Roger Moore of Movie Nation doesn’t mince words when he describes Netflix’s new holiday flick “The Noel Diary” as a “flavorless variation on formula.” And he’s not wrong. Based upon Richard Paul Evans’ 2017 novel of the same name and directed by Charles Shyer, of “Father of the Bride” and “Baby Boom” fame, the film centers around handsome best-selling author Jacob Turner (Justin Hartley) as he returns to his childhood home at Christmastime following the unexpected death of his mom. While cleaning the place out, he meets Rachel Campbell (Barrett Doss), a disarming stranger seeking information on her biological mother, who, it turns out, was Jake’s nanny. Her hunt leads the two on a snowy road trip, during which they, of course, fall in love, Rachel’s engagement to another man and Jake’s eternal bachelorhood notwithstanding.
“The Noel Diary” hit the streamer last week and, despite decidedly bad reviews and a rather pitiful 57% Audience Score on Rotten Tomatoes, is holding firm to the Number One spot. Strung together with sappy dialogue, flimsy character development and a distinctly unfulfilling ending, the movie leaves much to be desired. But at least the backdrop is picturesque, with Jake and Rachel traversing a handful of charming New England towns, each perfectly dusted with snow. Cast and crew did not have to travel far and wide to capture the varied scenery, instead utilizing the state of Connecticut to play not only itself but New York, Vermont and Chicago, as well.
Jake’s mom’s supposed Bridgeport, Conn. house can actually be found in Westport at 8 Washington Ave., looking far less worse for wear than it appeared onscreen. The bookstore where Rachel picks up a copy of Jake’s first novel, “Green Eyes of Paris,” is RJ Julia Booksellers in Madison. And the gorgeous Candlelight Village Inn where the two spend a romantic night is, in truth, a private residence known as the John Hoyt Perry House, located at 134 Center St. in Southport.
The spot that most caught this writer’s eye, though, is the streamlined bachelor pad that Jake and his beloved dog Ava (played by an adorable Australian Shepherd named Skye) call home. Shown briefly at the beginning of the film in what amounts to a scant four minutes of screen time, the striking midcentury leaves a definite cinematic mark, nevertheless! Said to be located in New York, the residence can actually be found about 50 miles north of Manhattan on a woodsy block in New Canaan.
Known as the Chivvis House in real life, the single-story stunner was originally built in 1978 for Arthur and Lyn Chivvis on a sprawling four-acre lot the couple purchased for just under $50,000 two years prior. No stranger to the advantages of modernist living, Lyn grew up in the Nina and Paul Bremer House, a boxy 1950 residence designed by Eliot Noyes, the prolific midcentury maestro who was responsible for developing the IBM Selectric typewriter and jump-starting the careers of legendary industrial designers Ray and Charles Eames, among many other feats.
Noyes and his fellow Harvard-School-of-Design-trained architect friends Philip Johnson, Marcel Breuer, John M. Johansen, and Landis Gores, collectively known as the “Harvard Five,” descended upon the New Canaan area following World War II and were instrumental in restructuring the traditional Colonial landscape with their arresting modernist designs. The quintet would regularly gather at the Bremer House during Lyn’s formative years, exposing her to an incredible wealth of architectural expertise. As she expressed to Mansion Global, “To have the five world-famous architects here in New Canaan over the course of two decades, it’s as if Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Strauss and Palestrina all lived in the same small town together—that’s how unusual it is.”
When it came time to build their own house, Arthur and Lyn naturally enlisted Noyes for the design. Sadly, it was his final residential conception. He passed away in July 1977 before construction on the property was complete. As such, his business partner Alan Goldberg stepped in to finish the project. Goldberg also later designed a detached garage addition for the property in 1982.
Featuring five bedrooms and four baths spread throughout a spacious 4,000 square feet, the Chivvis House is a true architectural marvel. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the stone, wood and glass dwelling is laid out in an H-shape, with the east wing comprising the main living areas, including the kitchen and dining room, and the west wing consisting of the bedrooms.
A once-in-a-lifetime residence, Arthur and Lyn still own the property to this day. And, bringing things full circle, their daughter Devon, an intrepid architectural aficionado who has her hand in everything from writing to directing to photography, is currently producing a documentary about the Harvard Five! Considering her background, the film promises to offer a highly personal perspective on all things MCM. As Devon details on her official website, “I grew up in a glass house designed by Eliot Noyes and Alan Goldberg and didn’t truly understand the uniqueness of that experience until I tried to explain that riding around on a bicycle inside the dining and living room was a very do-able past time. This concept would likely be perceived as normal by others raised in similar midcentury modern houses throughout this quiet, bedroom town of New Canaan.”
Although Jake does not ride his bike through any living spaces in “The Noel Diary,” the Chivvis House does offer viewers some early insight into his character.
With its sleek lines and distinct “Mad Men”-esque appeal, the architecture practically screams “uber-wealthy bachelor!” As Jake drives up to the property following his book tour at the beginning of the film, we get one sweeping shot of the exterior, a lone motorcycle parked out front, and in an instant, know exactly who he is.
The production makes fabulous use of the home’s interior, as well, with the stunning open shelving in the kitchen and rich woodwork and slate flooring throughout all gorgeously showcased and serving to further illustrate Jake’s massive wealth and solitary existence.
To round out the polished retro aesthetic, production designers Aja Kai Rowley and Caley Bisson and set decorator Meagan Miller-McKeever outfitted the residence with bold paintings, a vintage radio and that midcentury of all midcentury staples, an Eames chair.
For those hoping to walk in Jake’s footsteps and catch their own up-close and personal view of the Chivvis House, tours are occasionally offered through the New Canaan Museum & Historical Society. Realtor/designer Maureen Erbe of Erbe + Blackham was a lucky visitor to the historic property during Modernism Week New Canaan in October 2021 and was kind enough to share her photos with Dirt, which appear throughout this post.