Home New England Historic Houses The Zimmerman House: Quite a Surprise in Manchester, N.H.

The Zimmerman House: Quite a Surprise in Manchester, N.H.

One of the very few Frank Lloyd Wright houses in the Northeast

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Frank Lloyd Wright designed many pathbreaking houses and commercial buildings throughout the world, but few in the Northeast. The Zimmerman House in Manchester, N.H., is an exception. Actually, the house’s near neighbor, the Kalil House, is another. The Currier Museum of Art owns both and offers guided tours.

The pagoda-like Zimmerman House is considered an “excellent example of Wright’s late-period Usonian houses.” Wright coined the term “Usonian” to replace the word “American,” but particularly to describe the typical native landscape. He designed about 60 middle-income homes he called “Usonian.”  They have flat roofs, native materials, large cantilevered overhands and clerestory windows to let in lots of natural light.

Another word Wright coined: “carport.” The Zimmerman House has one. So does the Kalil.

Even the carport has a window to nature

You might think of them as Mid-Century Modern.

The Zimmerman House

Dr. Isadore Zimmerman and his wife Lucille commissioned Wright to design a modern home for them in 1949. “We wish to avoid adding a new antique to the city’s architecture,” they said. They wanted the house “to play a positive educational role” in Manchester.

They educated their friends, at least. Toufic and Mildred Kalil commissioned Wright to build a house for them a few hundred yards away.

Both couples bequeathed their homes to the Currier. Dr. Kalil’s brother lived in the house after their death and lived to 101. (The houses are only one story tall.)  The house today does not have original furnishings, but the Zimmerman House does. It even has the Zimmermans’ clothes – even Lucille’s wig — hanging in the closet.

Wright designed everything but the clothes in the Zimmerman House, including the garden, the furnishings and the mailbox. Narrow hallways and large, light-filled open spaces create a dramatic effect.

The National Park Service listed the house on the National Register of Historic Places because it “clearly demonstrates most all of Wright’s Prairie Style theories in a very small house.” Those theories include “floating” concrete slab construction, low “floating” roof, undulation and sequence of space, continuum of interior and exterior space – in other words, you can see a lot of nature out the windows.

No one lived in the house other than the Zimmermans, and it has been meticulously maintained.

Five Things You’ll Remember

The Fireplace

The house is built around an L-shaped chimney with an L-shaped fireplace, open on one side. The fireplace has shelves that display ceramics next to it.

Wright’s unusua; fore[;ace

Mitred Windows

Wright liked to integrate the inside of a house with its natural surroundings. He did it visually in the Zimmerman house, particularly with his corner windows that don’t have a sash where the glass meets at a right angle.

That mitred window is probably hard to replace

Original Furnishings

If you like Mid-Century Modern furniture, you’ll love the Zimmerman house. Wright designed the chairs, the banquette seating and even a musical quartet stand (the Zimmermans played). The house has its original retro kitchen appliances (which Wright didn’t design) and sound system.

Note the racks for the pot lids in the kitchen

Ceramics

The Zimmermans collected ceramics and the house is full of them. Their table ware was produced by Edith Heath in Sausalito. The Zimmermans asked for Wright’s approval of the Head ceramics. He was a friend of hers and said “yes.”

Property

Wright designed the house around a large rock near the entrance and specified the plantings. The Zimmermans are buried on the property.

Wright selected all the plantings, which have been carefully maintained

Manchester

You can’t miss Manchester’s historic Amoskeag Millyard, which runs along the Merrimack River. The Millyard Museum has exhibits telling the story of the city, immigration and the textile industry. There are restaurants in the Millyard, as well as on Elm Street, the city’s main drag.

millyard

Amoskeag millyard, 1911

Manchester has a large Franco-American community, and a prominent French church, Ste. Marie, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Quebecois artist Ozias Leduc decorated the interior of the building.

The Manchester-Boston Regional Airport also has an aviation museum, housed in the 1930s WPA-built terminal.  You can also visit the recently expanded Currier Museum, of course.

If you visit…

Admission to the houses also gets you admission to the Currier Museum. There are only so many tours per day and only 12 people per tour, so you’re advised to make reservations well in advance.

You’ll take a 10-minute shuttle bus ride to the Zimmerman House, and then you can either walk or reboard the bus to go to the Kalil House.

The tour takes several hours so give yourself plenty of time.

Parts of the house are wheelchair-accessible. Wheelchairs can also access the Currier, which has bathrooms, a café and, of course, art.


Images: Exterior of house By User:Magicpiano – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19358302. Fireplace By Ɱ – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=118690815. Carport By Jane023 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21316014. Ceramics and kitchen By Ɱ – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=118690819.