One of New Canaan’s best-known nonprofits has a new leader at the helm.
The ownership organization of The Glass House property on Ponus Ridge (visitors center, store and offices on Elm Street), the National Trust for Historic Preservation, launched its nationwide search for a new executive director after Greg Sages announced in March that he was stepping down. This month, Kirsten Reoch started in the role. We met up with her at Le Pain Quotidien on Monday morning.
Here’s a transcript of our interview.
New Canaanite: Kirsten, welcome and congratulations. When did you start at The Glass House and where are you coming from?
Kirsten Reoch: I started Monday, September 11th, and I was coming from working at the Park Avenue Armory in New York City for 25 years, directing the renovation and restoration of that landmark building for arts-related uses. I worked with the board, and I worked with the production team, I worked with the architects and conservators, and I think that that experience is what made me a good fit here at The Glass House.
Tell me more about that. You learned of an opening, and I know that there had been a big search for the new director. What is the draw of The Glass House? In your world, what does it mean to come here?
Well, my background is in historic preservation. I started in the field right after college in my 20s, and my first job was for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. I gave tours of one of their sites, the Decatur House in Washington, D.C. And so that experience in working in a museum, working on a landmark building was what actually inspired me to follow this career path. So I went from there to working for community nonprofits. promoting historic preservation and landmarking in communities, and then I went to graduate school and got a master’s at Columbia University in Historic Preservation. From there I worked at Disney, overseeing the restoration of the New Amsterdam Theatre on 42nd Street as part of the transformation of 42nd Street and Times Square back in the 1990s. And then I went to the Park Avenue Armory. And that sequence, that growth through different types of projects, working in historic preservation, working with landmark buildings, that intersection of the arts with historic preservation, I think is something that I specifically specialize in. Utilizing historic buildings for contemporary arts, for an understanding of how we don’t just mothball and preserve and look from afar behind a velvet rope at a historic building, but that you actually interact with it and you explore it and absorb and interact with contemporary art in that atmosphere. So with that as my specialty and background, I think that The Glass House was a natural place to land.
What had been your understanding of The Glass House before? Had you been a visitor here prior to the job opening?
I went when I was a child and Philip Johnson was still there. I don’t think he was there at the time, but I summered in Rowayton when I was a kid with family friends for most of my childhood. And at some point, someone got us over on the property. The site definitely stuck with me. I have always loved modernist architecture. My kids will say that I drag them to all these places, Frank Lloyd Wright sites around the country, Palm Springs. I’ve always had my own personal love of that period of architecture. So I felt that The Glass House had both of those, a personal appeal as well as something aligned with my professional experience.
You gave some of your background, you talked about your master’s at Columbia. Where are you from originally and where did you get your bachelor’s degree?
I grew up in Manhattan and south Florida. I went to college at Mount Holyoke in Massachusetts, and then went to Washington, D. C., and worked for a few years right after college, and then came back to New York, and have lived there ever since.
It’s just been a couple of weeks, but how are you settling in and how are you finding New Canaan?
Well, I love New Canaan. I’m trying to come to work a different route each day so that I can learn the different neighborhoods and roads around here. It’s gorgeous. I also have been out walking and exploring. I’ve definitely gotten a lot from the thrift store. I think I’m a thrift store fiend. If there’s a good thrift store, I’m going to keep hitting it. As soon as I saw that one, I ran over there and got stuff. I’ve already been to the library and gotten my library card. So that was a very early thing. I think that the town is just charming.
Your predecessor, Greg Sages, brought a background in building construction. That was his family business and of course that was one of the priorities at The Glass House the last several years during his stewardship. Talk about your own expertise and your own vision and how you’re fitting into The Glass House at this time.
At the Park Avenue Armory, I oversaw projects totaling over $165 million in capital construction, and I was the chief person in the capital fundraising for those projects, especially government fundraising. So I think that coming on board at the time when we are rolling out a new restoration in terms of The Brick House—which is just now starting on the site work, the restoration has not yet begun, but we should be releasing some news about the schedule for that very soon—on the construction side and construction management, there’s a whole team that has been hired for this. But it is right within my wheelhouse. So I’m strong on that and I’m excited to have that ready for the 75th anniversary of The Glass House, which is next year. I hope that will spark a lot more activities related to the history of The Glass House and its future. I think the 75th anniversary is a good moment to sort of reconnect with people who have been instrumental in the history, and also to think about what this can inspire artistically and programmatically for the future.
What are some of the priorities of the organization right now, and what sort of expertise do you bring to bear to address those?
Capital fundraising to be done for future phases of work that are necessary. Specifically the Pavilion is the next. You can definitely see that it needs work desperately. Condition reports are clear that a restoration is needed. And so the fundraising for that is going to be the first step, so I’m definitely launching into that. I also hope that the opening of The Brick House after its restoration next year will inspire some new residencies—not living there, but working, or being an artist, being inspired by the restored Brick House. I would love to see a new program of cycling architects and artists through on an annual basis who create something inspired by The Brick House. I think that The Brick House opening next year is going to be monumental. It has not been open for visitors, and so that is going to really change the way that we interpret the site, the way we show the site, what we’re able to do. So, we’re excited. The ribbon cutting should be in the spring, we hope, and then The Summer Party will be a celebration.
I love The Summer Party. So is there anything else that you want to tell our readers that we haven’t touched on?
In just two weeks, I have met a lot of people here in the neighborhood, but I have a long list of people that I’m seeking out introductions to. I would hope that everybody will feel free to stop by at our Elm Street headquarters, say hello, meet me if you see me out and about. Please stop and let’s talk about The Glass House.
Also you have a dog.
I have a dog. My dog is always happy to meet new people, that’s for sure.
Is your dog allowed to come to work?
If they did it before, I am definitely bringing her now. It’s a new day with dogs in the office.
That’s a quality of life thing for both of you.
She’s definitely the kind of office dog that just sleeps under my desk.