I have to admit that when I first started this project and was reviewing all the properties owned by Historic New England, I was somewhat surprised to see The Gropius House only because it was so starkly different from the others, and relatively new as it was built in 1938. It was boxy with lots of angles and glass block, and I was intrigued to find out why and how it became a historic landmark. I took advantage of the home being open in December, and also the long weekend thanks to the New Years holiday, and set out to find out more.
I wish I had done a bit more research about Walter Gropius and what the term “Bauhaus” even meant before my visit, as I likely would have had much more appreciation for the home. This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy my visit, it was just different from what I’m typically drawn to. I’ve always thought growing up that I wanted a modern house, but when the time came the straight lines and angles weren’t what I wanted to live within. But, after spending time in the home designed by Walter Gropius, the founder of Bauhaus, it was easy to appreciate his design esthetic and attention to detail.
- Walter Gropius was a German architect who is well-known as the founder of the Bauhaus design school in Germany. In 1933, it was decided to close the schools due to increasing Nazi pressure, as they painted the school as “a center of communist intellectualism”. Walter, his wife Ise, and their 12-year-old daughter, Ati, fled Nazi Germany on the ruse that they were attending a film festival in Italy, and eventually spent some time in England before coming to the United States and settling in the Boston area, where Walter accepted a job as a professor at Harvard University School of Design.
- It was nearly impossible for Walter Gropius to have brought much money with them (as it was tied up in German banks), however he had already made quite a name for himself in the architectural world and was well-known by the time he arrived in Boston. Helen Storrow, wife of a banker in Boston, was a fan of Walter’s work and donated four acres of land to the family and $20,000 for him to design and build their family home in the Bauhaus style: simple, economical and aestheticly beautiful. Mrs. Storrow was so pleased with the final design of the Gropius House, that she donated more land and funds for Walter to design two additional homes in the area, which are now private residences.
- Built in 1938, The Gropius House was a collaborative effort between Walter and Ise, with input from their daughter Ati as well. It was important to them while designing the home to keep some traditional New England design elements to the home, which included the field stone foundation, the clapboard exterior and the mature trees that he had relocated closer to the home.
- The Gropius House received huge response from the architectural world, and played host to many famous artists & architects alike throughout the time the family lived there. The home became a national landmark in 2002.
Living & Dining Room
My favorite and least favorite feature about these two joined rooms? The windows. The entire back wall is floor to ceiling windows, letting in so much light and really bringing the outdoors in. While I personally love this during the day, the thought of being so exposed once the sun goes down really amps up my anxiety (I’m fairly certain I have the horror movie Scream to thank for that one). While these rooms can easily be seen as one, the Gropius’ designed it with curtains in mind so that spaces could be easily broken up, as it’s said that Ise enjoyed throwing dinner parties and would typically keep the curtain between the living and dining room closed, creating some drama around the presentation of the dinner table. I love the simple aesthetic, and as trends normally do, it was fun to see how the furniture and overall design of the living room could easily be seen in a CB2 catalog today.
I simply had never seen a room like this. There is a true “bed room” which is separated from the dressing room & bathroom by a large, framed in piece of glass and separate door. Walter & Ise liked to sleep in colder conditions, so this room was designed just for that. The dressing room & bathroom had heat, while the “bed room” did not, and the glass between the two still allowed for an open feeling while allowing them to sleep in the temperature they desired.
Upon entering the home, you are greeted by modern materials such as glass block, chrome railings, cork flooring and acoustical plaster. These all come together in the entryway, of which the main feature is the wrap around staircase in all it’s modern glory. Throughout the home, but especially in the entry way, you will find vertical wooden slats on the walls which made displaying their ever-changing art pieces easy as they would simply have to repair one vertical slat vs. a typical plaster wall. The entryway was a revolving art gallery, which they would constantly switch out, especially dependent on who they may be having over for dinner that evening. Ise also designed clothing, and the open-air closet was used more for showing off her latest designs than it was storing guests jackets during their visits.
At age 12, Ati was asked by her father what three features she wanted in her bedroom. Her number one request? A separate entrance, and so it was granted (however, easily monitored by her parents as their office was at the base of the spiral staircase which lead to her second story bedroom). Ati was also given a large second story outdoor patio covered with an arbor, which in the spring & summer months gives life to Concord grapes. In the 1940’s, this outdoor patio offered stunning views of Walden Pond and Mt. Wachusett to the West. While this patio is accessed through Ati’s room, this is also where the circular staircase you see from the front of the house leads – her own private entrance and second story deck. Not so bad for a twelve year old, but when your dad is a famous architect, why not?
- The dining room table was set for a dinner party that would have taken place in the 1950’s, complete with a cigarette and modern, cubed salt and pepper shakers.
- The kitchen was a true galley kitchen – only meant for one or two people at a time. As the Groupius’ were accustomed to hosting dinner parties for their often famous architect & artist friends, General Electric “sponsored” their kitchen and would replace their appliances often with their newest state-of-the-art models to get their products out in front of influential designers.
- Light bulbs throughout the home are halfway dipped in chrome in order to reduce any unwanted glare, as many of the lights in the house did not have shades.
- On the second floor landing, there is a horizontal window facing the street, letting in lots of natural light, but only from the ceiling down 3-4 feet. Ise didn’t feel the need for curtains, but wanted something – so she used new fishing nets in case she wanted more privacy.
- “Bauhaus Pink” is the color painted on the ceiling in the kitchen and also one wall of Ati’s outdoor patio on the second floor. This was again to avoid any type of glare or garish contrast between colors – a color that got me thinking about maybe a ceiling color change at my own home!
- As mentioned above, their beneficiary, Mrs. Storrow, asked Walter to design two other houses in the Bauhaus aesthetic nearby, and one of easily seen from many different rooms in the house.
- I really wish that I had done some reasearch on who Walter Gropius was, his influence on the modern architectural movement, and just what the word Bauhaus even meant before my trip. I highly recommend doing so before your visit!
- This would be a fun home to visit in the spring or summer – as it’s located on a large hill in the middle of an apple orchard, and there is a Japanese garden the family planted out back. A perfect spot to bring a picnic lunch to enjoy after the tour!
- I believe the only restroom was a port-a-potty, so just a word to the wise! :0)