Fieldtrip: James Rose Center

Last Saturday morning I headed north to Ridgewood, NJ to help with the annual spring clean up at the quirky and impossibly creative James Rose Center.

The Guest House

This modernist bastion of free thinking and improvisation is located in a community of entitled suburbanites surrounded by traditional homes and manicured yards.  It is, as you would suspect, an anomaly.

A covered section of the roof garden

Rose, mad genius that he was, experimented with so many convergent ideas here that it is impossible to convey them all through photographs in a blog…one visit would not even be enough to absorb them all.

One view of the roof deck
Turn around and this is the view of the roof deck

Rose built the home/studio/garden in 1953 and lived there for almost 40 years until his death in 1991.  As I understand it, the building and surrounding garden were in a constant state of experimental flux for almost all of that time.

Light and shadow

Its still evolving history makes it  a vital emblem of  a changing world from a fertile and busy mind who fundamentally understood that change was constant and necessary.

A tree is given room to grow between exterior rafters
The same tree reveals itself again in the second story

Combinations of materials high and low, new and recycled, permanent and temporary are freely juxtaposed throughout the building and garden.

Stairway to the roof

In Rose’s own words– “to reveal what is always there is the trick. The metamorphosis is seen minute by minute, season by season, year by year. Through this looking glass, ‘finish’ is another word for death.”

View out from in

Over 60 years ago Rose wrote the closest definition I have ever found of a garden.

Man and nature, nature and man

From his 1958 book Creative Gardens— “A garden is an experience…If it were possible to distill the essence of a garden, I think it would be the sense of being within something while still out of doors.  That is the substance of it: for until you have that, you do not have a garden at all.”

Fence detail

To  visit the James Rose Center is to experience a garden where then is now, now is then, the inside is out, the outside is in and the top is bottom and the bottom is the top.  It is also an opportunity to take a glimpse into the mind of one of American landscape architecture’s most original thinkers.

7 thoughts on “Fieldtrip: James Rose Center

  1. I’ve read much about the house/garden but never seen it. Thanks for the visit. Is it open regularly for visits?

    The center is open from 5/15 to 9/1 10 am-4 pm. There’s a $10 entrance fee. The ponds were being repaired on Saturday and they add another dimension entirely. It’s a wild and wonderful place, go if you can.

  2. I read another of James Rose’s books a few years ago. I think it was Gardens Make Me Laugh. What I remember most about the book is that, although he was very creative and definitely outside-the-box, he must have been impossible to get along with. I wonder how many of his clients fired him?

    Still, I’d like to see the James Rose Center in person one day. Thanks for the tour.

    I ‘discovered’ James in a photograph on a designer’s inspiration board years ago. I think judging just by that photo he was outside the box and an acquired taste by clients.

  3. I didn’t know about this before. I can appreciate his statement about “finish” being another word for death ….

    It’s a curious place for curious people. You’d love the exuberance of it.

  4. I grew up in this town, passing this house from the street. I went to High School across the street from this house, and my father now lives down the street. I’ve always been curious about what was there! Thank you for posting this!

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