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Cranbrook Academy Revives Eliel Saarinen's House

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EVERYWHERE you look in the Saarinen House, subtle harmonies of color, form, space, and texture soothe and rest the eye or engage it in wonder. One alcove invites relaxed conversation. Another, reading and quiet thought. Each room has a completely different feeling by design, yet each is related to all the others, and the effect of the whole is a soothing, peaceful haven.

Saarinen House is undergoing meticulous restoration at the Cranbrook Academy of Art 20 miles outside of Detroit. It is named for Eliel Saarinen, the academy's first president and its resident architect, who designed, built, and lived in the house from 1930 to 1950.

The exterior, built of buff-colored brick with Indiana limestone detailing and a slate roof, is two-story, and resembles the European row houses common to Saarinen's native Helsinki.

Saarinen also designed the other structures on the sprawling Cranbrook campus, including studios, a boys' school, a girls' school, a science institute, the art academy, and finally, the art museum.

The tender care with which he built his family home has been revitalized in what will become the community's second museum, scheduled to open in May of 1994.

The art academy has had only five presidents. The second, third, and fourth made changes in the house to accommodate their own family needs and tastes. But the fifth president, Roy Slade, decided to return the house to its original (and lavishly documented) state after he took over the reins of the school and took up residence in the president's house in 1977.

In 1988, Mr. Slade turned over the curatorial responsibilities to Greg Wittkopp, the Cranbrook Art Museum's director, and the most involved tasks of detective work began. Since then, 170 paint samples have been analyzed, fragments of wallpaper have been discovered and reproduced, recessed light fixtures have been liberated from burial beneath wall board, all the principal pieces of furniture have been restored by collectors and family members, and nearly all of the important textiles have been located and preserved, and many of them reproduced.

``Saarinen believed that architecture should encompass all the arts,'' Mr. Wittkopp says, ``and that therefore, the architect as designer should be responsible for designing all aspects of the building.''

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