HomeDesignMarcel Breuer’s Wellfleet Home Needs Rescuing

Marcel Breuer’s Wellfleet Home Needs Rescuing


Deep in the woods of Wellfleet, down Cape Cod, among winding and dirt roads, sits a summer house built in 1949 by modernist architect Marcel Breuer on stilts. Its cantilevered porch, where friends and family spent much of their time, once had a clear view across three connected kettle ponds, but the trees that tower over the house today on the hillside block the line of sight.

The four-bedroom structure, now owned by the architect’s son, Tamas Breuer, is considered the Cape’s most important modernist house and is one of the first complete examples of Breuer’s “long house” design, a simple construction that could be assembled using Local ingredients. It has remained unchanged for decades, a time capsule of architectural history hidden in the wilderness.

But damp New England weather has damaged the cabin-like building, especially on the north side, where moss and lichen have rotted some of the white cedar cladding and porch rails. A leak in the roof damaged the birch plywood ceiling in the main living room. And Tamas, who is 80 and prefers his privacy – he declined to be interviewed but was welcomed during a tour of the house last week – spends just one month here each year and wants to sell the property.

The Cape Cod Modern House Trust is under contract to purchase the house, and is seeking to raise $1.4 million to preserve the building and its contents, including an art collection including works by Alexander Calder, Paul Klee, Saul Steinberg and friends of the Brewers. Joseph Albers.

“In a year, if we can’t raise the money, the house could be on the market and it could be demolished,” said Peter McMahon, an architect and founding director of the trust, which documents and restores modernist properties. outer cape.

Although most of the art and books have been removed from the home for cataloging and preservation, many personal items remain, such as a woman’s yellow dress and handbag hanging from a bedroom closet door, a vintage tabletop TV set with an antenna, and an upright piano from Brewer. The wife, Connie (Constance Crocker Leighton), plays at the party, and Tamas keeps the tunes.

The house was built on land Brewer had purchased with the aim of creating an artistic community, and he soon lured other Bauhaus friends to join him at Cape, including the painter and designer Georgy Capes, for whom he built an identical house at Long Pond. Architect Serge Chermayeff lived across the street from Breuer’s mentor Walter Gropius, while landscape architect Charles Jenks had a house and a studio.

“Breuer wanted to create an intellectual enclave with those who shared his aesthetic vision,” said James Crump, who directed the 2021 documentary “Breuer’s Bohemia,” interviewing many of the group’s surviving family members and friends. They talk of summers spent at Wellfleet, canoeing across the pond, sharing meals and socializing at each other’s homes, swimming in the adjacent Atlantic waters — often naked.

Barry Bergdahl, a Brewer expert who teaches art and architectural history at Columbia University, said the tradition of spending lazy summers enjoying nature was “a carryover of something that was part of the artistic and lifestyle culture of the Bauhaus.”

Marta Kuzma, an art professor And a former dean of the Yale School of Art, who visited the Brewer house in July, described finding an experimental spirit in every room—and endlessly rearranging—from furniture made from a found necklace using cinder blocks by Brewer. circuit chip. “You don’t usually get that whimsical feeling when you look at the modernist era,” Kuzma said. “On Cape Cod, they just got to have fun.”

Wellfleet House was so important to Brewer that, after his death in 1981, his ashes were buried among the pine trees in the courtyard, beneath a stone cut from a sculpture by Japanese artist Masayuki Nagara. A mysterious inscription reads: “Here Marcel Breuer broke his knee for his own folly.” Connie’s remains are also buried there (she died in 2002), along with her sister Elizabeth Leighton and her husband, the artist Robert J. Wolfe.

The trust maintains four houses in the area, hosting artists in residence and arranging public tours. Its operating revenue comes from renting out houses to donors. These properties are leased from Cape Cod National Seashore, so the Breuer home will be its first acquisition. It is an annual fellowship, aimed at housing visiting students and scholars who will be involved in archival and preservation efforts.

The importance of preserving Breuer’s property is not lost on local officials. “If purchased by the trust, then [Breuer] The building will be saved from demolition, which is very possible if the property is sold on the open market,” Wellfleet representative Lily-Ann Greene said during the Aug. 16 Barnstable County Assembly meeting, when a motion was passed. In support of recovery projects. Just last year, another Brewer home was demolished in Lawrence, Long Island, angering preservationists, and a home by Hamptons architect George Nelson, purchased in 2021 for $60 million. was bulldozed Earlier this year.

Brewer’s home in Wellfleet sits on a hill overlooking 4.2 acres of undeveloped waterfront, and the city assessor has assessed the land alone at $1.2 million. “It’s on a huge piece of property,” Brian O’Malley, Provincetown’s representative, said during the assembly meeting. “If it is sold, the impact of the development is going to drastically change the whole of Wellfleet [and] Truro Pond and Wood. It will be a great, great loss for the Outer Cape away from home.”

The surrounding forest is overgrown, and some work is needed to make the site accessible, leveling the driveway and removing dead pine trees that could fall on the house. But drawing on the Bauhaus ideal of seeking inspiration from nature, the landscape would likely go wild.

Henry David Thoreau, after all, from one Home of Wellfleet Oysters Across Williams Pond in 1850, during his voyage through Cape Cod. And the southern border of the Breuer property is on the headwaters of the Herring River, which is currently the focus of $60 million Environmental Restoration Project The National Park Service has led efforts to restore tidal inflows and natural salt marshes to the region, lost for decades due to sea level rise.

The land and historic buildings aren’t the only things the trust will acquire, as the house houses Brewer’s personal art collection and more than 200 books on architecture and design, many of which are inscribed to him. For example, there is a note in an atlas by Bauhaus graphic designer Herbert Baer that reads in German: “To Lazko and Connie Breuer, in old friendship,” using Breuer’s nickname among friends.

“A lot of art was exchanged when [the family] McMahon said, and most of it has been untouched since. “An Albers woodblock was stuck in an envelope and mailed [Breuer] – and it was still in the envelope.”

In the 1960s Brewer added a small apartment with a studio and a darkroom to encourage Tamas’ interest in photography. “There are hundreds and hundreds of rolls of film,” McMahon said, documenting the house from the 1960s to the ’80s, as well as everyone who visited. Tamas is helping to name the faces appearing on the large contact sheets printed from scanned negatives “Like someone making a documentary film for 30 years, with these older Bauhaus people and all the local luminaries,” McMahon said, “the parties, and the bonfires, and the inauguration.”

If the house is sold on the open market, not only may the architecture be lost and the art dispersed through a dealer or auction house, but the new owner may decide to scrap much of this documentation. “It would be a real shame,” McMahon said. “It will disappear.”



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