More Marcel Breuer for midMOD monday.
A seminal piece of Modernist design, Marcel Breuer’s Stillman House I brought clean lines, spatial efficiency, and simple forms to New England, triggering a wave of modern homes in the leafy, colonial hamlet of Litchfield, Connecticut. Setting out to redefine the American house, Breuer's domestic designs combined glass and geometry with stone and natural materials to create a residential architecture anchored in the East Coast vernacular. The first of many Breuer works in the area, the Stillman House epitomizes the architect's singular vision and stands in stark contrast to the traditional style of Litchfield's most distinguished homes.
Completed in 1951 for Rufus and Leslie Stillman, the Stillman House is hailed as the first piece of Modern architecture in Litchfield, a place that over time included groundbreaking work by Richard Neutra, Edward Durell Stone, John Johansen, and Eliot Noyes. After seeing Breuer's work at the Museum of Modern Art (House in the Museum Garden), the Stillmans hired the architect to design a house on a 2-acre piece of property in historic Litchfield. Juxtaposing with the town's traditional landscape, Breuer's plan is a variation of his "long house" form, a two-story rectangular box with a flat roof stretching horizontally across the hillside. While the front facade is mostly blank with ribbon windows and a cabled canopy over the front door, the back of the house pops with the bold primary colors of repetitive panels, an Alexander Calder mural (commissioned for $300!), and the vivid blue of a rectangular swimming pool. On the interior, a floating staircase, a mural by Bauhaus artist Xanti Schawinsky, and light-filled open space define Breuer's distinctive design.
The Stillmans (Rufus was President/CEO of Torin Manufacturing Company) formed a lifelong friendship with Breuer, commissioning three designs (Stillman House I, II, III) from the architect over the course of thirty years. After the couple sold their first Breuer-designed residence in 2009, the house underwent an exhaustive four-year restoration. The project, faithful to Breuer's original vision, earned a Citation of Merit from Docomomo in 2014.
Marcel Breuer's Stillman House is a Modernist masterpiece, one of the most groundbreaking residential works constructed during the postwar period and an antidote to the shackles of historical tradition. Successful in its design as a simple and efficient mechanism for living, the house redefined space, materials, and form, creating a model for a new kind of American domesticity.
Image at top:
By User:Kmsena (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.
This architectural historian cannot stop thinking about buildings, food, and that vintage rug she found online.