Jens Risom’s Block Island Family Retreat, Rhode Island, Built in 1967
“The popular magazines were all saying that one couldn’t build a summer home for less than $25,000,” recalls Jens Risom, seated comfortably in a chair of his own design inside his home in New Canaan, Connecticut. “So I contacted Life magazine and said, ‘well, I have one.’”
Life magazine was impressed, not just with the project but with Risom himself—at that point, the designer had already won decades of accolades in modern furniture circles. The resulting article, a lushly photographed ode to Risom’s customized A-frame that he sourced from a catalog and had delivered in pieces to his remote island site off Rhode Island, helped to raise the aesthetic profile of modular construction. At the time, prefab suffered from a public-perception problem—the post–World War II housing boom and the subsequent need for quickly produced, kit-assembly structures had given the landscape of “ready-mades” a “dreary sameness” and a “cheapjack reputation.” Risom’s structure, with its use of weathered wood, soaring cathedral ceiling, and expansive openness tied to its bucolic location, set a new standard for what prefab could look like.