“As to my practice, when I built my first house in the U.S.A.—which was my own—I made it a point to absorb into my own conception those features of the New England architectural tradition that I found still alive and adequate. This fusion of the regional spirit with a contemporary approach to design produced a house that I would never have built in Europe with its entirely different climatic, technical and psychological background.” (1) When Walter, Ise and Ati Gropius fled Germany, they left with slightly more than the clothing on their backs. They had waited to leave Germany, until they were in danger were forced to leave the country in haste. When they finally arrived in America a host of people helped them establish themselves. One of them was Helen Storrow, who gave both the land in Lincoln Massachusetts and the financing needed to build the house.
The house was completed in 1938. It is a modest home by today's McMansion standards. Every object and piece of furniture was chosen and placed very specifically by Walter and Ise. The dining room was meant for intimate dinners, just one other couple. Drinks and cigarettes would be enjoyed in the living room, which was separated from the dining area by a curtain. A theater light was used to illuminate the dining room table so that only the table was lit and the rest of the room would remain in shadow. When dinner was ready, the maid would turn on the light in the dining room, and draw back the curtain to reveal the dining room. Talk about drama! The table was set in black, white and red. The house was carefully choreographed with shades of dark grey punctated by bright textiles in shades of red. The drama continued in Ise’s dressing room which was designed to display her red clothing against a charcoal grey wall.
The flat roof, glass block and lack of ornamentation make this house instantly recognizable as bauhaus inspired. Gropius used all the latest building components at the time, from the glass black to the cork floors. bauhaus designed furniture by Marcel Breuer and others is sprinkled throughout alongside classic New England elements like painted white clapboard (run vertically) and black and wihte gingham. It is an incredibly warm and inviting home, proving that modernism isn’t sterile.
There was a constant stream of guests coming through the Gropius house. From bauhaus refugees during World War II, to architecture students and TAC principals,in the fifties and sixties there were always friends and family. The guest book is full of famous names from Joan Miro to Alexander Calder. This was a home where the bauhaus, including its parties, was a lifestyle.
Thirsty for more? Make yourself a Pegu Club Cocktail and checkout the Gropius House website-it's one of the best virtual house tours out there. Everything is online from conversations with Ise Gropius to family Christmas and birthday cards.
*Although currently closed, the Gropius House in Lincoln, Mass is open to the public. It is one of Historic New England's most popular sites. Its tremendous popularity means that the 80+ year old home needs a lot of maintenence in order to withstand its adoring crowds. You can donate to its maintenence here. Notes and Sources
1. Walter Gropius, Total Scope of Architecture, New York Collier 1956
2. Historic New England, "A Gropius House History"