Andrew Geller, 87, architect designed prefabricated modernist houses in N.Y.
NEW YORK - Andrew Geller, an architect who embodied postwar ingenuity and optimism in a series of inexpensive beach houses in whimsical shapes, many of them in the Hamptons, and who helped bring modernism to the masses with prefabricated cottages sold at Macy’s, died Sunday in Syracuse, N.Y. He was 87 and lived in Spencer, N.Y.
The cause was kidney failure, said his grandson Jake Gorst.
At the industrial design firm Raymond Loewy & Associates (later Raymond Loewy/William Snaith Inc.), where he worked for 35 years, Mr. Geller designed the “typical American house’’ shown at the American National Exhibition in Moscow in 1959. The house ignited the famous Kitchen Debate between Vice President Richard M. Nixon and Nikita S. Khrushchev, the Soviet premier, over the buying power of American and Soviet consumers.
The model shown in Moscow led to a line of vacation houses, sold in the 1960s under the name Leisurama. One of the houses, complete with picture window and carport, was displayed on the ninth floor of Macy’s in Herald Square; people came in to buy housewares and walked out owning houses. (A basic model required a down payment of $490, followed by monthly payments of $73.) Some 200 Leisurama houses were built in Culloden Point, a section of Montauk, on Long Island, and hundreds more outside Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
But for all his experimentation with mass marketing under the Loewy aegis, Mr. Geller was best known for one-of-a-kind houses that he designed on his own time in his studio in Northport, N.Y., whose distinctive shapes earned them nicknames like the Box Kite, the Milk Carton, and the Grasshopper.
Among the houses he created in the next few years were the Pearlroth House, which looked like a double box-kite to some (and to others a wooden brassiere).
In 1958, on assignment for Esquire, he designed a portable house that could be towed to any beach and erected on stilts for $3,000.
“Its refrigerator will not hold more than a weekend supply of tonic and soda,’’ the magazine reported. “However, the Esquire Weekend House has no lawns to mow, no sash to paint, and can be opened for the season in four minutes flat.’’
In the 1960s Mr. Geller moved on to houses with oddly shaped windows cut into flat facades, like architectural versions of Cubist paintings. They included a house in Sagaponack, N.Y., that some said resembled a reclining nude by Picasso.
Andrew Michael Geller was born in Brooklyn.
During World War II he enlisted in the US Army and, during basic training in Louisiana, was exposed to a chemical agent that caused him health problems for the rest of his life, his grandson said.
In 1944 he married Shirley Morris, who died last year. He leaves a son, Gregg; a daughter, Jamie Dutra; three grandchildren, including Gorst, a documentary filmmaker specializing in architecture; and four stepgrandchildren.
In recent years Mr. Geller’s playful houses were the subjects of books and articles, but most of those houses exist mainly in memories and black-and-white photographs. Gordon recalled driving around the Hamptons with Mr. Geller in 1999, trying to find some of the scores of houses he had built there. Altogether, they located fewer than a dozen. Mr. Geller said he felt as if he had lost his children.