Gagarin House 1 Exterior

A Book Chronicles Marcel Breuer’s House Designs for Friends

The illustrated volume Breuer’s Bohemia traces the architect’s special collection of modern houses designed for artists and patrons in Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Illustrated with a collection of contemporary and historical photographs as well as rarely seen documents, Breuer’s Bohemia surveys an oft-overlooked corner of Modernist Marcel Breuer’s oeuvre. In addition to his Brutalist public and commercial buildings, from the 1950s through the ’70s, Breuer designed a series of homes for himself and his friends in Connecticut and Massachusetts. In these he created a constellation of modern dwellings inhabited by a cast of artists and patrons of modern design. 

The book, which is a companion volume to a documentary film by the same name, traces the architect’s relationship with his client, friend, and supporter Rufus Cole Stillman. Breuer designed four houses for the wealthy businessman in rural Litchfield, Connecticut, and Stillman arranged public, corporate, and residential commissions for the architect by introducing him to friends and family.

Many of these residences, in western Connecticut and Cape Cod, Massachusetts, housed or hosted members of an eclectic and hard-partying group of midcentury artists and intellectuals including Alexander Calder, Arthur Miller, Francine du Plessix Gray, Philip Roth, and William Styron. It’s from this circle, of which Breuer was certainly a member (a cottage he designed for himself and his wife Connie in Wellfleet was notorious for raucous summer gatherings), that the book’s author James Crump takes his title. However, the volume has less to do with chronicling Breuer’s bohemianism than with recording his search for new ways to design domestic spaces for modern people. 

book cover

Though there is no shortage of material available on Breuer’s furniture, buildings, and influence, Crump’s account suggests that examining the architect’s residential projects is key to understanding the full scope of his work. “While his bold, large-scale buildings projected the persona of the heroic architect paving the way for the future of global modernism, the houses that he designed for a small cadre of clients whom he would also count as friends arguably define his essence as an architect,” he writes. Crump’s chronicle of Breuer’s more personal projects and entanglements does shed light on what seems a hidden corner of his rich legacy. It also illuminates an interesting chapter of New England’s Modernist heritage. 

kepes house interior
In 1948, Breuer designed a cottage in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, for György Kepes, an artist with Bauhaus connections. © RAIMUND KOCH
gagarin family portrait
Modernist architect and designer Marcel Breuer completed Gagarin House I (top) in Litchfield, Connecticut, for Andrew Gagarin in 1957. Gagarin, a major figure in the book, was Rufus Cole Stillman’s colleague, friend, and sometime rival at the Torin Corporation. Andrew and Jamie Gagarin pose in the courtyard with an Alexander Calder sculpture visible in the background. COURTESY SUMMITRIDGE PICTURES & MONACELLI PRESS

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