Question of the Month: Sharing Stories

Posted on: February 13th, 2013 by Forum Reference Desk

Each month, the Forum Reference Desk (FRD) fields questions from preservationists across the country, covering a wide variety of topics. Some of the questions are not actually questions at all—sometimes preservationists simply want to share their own stories with us. When these stories intersect with issues we are working on or offer singular examples, we like to share these stories more broadly.

The rear of Island House, c. 1960s. | Credit: New Canaan Historical Society

The rear of Island House, c. 1960s. | Credit: New Canaan Historical Society

In November, Elizabeth Ellsworth told us that she recently purchased Bimel Kehm’s Island House in New Canaan, Conn. Born in Dayton, Ohio, in 1907, Kehm pursued careers not only in architecture, but also in sculpture and painting. His post-WWII architecture blended modern and traditional details and paid thoughtful attention to siting and landscape.

The Island House sits adjacent to another Kehm design—Kehm House—which was featured in the Survey of Modern Homes conducted by staff at the Philip Johnson Glass House in partnership with the National Trust, Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation, Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism, the New Canaan Historical Society, and Building Conservation Associates. Completed in 2009, this survey was undertaken following the demolition of a mid-century modern home in 2007. The survey focuses specifically on New Canaan, where several notable mid-century architects designed and built homes.

Ms. Ellsworth purchased the Island House in late 2012, noting that it retained most of its original features and massing. It is so named because it is surrounded by water, with a lake on one side and a river on the other. As she has done with other historic properties, Ms. Ellsworth is restoring the house to its original appearance—including removal of non-original wall treatments from the 1970s and the addition of a green roof. She plans to eventually sell the Island House property to a preservation-minded buyer.

Miami Marine Stadium Credit: National Trust for Historic Preservation

Miami Marine Stadium Credit: National Trust for Historic Preservation

She reached out to us in part because she was familiar with the Survey of Modern Homes, but also because she felt hers was a preservation story others might be interested in as well. We agreed. The National Trust has long been involved in issues surrounding modernism and the recent past. Recent work has focused on larger-scale buildings, such as Miami Marine Stadium and Prentice Women’s Hospital, and highlighting a smaller-scale residential project adds another dimension to that conversation.

We asked our Trust colleagues about the best way to let others know about the Island House restoration. Our editorial team was intrigued by Ms. Ellsworth’s story, and a staff person interviewed her for this excellent Q&A blog post on Even though her question wasn’t a question, we are delighted to tell her story.

Look for more Forum Reference Desk questions and answers each month! If there is a topic or story you would like us to cover or research, let us know either by leaving a comment below or emailing us directly at

Editor's Note: If you have a story you would like to see on either the Preservation Leadership Forum blog or the PreservationNation blog email with your idea.

About Forum Reference Desk

Staffed by Melita Juresa-McDonald (San Francisco Field Office) the National Trust's Forum Reference Desk provides preservation leaders direct, easy, and timely access to the latest and best information, referrals, and tools.

Forum Benefit, Modernism