Jet Age Design: The Playboy Town House

James Kraus

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Glass, structural steel and exposed-aggregate concrete define the exterior façade. The Jaguar depicted in the carport was described as a high performance gran tourismo. The E-Type had been introduced just months before these illustrations were rendered.

Far beyond a mere “girlie magazine,” Playboy in the 1960s was a glossy gateway to the good life. Like a worldly uncle or urbane older brother, it dispensed a cornucopia of knowledge regarding women, wine, cocktails, gourmet cuisine, sports cars, hi-fi gear and other pleasurable pursuits of the man about town.

From the beginning, Playmate pictorials were enhanced with the latest modernist furniture creations from Bertoia, Eames, Saarinen and other highly esteemed Mid-Century masters. 

The premier issue of Playboy contained a feature piece on Desk Design For The Modern Executive. Later, the recurrent Modern Living series spotlighted current developments in à la mode furnishings. From there it was a natural progression for Playboy to segue into designing entire Bachelor Pads, an endeavour they began in September of 1956.

The finest expression of Playboy architecture was the Town House proposal designed for exciting urban living which graced the May 1962 issue. The extravagance and level of detail in the illustrations is understandable; it was originally envisioned to be the bachelor pad of Hugh Hefner himself.

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Cross section of the front third of the town house shows the master suite on the top level, the living room in the center, and a recreation area above the carport. to the right is a three-story atrium with swimming pool. A hallway adjacent to the pool incorporated a picture window offering a scuba-eye view of underwater activities.

Conceived by architect R. Donald Jaye, the design combined several tenants of 1960s modernism combined with the timeless masculine allure of unadorned natural materials including rugged fieldstone walls and rich teak wood panelling.

The result was a sort of modernist urban hunting lodge; a refuge for hedonistic living and a lavish setting for seduction.

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The living room featured a baronial Spanish chest with built-in bar flanked by a pair of Laverne T Chairs. Shown hanging above is Duck Pond, a 1958 oil-on-paper by Willem de Kooning from Hef’s personal collection. Across the room sits a Laverne Tulip Chair.

The main living area of course featured a well-stocked cocktail bar. Opposite the alcohol dispensary was a generously scaled fireplace bookended by an Entertainment Wall containing built in hi-fi gear, speakers and a 21” colour television. When not in use, the TV was concealed behind teak panels. Deeply coffered poured-concrete waffle-pattern ceilings were a common feature utilized throughout.

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The dining area was punctuated by a Saarinen walnut-topped Pedestal Table with matching armchairs

Supplementing the dining table in the salle à diner was a bar useful for pre-dinner libations or causal snacking. The man of the house and his comely companion could choose from dining al fresco overlooking the atrium pool and fountains, or close the electrically operated curtain to create a more intimate environment.

In the master bedroom a round rotating bed assumes pride of place. In the background is a freestanding fireplace and Panton Cone Chair. To the right, a glass wall overlooks the atrium.

The master suite contained the most signature item in the entire structure, the infamous Playboy motorized circular rotating bed with built in bar, refrigerator, entertainment system and remote controls for most everything else. Overhead, a television is suspended from the ceiling.

In a Playboy essay form 1958, Philip Wylie observed that the typical American home was becoming a boudoir-kitchen-nursery; dreamed up by women, for women…

The Playboy Town House provided a ready antidote, with an emphasis on modernity, masculinity and the express absence of bric-a-brac, patterned fabrics, pleats and ruffles. The Town House instead celebrated natural materials, simplicity of design, carefree maintenance and a plethora of labour-saving gadgetry.

The timeless architectural design of the Town House remains an attractive proposition today, and this holds true for the furnishings as well: a half-century on, with the exception of the Lavern Tulip Chair, the now-classic modernist furniture pieces mentioned above remain in production.

Gouache and ink renderings by Humen Ten