In sharp contrast to other historic house museums in New England, Gropius House was constructed in 1938, right before World War II, by a German family fleeing the Third Reich of the Nazi party. Walter and Ise Gropius designed the unique house, which still holds its original furniture and décor, while their thirteen-year-old daughter, Ati, gave input. Located in Lincoln, MA, not far from Codman Estate, which I covered in my last post with Mainly Museums, the property belongs to Historic New England (HNE) and is considered a National Historic Landmark. The house combines elements of a traditional New England Colonial style and the German Bauhaus style. The tour guide met visitors outside under a large, shady tree. She pointed out the unique external features of the house, including a winding metal staircase, a garden of climbing roses on a trellis connected to the main building, and an outdoor shower.
Gropius House boasted two front doors. The left door led to an atrium where guests would enter, while the right door opens into the study, an office shared by Walter and Ise Gropius. The atrium showcased a tightly wound staircase with stark, metal balusters. White, vertical paneling mimicked the lines of the staircase and recalled the siding found on colonial style houses. Upturned wall sconces emphasized the linear pattern. Rows of mirrored windows created the back wall of the office, allowing natural light to enter the dining room on the other side. The desk was covered with artwork created by the Gropius family or collected from around the world.
Moving deeper into the house, the Gropius family designed their living room and dining room as a single unit. Manuals on architecture and design lined the bookshelves outside the office door. Several books feature the Bauhaus movement, which was founded in part by the Gropius family. Comfortable chairs designed by the Gropius’ artistic friends decorate the space. A version of the fluffy “Long Chair” is still made by the company Isokon, while the “Womb Chair” design by Eero Saarinen is also in production. The tour guide invited visitors to sit in the vintage chairs. Artwork hung on the walls included a paper mobile and bright, geometric paintings. Even the ash tray was a custom design. The bespoke lighting in the dining room was a remarkable feat of design. The light illuminated only the surface of the round table. The white, reflective surface made the faces of the guests glow like angels or ghosts. HNE regularly hosts a program “Evening at Gropius House”, when the lights are turned on to show this effect.
Next, the tour guide led guests by tightly wound stairs to the second floor, which holds the main bedroom with an ensuite bathroom, two smaller bedrooms, and a porch. The main bedroom belonged to Walter and Ise Gropius. A clear window separated Ise’s extensive makeup table from the rest of the bedroom, allowing the flow of light and heat while dampening sound. The wool rug hung behind the bed acted as a headboard. The rug came from Iraq via architect Louis McMillen, who donated it to HNE after the original rug became too faded to display. He had gifted the original to the Gropius family in the 1960s, a testament to his ongoing support for the family and their designs.
The small guest room provided sleeping accommodations for two people. A highlight of this room is a silk screen sketch for a mural painted in the Harvard Graduate Center dining hall, where Walter Gropius was teaching at the time. Down the short hall was the third bedroom, originally belonging to Ati Gropius. When her parents asked how she wanted her bedroom designed, she requested a floor made of sand and a ceiling made of glass. She settled for a door leading to a private porch and a winding metal staircase descending into the front yard, so she could come and go whenever she wanted. The private porch was an ideal selfie opportunity with its soft pink wall and dark green chimney. Navy blue and white striped canvas barriers stretched across the edge of the porch to bring the space up to modern building codes, as the Gropius family did not add wooden slats to the porch railings.
For those who love old house tours but are looking for a change of pace, Gropius House is an excellent choice. The site is a must-see for Bauhaus enthusiasts and those looking for modern interior design inspiration. Short steps lead into the house, while the second story is accessible only by stair, so those using a wheelchair or with limited mobility cannot tour this house. While an exceedingly well-behaved four-year-old was on my tour, I do not recommend this house tour to families with young children. The house was filled with original art and ceramics within touching distance, and the pathways through the rooms can be narrow. During this season, Gropius House costs $25 for adults $22 for seniors, $15 for students, and $0 for HNE members (like me!). Tickets must be purchased online in advance. The house is open Thursday through Sunday during the regular season of May through October, and on the weekends during the off-season of November through April. Tours begin on the hour starting at 11:00 a.m. through 3:00 p.m.
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Abigail Epplett leads a dual life as a freelance digital marketing consultant for small humanities-focused organizations and as a customer experience design creative specialist at lab equipment manufacturer Waters Corporation. She holds an MA in Museum Education from Tufts University, where she researched the history of New England from Plymouth to the Civil War. To learn more about her adventures with museums, visit her current blog at abbyeppletthistorian.blogspot.com.