When Natascha Drabbe was left with her own architecturally significant home to preserve in Utrecht, the Netherlands, she realized there was a need for a professional network linking owners and directors of important 20th-century homes.
So in 2012 she launched the Iconic Houses Foundation and its website, iconichouserg , which connects owners and caretakers of houses that are open to the public and also introduces people to modern homes around the world that they can visit.
Drabbe’s mission began after her husband, the Dutch architect Mart van Schijndel, died of cancer in 1999. First, she started a foundation to help protect their home, which is tucked into a hidden courtyard in the heart of Utrecht’s medieval center. The Van Schijndelhuis, completed in 1992, is notable for its improbable setting, its openness, and its minimalism, including the absence of hinges in windows and glass cabinet doors, which instead rotate on a silicone seam.
Natascha Drabbe’s Van Schijndel House in Utrecht, the Netherlands.
Despite her home’s highly individualized design, Drabbe, who divides her time between Utrecht and Amsterdam, came to realize that the Van Schijndelhuis was part of something larger.
“It dawned on me that my house is not a singular thing, but part of a whole family of interesting 20th-century houses worldwide,” Drabbe says. “The way we can keep the architects’ ideas alive and share their stories is to invite people to visit the houses.”
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater in Mill Run, Pennsylvania.
She first reached out to dozens of directors of house museums and received early support from Frank Lloyd Wright ’s Fallingwater and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Villa Tugendhat in the Czech Republic, as well as start-up funding from the Alvar Aalto Foundation in Finland.
Member foundations and homeowners pay a nominal fee to be listed on the website, which provides property information and links to the destinations’ website or contact information. The website also includes a private members’ area, where information on preservation, funding, and networking is posted.
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Villa Tugendhat in the Czech Republic.
Drabbe, who two years ago left her architectural marketing business to devote her full attention to Iconic Houses, has grown the site to more than 150 listings, most in the United States and Europe. The ever-expanding list includes both well- and lesser-known stops, from the Eames House in Los Angeles and Victor Horta Museum in Brussels to the private Alan I W Frank House in Pittsburgh (designed by Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer ) and La Ricarda outside of Barcelona, designed by architect Antonio Bonet Castellana.
Since joining the network in 2015, La Ricarda has reported a significant uptick in press coverage and visitors, which has helped the owners pay for upkeep, Drabbe says. This is especially important, she adds, because the 1950s Catalan gem is under threat from an encroaching airport and suburban sprawl. One of Drabbe’s goals is to help save modernist houses at risk, regardless of whether they’re members.
Inside the Victor Horta Museum in Brussels.
Drabbe is particularly proud of recruiting off-the-radar homes and those with rich backstories. For instance, the 1947 MHA Site Office, which recently joined the network and was designed by A. Quincy Jones, Whitney R. Smith, and Edgardo Contini in the Crestwood Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles, is one of only 31 houses remaining in the Mutual Housing Association, which was founded by four musicians who wanted to offer distinctive homes at affordable prices. Drabbe also recently signed up the Strutt House in Ottawa, designed by architect James Strutt in 1956 and built in six weeks. It only recently opened for tours.
Designed by A. Quincy Jones, Whitney R. Smith, and Edgardo Contini, the MHA Site Office, in L.A. is a relative newcomer to the network.
Drabbe wants to grow her roster monthly and create national or even regional chapters, with more interaction among members. She also hopes that more travelers use her site for trip planning.
“Someone told me they never travel without first checking Iconic Houses to see what’s there,” she says. “That’s exactly what we want to hear.”
A guest bedroom in the Alan I W Frank House, designed by Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
The 5th International Iconic Houses Conference , “Modernism on the East Coast—Philip Johnson and the Harvard Five,” will be held in Norwalk, Connecticut, May 15–18. It is open to the public and features tours of several modernist homes in southern Connecticut.
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