The Brooklyn Heights Merz House, originally home to architects Joseph and Mary Merz, is on sale for the first time since its construction.
Superlatives come easy in the case of the midcentury modern home at 48 Willow Place. It is one of the only single-family structures from the era in Brooklyn, and its only peers are virtual siblings—two other units down the block by the same architects. You will not find anything like it anywhere nearby.
The family home of architects Joseph and Mary Merz—a striking six-bedroom, seven-bathroom structure—is on sale for the first time since its construction in the late ’60s, after Joseph’s death this past March at 92 ( his wife Mary died in 2011).
The Merz house stands out amidst its historic surroundings, a cement block home with more than a nodding resemblance to Louis Kahn’s Esherick House. It’s a modern home defined by a keyhole window overlooking a street that dates back to the age of barrel keys and candlesticks, with its neighbors including colonnaded Greek Revival row houses, brick carriage houses, and a few Gothic revival homes (and the two other Merz units, defined by different simple fenestration).
The interior is far from austere: It’s an actively cozy and charming space oriented toward a Japanese-style garden in the rear by means of large windows. The interior might initially seem revolutionary, featuring an open kitchen done in Aalto-esque woods from an age before kitchens were ever opened. This wasn’t quite the case—but the result, the product of a renovation done by the Merzes in the early 1990s, is still very impressive. This renovation actually rewound the look of the house to a somewhat earlier age of midcentury, swapping out bare walls and aggressively mod furniture for elaborate and impressive maple built-in shelving and seating.
The Merzes are a great story in themselves—they were Brooklyn Heights community fixtures and a great design duo. Joseph worked in Antonin Raymond’s office before being accepted to the Harvard School of Design to study with his idol Walter Gropius. World War II service intervened, and he subsequently ended up enrolled at Pratt, where he met his wife Mary in a class taught by Philip Johnson. Joseph worked for Josep Sert and Morris Lapidus, and then joined Mary at Edward Larrabee Barnes’s office. In 1957 they started their own firm, Merz Architects.
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