Book review: The wonderfully unconventional Andrew Geller.

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The Phil George House, Sagaponack, New York, 1963. From Andrew Geller: Deconstructed by Jake Gorst, © 2015, published by Glitterati Incorporated, glitteratiincorporated.com

I’ve never seen Andrew Geller’s work in person, and now I am obsessed with finding one of his houses so I can experience his work first hand. Jake Gorst’s tribute to his grandfather, Andrew Geller: Deconstructed (Glitterati), is a passionate, thoughtful exploration of a very interesting man. Known as the “architect of happiness,” Andrew Geller designed whimsical beach houses and gave them equally imaginative names: Butterfly, Milk Carton, Raspberry Basket, Grasshopper and Square Brassiere, to name a few.

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The Pearlroth house. From Andrew Geller: Deconstructed by Jake Gorst, © 2015, published by Glitterati Incorporated, glitteratiincorporated.com

While researching for this book, Gorst met many people who said they were inspired to become architects after seeing Geller houses. I was worried that the book would present a career in architecture through rose-colored glasses, and I’m pleased to report that it does not. The challenges of this field are clearly presented by Gorst. Yes, there were many marvelous achievements, but there were also times of compromise, leaving Geller frustrated by how his work was altered to fit a corporate agenda or marketing plan.

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Images from Andrew Geller: Deconstructed by Jake Gorst, © 2015, published by Glitterati Incorporated, glitteratiincorporated.com

One such example was Leisurama (1963–1965), a 200-house development in the Hamptons that Geller designed when he was at the Raymond Loewy office. The property owner wanted a simple vacation home that could be mass-produced quickly. Determined to provide something more interesting than a basic box, Geller presented several solutions. The client chose the most cost-effective albeit boring design, which the architect described as “a cell that had four walls, a ceiling and a floor, similar to what they were living in in New York.”

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The Betty Reese house. From Andrew Geller: Deconstructed by Jake Gorst, © 2015, published by Glitterati Incorporated, glitteratiincorporated.com

Where Geller really excelled, and where he was happiest, was in the design of vacation homes for freelance clients. His first client was Betty Reese, who was the director of public relations for the Loewy office. Thrilled with the simple A-frame house he designed for her, Reese told all her friends about Geller, and being a PR genius, her friends included The New York Times.

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The Elkin house. From Andrew Geller: Deconstructed by Jake Gorst, © 2015, published by Glitterati Incorporated, glitteratiincorporated.com

On May 5, 1957, an article titled “Summertime Living Becomes Even Easier at New Long Island Beach Cottage,” appeared in that very same newspaper, and Geller became the architect to hire. “The telephone didn’t stop ringing,” said Geller. “I very cleverly told these people I don’t reproduce anything I’ve ever done. I do it once and that’s it.”

Geller never duplicated his own work, and no other architect has ever duplicated Geller. “Andrew Geller never quite seemed to fit in,” writes architect Alan Hess in the foreword to Deconstructed. “Thank goodness for that.”

Pick up a copy of Andrew Geller: Deconstructed to learn more about this wonderfully unconventional artist and architect.

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