I thought I had visited just about every historic house in New York State until I saw a picture of Manitoga, the modernist home of Russel Wright, on Instagram. When I read about it that same week on 6sqft in a round-up of top architecture day trips outside of NYC, I knew I had to go. That Saturday, I took Metro-North to Cold Spring and after exploring the charming town, called a taxi service to drive me to neighboring Garrison (unfortunately, Uber does not work in the area).
Manitoga is the house, studio, and 75-acre woodland estate of mid-century industrial designer Russel Wright. He was the first industrial designer to become a household name after embossing his signature on the underside of his products and the first lifestyle guru. Most famous for his line of American Modern tableware, Wright also designed furniture, ceramics, and textiles and co-authored a bestselling book, "Guide to Easier Living", with his wife Mary. The Wrights believed that good design should be accessible for everyone and advocated an informal and relaxed approach to living.
In 1942, the Wrights purchased an abandoned granite quarry, which they named Manitoga after the Algonquin word for "place of great spirit". Mary passed away from cancer in 1952. Russel spent three decades working on the property, where he resided with their daughter, until his death in 1976. Although the woodland grounds look natural, he carefully planned and manipulated the landscape, using a truck to move around boulders himself.
Wright worked with architect David L. Leavitt to design the Japanese-style house, which blends in seamlessly with its surroundings. Reminiscent of Fallingwater, Russel was acquainted with Frank Lloyd Wright. but they were not related.
The house embodies Russel and Mary's design philosophy and modern lifestyle. For example, they eschewed traditional formal parlors and dining rooms in favor of one large family room. The Wrights pioneered the open-plan kitchen layout that is so popular today. They also favored buffets and encouraged guests to participate in service.
A vine-covered pergola connects the house to Russel's studio where he worked and slept.
Unlike most historic house visits, the 90-minute tour was more focused on the grounds than the home, so wear sensible walking shoes and be prepared for a moderate hike. There are many hiking trails designed by Russel on the property, which are free and open to the public year round, but beware of poison ivy.
From the unique architecture to the dramatic landscape, Manitoga was one of the most enchanting places I have ever visited. I highly recommend checking it out for yourself!
For more information, visit http://www.visitmanitoga.org.