What’s your dream home? Mine is a gleaming white cube of a contemporary house with spacious rooms and ceiling-to-floor glass windows looking out onto gardens.
Naturally, it would ooze style and boast the most beautiful furnishings and interior designs. In fact. it would be a bit like Walter Gropius’ stunning house in Lincoln near Boston in the USA.
Gropius’ modern masterpiece was built by the famous German architect for his family when he came to teach design at Harvard University in 1938 after leaving the Bauhaus.
I was lucky enough to visit the house on my trip to Massachusetts and was blown away by its elegant architecture.
At one with nature
As you walk up the driveway it’s clear that this is a house at one with nature. The setting is absolutely beautiful with gardens and woodland surrounding the house.
Apparently Walter Gropius picked the site because he loved the views of the apple orchards and surrounding countryside.
There’s a real sense of escaping to the heart of the country away from the city.
The house was revolutionary in its design. It’s unique in that it combines traditional New England architecture with innovative modern materials rarely used in houses of this period.
If asked, I would have dated the house in the 1950s rather than 1938 which illustrates how far ahead of its time it was.
There are traditional elements of New England architecture such as clapboard, brick and stone which Gropius mixes with new, innovative materials, some of them industrial.
Gropius took modernist glass blocks, acoustical plaster, chrome banisters and the latest technology in fixtures.
I’m sure that it would have been shocking at the time to see these industrial materials sitting alongside rustic New England style.
Writing in the early 1930s Walter Gropius was asked what would be his ideal small home. His response almost describes the house which he built a few years later in Lincoln.
“The dwelling house should no longer resemble something like a fortress, like a monument of walls with medieval thickness and an expensive front intended for showy representation.
“Instead it is to be of light construction, full of bright daylight and sunshine, flexible, time-saving, economical and useful to its occupants whose life functions it is intended to serve.”
The design of the Gropius House is very much in line with Bauhaus-influenced ideas about simplicity, functionality, geometry and aesthetic beauty.
Like most modernist houses, it stands out because of its lack of ornamentation and fussy decoration. Everything is simplified – a bit like a minimalist painting.
I love its gorgeous white exterior and sleek lines. The house is in perfect harmony… which reminds me that I must de-clutter my own home when I’m back off holiday!
Who would have guessed that the entrance to the house would mix two unlikely bedfellows, American colonial style and Bauhaus simplicity?
A glass block wall protects the building from wind and rain yet allows light to flood into the entrance hall.
As I walked inside the lobby, there was a tingle down my spine. I was walking through Mr Gropius’ actual house – like I’d popped in for afternoon tea!
In the hallway Mrs Gropius’ coats and hats were hanging in the cupboard. Apparently she designed most of her own clothes and they exude a stylish simplicity – a bit like the house.
On the wall a stunning red and black Miro art work with delicate paper shapes complemented the white simplicity of the interior decoration.
What’s great about this house is that all the family possessions are still in place, including the remarkable collection of furniture designed by Marcel Breuer.
As I wandered around the house I noticed that every aspect of its design was planned for maximum efficiency and simplicity.
Mrs Gropius called the house “a happy amalgam” of the New England vernacular and the Bauhaus spirit. It is functional but also feels intimate and warm.
It’s great to see so many of the family’s possessions still in place – as if they’d popped out for a few minutes.
Their artworks are amazing. There are personal gifts from Josef Albers, Joan Miró, and Henry Moore plus a small sculpture by Boston-based William Wainwright, an architectural colleague of Walter Gropius.
Almost all of the furniture in the house was handmade in the Bauhaus workshops in Dessau before the family left Germany.
In the living room there are a few exceptions including the welcoming ‘Womb Chair’ and the distinctive Japanese-style Sori Yanagi ‘butterfly’ footstools.
I was allowed to sit in the special reclining chair complete with its sheepskin throw. What a thrill. Although it’s a copy of the original, I felt very much at home in this living space. I could live in this house!
Dining in style
The dining room forms an extension to main living area so the space flows into one. The dining table is designed for four, the perfect number of guests according to Gropius.
Guests to the Gropius house included Bauhaus friends and visionaries such as Alexander Calder, Joan Miro, Igor Stravinsky, Henry Moore and Frank Lloyd Wright. A bit like the perfect dinner party really.
Every detail of the dining room is beautifully designed from the overhead lighting recesses to the matching tableware.
It’s perhaps no surprise that the dining chairs were the tubular steel and canvas designs of Marcel Breuer. Stark but simple.
The downstairs of the Gropius House contains a lot of furniture designed by Breuer made in the Bauhaus workshops. There’s also a convertible day bed, a cantilevered armchair, nesting tables, side tables and Gropius’ desk.
The kitchen next door is also a joy with a giant oven, dishwasher and mod cons. Quite a feat to have ultramodern labour-saving devices in the late 1930s. We didn’t get our dishwasher till 2004, 60 years later.
Bedrooms and balconies
The whole house feels spacious without being too big and palatial. A fabulous spiral staircase in wood and chrome takes you upstairs. Light pours in from every direction.
On the top floor, there are two upstairs bedrooms, a guest room, a small sewing room and a stylish bathroom.
Once inside the master bedroom there are more ground-breaking designs from the heating system to the decoration.
There is an en suite bathroom, built-in wardrobes, cleverly hidden cupboards and a glass wall which separated the dressing room from the sleeping area, creating the illusion of a larger space.
An attractive textile from Iraq is draped across the wall, emphasising Gropius’ interest in design as well as architecture.
One of Mrs. Gropius brightly coloured dresses hangs from the wall and another lies on the bed, adding to the feeling that she had just popped out before hosting a dinner party.
Then I spotted a random Henry Moore art work. How amazing to have such a valuable work casually stuck to the dividing wall.
The work is called “Underground Shelter with Figures”, featuring war-time Londoners taking shelter in the Tube. It was given to Gropius by the British artist in 1941.
Next door there’s a smaller bedroom for Gropius’ adopted daughter which features art and textile works by Miro. I wish that my own bedroom could claim to have Miro originals.
A simple but well-designed room, it leads onto a half enclosed balcony space.
It is almost as if nature is reaching straight out into the house. Its main wall is painted in an unusual shade of pink – known as ‘Bauhaus Pink’ – to add a warmer colour to the space. What a wonderful idea.
A wrought iron staircase allowed Gropius’ daughter to enter the house with her friends from outside without going through the main house.
I wonder if they were ever tempted to sneak in for late night parties?
This roof deck next to her room provides excellent views of the surrounding countryside.
When the Gropius family lived here they would have enjoyed sweeping views because the house was unobstructed by trees and woods.
Today the trees and greenery are more mature but it’s easy to imagine how it must have looked originally.
I loved their idea of having wooden trellises on the east and west sides of the house covered with roses and vines, offering colour and sinuous shapes.
Today you can still see the grapes growing on the trellises of the roof deck.
Gropius had wanted to create an idyllic New England landscape with mature trees, rambling stone walls and boulders around the house.
The house sits within its landscape at one with nature. Go the rear of the house and you’ll see Mrs Gropius’ Japanese-inspired garden, a spin-off from her travels in Asia.
The conservatory space is where the Gropius family would have relaxed. It’s easy to see why.
This box-shaped room has wall-to-floor windows which make you feel almost as if you’re sitting right in the centre of the garden.
It’s intriguing to visit the Walter Gropius House in Lincoln after seeing how he lived in Germany before his move to the USA.
Gropius had been the director of the famous Bauhaus design school in Dessau but the political situation in Germany forced him to move to the USA. This period coincided with the coming of the Nazis to power in Germany.
The Lincoln house is unusual in some ways because it seems less spartan than the Master’s House which Gropius lived in during his stay in Dessau.
But the Dessau houses have few of the original furnishings so it’s hard to imagine how they looked in the 1930s. But they do have much in common with the Gropius House in the USA.
They are simple, flat-roofed, white blocks with geometric lines. They make clever use of light and space. They have more in common than you might think on first glance.
They are both about creating a house which is functional and aesthetically pleasing – a space for living in.
Gropius and his family fell in love with the New England countryside and decided to live in a more rural environment.
The Dessau and Lincoln houses are mirror images of each other – one urban, one rural. One German modernist, one Bauhaus-influenced American colonial.
So is the Gropius House in Lincoln my dream home? In some ways it is – it’s a remarkable house in a beautiful setting. For its era, it was streets ahead of its time with many revolutionary features.
It’s perhaps not my favourite dream house – that honour still goes to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. But it’s definitely on my top five favourite architectural homes!
Tammy’s top tips – Gropius House
The Walter Gropius House is in Lincoln, Massachusetts, a 40 minute drive from Downtown Boston.
From Route I-95/Route 128, take Route 2 West 4.5 miles to Route 126 South past Walden Pond. Take the second left on Baker Bridge Road. The Gropius House is 0.5 miles on the right.
By public transport, take the MBTA Commuter Rail on the Fitchburg Line to the Lincoln stop, 2.5 miles from the Gropius House.
Other places of interest nearby include the DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln which can be combined with the Gropius House if you’re making a day trip.
If you’re travelling to Germany, you can visit the Bauhaus (still a working college) and the Masters’ Houses in Dessau – it’s well worth the trip if you’re a fan of modern architecture.
Image credits – Indoor photos are courtesy of Historic Houses of New England – the Gropius House.