‘What Makes New Canaan So Special’: NCM&HS Launches October4Design 2023 [Q&A]


Midcentury-Modern New Canaan home. Credit: Robert Gregson

The New Canaan Museum & Historical Society this month launches its fourth annual October4Design, a 10-day celebration of art, architecture and design in New Canaan that includes exhibitions, house tours, talks and other events at NCM&HS and participating local nonprofit organizations (here’scalendar of events).

On Tuesday, we met with Nancy Geary, executive director of NCM&HS, to talk about October4Design and what attendees can expect from this year’s Modern House Day Tour (tickets here).

Here’s a transcription of our interview.


New Canaanite: Before we get into the specific events you have lined up for October4Design, tell me how it started and what it is generally.

Nancy Geary: The Historical Society has been running the Modern House Day Tour to celebrate Midcentury-Modern architecture in New Canaan since 2001. There was lots of discussion, primarily through TEDAC [the Tourism and Economic Development Advisory Committee], about expanding that to really celebrate art and architecture and New Canaan’s rich history of design. And so Laura Pla, who was a [NCM&HS] Board governor at the time, and I proposed to TEDAC October4Design, which is a month-long celebration of art, architecture and designing in New Canaan that would happen every year. Every other year is the House Tour, but every year is October4Design, and we would get all of the nonprofits to participate. 

So when did October4Design launch? 

The first year was 2020 and it was all remote because of COVID. So all of the programming was remote. 

So tell me about this year’s October4Design, including the Modern House Tour. What can participants expect and how do people get involved?

It has its own website, where everybody who has sent me their related programming—all of that programming is there. So you can look at the calendar and it’s color coded by whether it’s art, architecture, design or community. Many of the programs are free. Some require tickets. Where there’s a ticket, there will be a link back to that organization to sell the ticket. The Historical Society has a lunch with a clothing historian who’s talking about the sack dress from the 1950s. We have our Modern House Day Tour on October 21st, which will feature Jorge Otero-Pailos, who is a professor at Columbia University, talking about trends in historic preservation and some of the art installations that he does to celebrate architecture. In addition to our Modern House Day Tour, we have two free programs—one by Fred Noyes, and one by a designer, Christina Roughan, and architect Tom Kligerman.

It sounds like October4Design brings in a lot more organizations than the Historical Society. What are some of the organizations that are offering up programming? 

The Carriage Barn is doing a lecture in conjunction with the big show that the Bruce Museum is doing in Greenwich on Midcentury-Modern architecture. Grace Farms is having its gala on the 21st and it’s also doing some related programming. The Glass House obviously is running tours all through October. They’re doing a children’s art/drawing program. In prior years, we’ve had a gallery stroll. That’s not happening this year, but we hope to, at some point, get businesses and restaurants more involved as well, because it would be nice to really highlight downtown as part of this.

How important is it to the Historical Society’s operation to have successful, for example, Modern House Tours. 

The story of the Modern House Tour is itself a really interesting story. It was started in 1949 by Eliot Noyes to showcase the houses that were being built at the time here in New Canaan. That ran through the ‘70s and then it stopped. And when the Historical Society resurrected it, it was because a lot of those houses were being torn down. And so it was to educate the public about the importance of this architecture and to get people in to see them because most of these are private homes. So the tour is very popular. People come from all over the world. It’s also very important to the Historical Society, not only for our mission, but as a source of revenue. It is a fundraiser for us. 

How important is it as a fundraiser? The NCM&HS doesn’t get much money from the town.

Our main fundraiser is our spring fundraiser. This is certainly a line item in our budget and people have asked me what’s the difference between a regular ticket and a VIP ticket. And the difference is that the VIP ticket includes a donation to the Historical Society. The cost of operating a tour is very expensive because we take people on buses. It’s very tightly controlled, and that’s the way we’ve worked it out with the homeowners that we don’t want to give out the addresses. We don’t want pictures taken. We have tremendous respect for their privacy. 

What would you say to people who are considering buying a ticket about the houses that are participating in this year’s tour?

This year’s tour has some of the most spectacular houses in the six years that I’ve been in New Canaan, that I’ve had the opportunity to see. They are all private residences. One of them was on the tour previously, but it has a new addition. So if there is overlap from prior tours, they’ve all been changed in some way. And this year, several of the architects involved in designing them are going to be there to lead the tours. 

What else, if anything, do you want to say about October4Design?

It’s supposed to be a celebration of something that is uniquely New Canaan, which is its incredible design history and architecture history. Elliot Noyes really founded modern industrial design. He lived here. His son, Fred will be presenting at the Historical Society on October 26th. So, the point of this month is to highlight what makes New Canaan so special. 

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