Photos by Melissa Chua
Walter Gropius and his wife Ise built this house in 1938 in Lincoln, MA, intentionally proximate to Walden Pond – Henry David Thoreau’s experimental retreat. Gropius, a renowned architect and founder of the Bauhaus school and design movement, immigrated to Massachusetts to teach architecture at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design.
This house was a site for Gropius to experiment with new materials, technologies and fashions that had not taken hold in the United States. He used a spray gun to apply acoustic plaster on his walls as he knew his modest home would be a stomping ground for plenty of colleagues and he needed a way to dampen the noise. His long, rectangular windows were carefully sized and placed to give way to light while maximizing his family's privacy. He and Ise even ordered their kitchen cabinetry from a medical supply catalogue to incorporate metalwork reminiscent of early Bauhaus industrial designs that hadn't yet taken root in residential settings.
His modern residence, considered at the time an “abomination” to the eye, still intricately incorporated thoughtful design facets of both the German Bauhaus and traditional New England architecture. He gave a modern twist to the shiplap siding à la mode in New England houses by turning it on its side and featuring it on his interior walls. He and Ise adorned the house’s deck and surrounding landscape with Concord grape vines and other species native to Massachusetts. Of course, Gropius furnished his actual living space with his protégé Marcel Breuer’s celebrated chairs and daybeds and adhered primarily to a palette of black and white with a touch of red. The Gropius family were also heavily influenced by a Japanese aesthetic.
The genius behind Gropius’s residential and landscape design, as well as his formidable presence in mainstream media, was his young wife, Ise Gropius. Ise was a multi-talented designer and Gropius’s prolific ghostwriter. You’ll get to know her in later posts.