BassamFellows Remodels the Future
RIDGEFIELD — “What’s so beautiful about the building is it’s about 7000 square feet and it feels, and is built, like a modern house and yet it’s a commercial building. It has more of a residential feel than a typical office building,” said Scott Fellows. “When people walk in, especially the way we’ve furnished it and adapted it for our use, it feels like a blurring between a beautiful, small executive office building and a modern house. People say, ‘I want to live here.’”
The Schlumberger Research Center administration building, designed in 1951 and built in 1952, was architect Philip Johnson’s first nonresidential commission. The single-story, steel-glass-and-brick building with nine other buildings on a 47-acre campus was owned by Schlumberger oil company.
“We were kind of obsessed with that building,” said Fellows, 55, of BassamFellows, an architecture, interior design, creative branding, and furniture company that he and his partner, Craig Bassam, 56, started in 2003.
Annette Schlumberger and her husband, Henri Doll, commissioned the structure after touring Philip Johnson’s Glass House, which had been built in 1948-1949 in New Canaan.
By the time the Bassam and Fellows were aware of the building, it had already sat vacant for seven years, water damage had ruined areas of the interior and the building had been cut off from utilities service.
The “PJB” as it was known to locals, connected via an enclosed glass corridor to a kitchen and restroom in a separate building built in 1949.
When Schlumberger left the campus in 2006 and failed to sell the property, the Town of Ridgefield eventually bought it for $7 million in 2012, fearing the property would be purchased by a developer.
The 1949 building was then razed along with six other building on the property, cutting it off from basic utilities and services.
Fellows and Bassam first moved from New York City to New Canaan in 1998 and bought a 1956 mid-century home, which they endeavored to restore. When they were finished, the house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“We were quite proud of that because oftentimes restorations really nullify a building from being listed on the National Register because it’s insensitive or takes away from the historic fabric,” said Fellows.
That first house project set them on a course with preservation as a core component of their business, he said.
“We feel very strongly that houses are not museums and that preservation is to make a house or building livable and relevant for today while at the same time being considerate of the historic nature of the property and to not do anything that would negate those important listings on the national register,” he said. “So after that we kind of fell into a few more projects like that locally, and because we’re sort of modernist architecture experts, if you will, we were in a position to advise clients on what to do with these types of houses.”
The pair took on more preservation projects in the U.S. and Europe that broadened their experience with modernist buildings. Then, they decided to sell their first home in New Canaan and were planning to build a house when they heard of a Philip Johnson house in New Canaan for sale by the heirs of the original owner.
“They were looking for…
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