Marcel Breuer’s New England Homes Belie His Bauhaus Roots

Best known perhaps for the chicly brutalist 1966 Whitney Museum of American Art building (currently housing the Frick collection), the Hungarian-born architect Marcel Breuer had a storied career. He started on his path to design renown as a 19-year-old student at Germany’s famed Bauhaus, where he later taught and created tubular steel furniture, like the Wassily chair, that brought him acclaim.

Exterior shot of Marcel Breuer with his wife, Connie at their cottage in Cape Cod
Above: Connie and Marcel Breuer relax at the Breuer cottage, in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod, in August 1950 (photo by Walter Sanders/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images). Top: The Kepes cottage living room in Wellfleet, 1949 (© Raimund Koch). All photos courtesy of Summitridge Pictures & Monacelli Press.

Now, James Crump’s Breuer’s Bohemia (Monacelli) gives us a glimpse into a too-often neglected part of his career: the houses he designed, mostly in New England, from the 1950s to the ’70s as a professor at Harvard (beginning in 1937) and a partner in the short-lived Cambridge, Massachusetts, architectural practice he shared with his mentor Walter Gropius.

Black and white photo of cows grazing outside of Stillman House II
Cows grazing outside Stillman House II just after its completion, in 1966. Photo by Joseph W. Molitor.

Crump, an art documentarian and scholar, is passionate about filling this gap in our understanding of one of the most important design minds of the 20th century. The book is rich in history and text, a true deep dive. It explores residential projects Breuer worked on from Cape Cod to California, notably some cottages in Wellfleet, Massachusetts — including a home he built for himself — as well as a redwood-clad house in Big Sur. But it really hinges on Breuer’s friendship with patrons Rufus and Leslie Stillman, who became clients after seeing his popular House in the Museum Garden installation at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1948.

Photo of the main bedroom at Scott House in Dennis, Massachusetts
The main bedroom of the Scott House, in Dennis, Massachusetts,1948. © Raimund Koch.

By 1951, Breuer had completed a two-story “structural box” for the Stillmans in Litchfield, Connecticut, tucked brilliantly into the landscape. Incredibly, it had custom artworks by their neighbor Alexander Calder; the book has pictures of a shirtless Calder painting away on a summer day.

Crump writes of the house that it was “beyond controversial: It was a sensation.” More than anything else, his tome is an excellent illustration of an axiom smart architects often cite: Good design requires great clients.

The front cover of Breuer's Bohemia, by James Crump
Breuer’s Bohemia (Monacelli)

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