On Sunday, October 8, Freeman’s will hold its bi-annual Design auction featuring a rare desk designed by renowned architect Louis Kahn (1901-1974). The desk was created for the Morton and Lenore Weiss house in East Norriton Township, Pennsylvania. Designed in partnership with Anne Tyng (1920-2011), the Morton and Lenore Weiss House was one of Kahn’s first residential projects. Begun in 1947 and completed in 1950, the house is set upon a hill in East Norriton Township, just north of Norristown, where Morton “Bubby” Weiss worked as the proprietor of Gilbert’s, a prominent haberdashery.
Archival Images of desk in film courtesy of the Louis I. Kahn Collection, University of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Weiss house image courtesy of The Architectural Archives, University of Pennsylvania, photo by Rollin R. LaFrance.
Bubby and his wife Lenore were said to have found Louis Kahn an exciting and pleasing partner in the design of their new home, despite his infamous, sometimes-prickly demeanor. The Weiss House was awarded a Gold Medal by the Philadelphia Chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 1950. The Weisses were great lovers of architecture and the arts, collecting sculpture, ceramics, prints and textiles on their many travels. They lived in the home until their deaths in 2004, after which time their collection was bequeathed to museums, family members, and friends. A large desk, or living room table, was one of three tables Kahn designed for the home, although only two, including the desk, were built. The desk was bequeathed to Bubby’s first cousin once-removed, David Wenger and his wife Joan, who have lived with the desk since.
The Weiss House and its furnishings were extensively documented by George H. Marcus and William Whitaker in their landmark 2013 publication, “The Houses of Louis Kahn” (Yale University Press). Their survey notes other furniture purchased for the Weiss House, including Eero Saarinen’s Grasshopper Chair and a sofa by Florence Knoll. Both designs were exhibited and seen by Kahn in Marcel Breuer’s House in the Museum Garden at the Museum of Modern Art in 1949. Sitting opposite the Knoll sofa was a television stand with an X-shaped base, quite possibly the design inspiration for the legs of the Weiss House desk, although reminiscent of other designs Kahn would have encountered by prominent architect-designers of the period, such as Jean Prouve (1901-1984). Kahn designed built-in and freestanding furniture for several commissions, beginning with the Oser House in 1940, for which he designed and built a freestanding bedroom suite in oak, and, later, furniture for the Weiss and Genel houses. None of the furniture from the Genel house is known to have survived.