The Display Artist
The contemporary architect Roger Ferris is accustomed to the reaction most people have when they first catch sight of his home: "It really surprises them that I’m in a turn-of-the-century house, much less a Tudor Revival. But they get it as soon the front door is opened." The gallery-style entry hall announces right away what is to come in the rest of the house. Ah, now we’re talking.
Visitors are greeted by Xavier Veilhan’s dramatic humanoid sculpture standing guard next to an intricate wooden chair by the Campana Brothers. Just above, on the staircase wall, there is a Donald Sultan painting, opposite a Nathan Coley light box underscored by Chris Howker’s long, sleek stainless-steel bench. The only concession to the past is a 17th-century grandfather clock, a stately piece of antiquity with its own sculptural presence.
"I think what everybody ultimately finds so evocative is this blend of historical and contemporary," Ferris says. And by that he not only means the startling contrast between the exterior and interior, but what is in the rooms themselves. Every space has been deliberately designed to display his collection of top-notch contemporary art.
Even Ferris could not have expected how enamored he would become with the house when he came upon it about five years ago. It was the land—15 bosky acres in Weston, Conn.—that initially caught his eye, so he went again and again to look at the property. The house was beautifully sited, and the more he studied it, the more he responded to its aesthetic. "If I can appreciate a structure, whether it’s a glass box or a romantically inspired Tudor, then I can live in it, I can feel a part of it," he says. "And I came to realize that I could live in this house in a contemporary way."
His first notion was to gut the interior and modernize it. Previous owners had already compromised its historical integrity—they had ripped out the base and crown moldings, covered up the beams, ruined the bookcases, changed the floors. But then Ferris reconsidered: Wouldn’t it be more fitting and affecting to restore all the details, to honor the intention of the architect who had designed it in 1910? "I decided that I’d rather get out the old drawings and reinstate it in its entirety as an artifact, but everything else—the art, the furnishings—would be of the moment," he says. "For the most part I put it back together the way it was, and then I did my own thing."
Once the renovations were complete, Ferris made what might seem to be a counterintuitive gesture: He moved the interior into the 21st century by painting everything flat white, quieting the historical details and creating an ideal backdrop for the significant contemporary art he has been collecting for 25 years.
One of his first major purchases was a set of prints from Andy Warhol’s Cowboys and Indians series. "I grew up in Texas," Ferris says, "that’s where that came from." Since then, his collection has grown to more than 100 pieces by an impressive list of established and on-the-rise artists. Among the most prominent are Jennifer Bartlett, Eric Fischl, Jenny Holzer, Robert Indiana, Roy Lichtenstein, Vera Lutter, Ed Ruscha, and Claes Oldenburg.
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