern architecture, but maybe the problem is that I've mostly been exposed to those styles as they trickled down to very, very bad architects.

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