Gropius House: Twisted New England

Trip Start Aug 31, 2011
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of United States  , Massachusetts
Sunday, January 8, 2012

Located on four acres of beautiful Lincoln, Massachusetts land, Gropius House was built in 1938 by Walter Gropius for himself and his family when they moved to America.  Mr. Gropius is a famous architect and founder of the Bauhaus in Germany (I remember Tom, my Berlin tour guide, discussing the Bauhaus and Gropius House on our bus tour).  Today, my mother and I spent the afternoon traveling out to see this home, a work of intense detail and clever architecture set against a backdrop taken straight from 1600's New England.  It is currently protected by the group Historic New England, and of their thirty-six properties is their only modern home.

We arrived just after 2 o'clock and learned the tours only started on the hour.  Instead of sitting in the museum's shop-former-garage for forty minutes, Mom and I went to the nearby DeCordova Museum.  We did what was free - admire what we could see of the sculpture garden and peruse the store.  Their store is a great place to buy unique and creative Christmas or birthday gifts - if one doesn't mind paying a steep price for the perfect present!

On the way back to Gropius House we saw a two people looking out into a field.  We stopped the car once we spied what they did - an adorable red fox trotting through a field, gilded by the afternoon sun.  He seemed rather bouncy and cheery, moving here then there and nosing at everything.  When he sat with his pointed ears perked up, watching someone walking farther down the field, I thought he looked just like my cat.

We found a parking spot in Gropius House's tiny lot and met up with the tour guide.  She was very knowledgable and I thought very young, and managed to field most of the detailed and complicated (and often, I thought, extraneous) questions asked by some of our small six-person group.  The whole tour took just about an hour, through which you see almost the entire house (except the basement and an old servant's room that the museum uses as an office).

I loved, loved, loved the house.  When the tour guide said that Mr. Gropius lived here but taught at Harvard University, I realized he had lived exactly as I'd like to: in an incredible modern home, in the beautiful country, with access to a paying city job.

It's not to difficult to imagine that Gropius House was frowned upon as an architectural style in the late 30's, but the tour guide said the family really admired New England historic architecture, and "this was their take on the Colonial style".  In building the house, Gropius and his wife used several traditional materials in new ways - a prime example is the use of slatboards stretching vertically up interior walls.  Other details I particularly liked: the huge number of windows, the cork flooring, the salt and pepper shakers, the bare lightbulbs with their bottom halves dipped in chrome (it forces the light to spread out naturally), the unique "open but closable" layout, the one-of-a-kind artwork from famous artists, the student-designed furniture from Bauhaus, and furniture designed by famous family friends.  We were told that the house looks almost exactly the same as when Mrs. Gropius left it to the preservation society - she even left instructions for how the plants were in her time there.  The one main difference was the fact that young trees have taken over what used to be fields - we were shown a photo from just after the house was built, and I have to say I liked the fields better.  The house was currently set for Christmas, with family Christmastime photos and Christmas cards from friends displayed around the living room.

An incredible amount of thought went into this house and the landscape.  Everything has a purpose: in the front hall, the staircase faces away from the guest in direct opposition to traditional New England homes, in order to separate public and private life; the high windows on the second floor show the outside while shielding guests leaving the bathroom from sight of the road; the bent walls and staircase rail are meant to lead you through the house; the daughter had a private staircase to her room (she asked for it so she could "come and go as she pleased") that passed right by her parents' office so they could keep an eye on her; a second floor overhang blocks the summer sun from the first floor while allowing the lower winter sun to warm the house as much as it can; the dining room light is a theatre spotlight that highlights only the small circular dining room table and creates dramatic shadows; etc.

As we left and all throughout the drive home the sun was absolutely stunning - the way it lit up the trees and clouds was indescribable, the colors nameless.  All in all, a great afternoon full of history and nature and a reason to play with my new camera lens, concluded by a delicious dinner, a warm fire, and time to work on my genealogy.

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