Breuer House 1


Marcel Breuer


1947


Description

Breuer House 1 is set on a rise overlooking a gently sloping lawn area planted with large ornamental trees including Japanese maples and weeping hemlocks. The house, which has strong horizontal lines, originally featured an upper floor that cantilevered dramatically over the smaller ground-floor base of the building, including a deep corner porch suspended from cables. Currently, the ends of the main fa?ade and the porch are supported by fieldstone walls, minimizing the effect of the overhangs. The concrete-block base of the building was clad in fieldstone in the late 1980s, altering the somewhat utilitarian aesthetic of the original house. The upper floor is clad in vertical and diagonal wood sheathing. At the second floor, ribbon windows shielded by a wood brise-soleil extend across the main fa?ade. A cantilevered metal stair with wood treads leads to the corner deck. At the rear of the house is a one-story addition clad in similar materials as the remainder of the building.

In the original design, the primary living spaces were on the main, upper floor: the kitchen and laundry room were in the center flanked by sleeping and studying/working space at one end, and living and dining space at the other end. The kitchen was connected to the dining room by a pass-through, providing for easy transfer of dishes between the two rooms and allowing the cook to converse with guests. The living room and dining room flowed into each other and were only separated by a fireplace. Bedroom closets were placed in the hall to provide additional wall space, which allowed the Breuers to have a piano and desks in the bedrooms. The lower floor of the house contained utility space, a workshop and guest room, a child?s bedroom, a playroom, and a bath. The interior was finished with painted plywood, cypress boarding, and natural gum plywood. The floors were covered in Haitian mattings, bluestone, and black asphalt tile. Strongly painted surfaces in selected locations were used for effect; for example, the north wall in the living room was painted cobalt blue.


Significance

Breuer House 1 was designed by Marcel Breuer for his family in 1947. It was the first house he designed in New Canaan. According to Breuer's wife Constance, they decided to build a house to provide more space for their son. The Breuers chose New Canaan in part because architect Eliot Noyes and his family had recently moved there. Marcel Breuer acquired the property on Sunset Hill Road in May 1947 and hired builder Irving Wood to construct the house. In August, Breuer left for South America and Eliot Noyes and Harry Seidler took over construction management. Breuer was concerned about the experimental cantilevers and some adjustments had to be made, but by September 12, Noyes reported that the porch was hanging "and looks very exciting to us." However, by October, temporary shoring had been put under the house (Hyman, 348). The landscape around the house, which consisted of a rolling meadow, a large sycamore tree, and several apple trees, was essentially left untouched (Breuer, Constance, 1951). The house was completed in October 1947 at a cost of $17,300.

In October 1948, the Breuer House was featured in an eight-page spread in Architectural Record: "The irresistible appeal of the cantilever is here developed to the ultimate degree. What Breuer has done, in effect, is to build a small basement story above ground, and then balance a full-size one-story house nearly atop it, cantilevered on all sides, with really long cantilevers at the ends. It looks as if the lower floor has been planned for its relatively small space needs, and the main floor planned separately for its needs, and then the two combined. And that is exactly what happened." The cantilevers were constructed using typical frame construction, rather than steel or concrete (Architectural Record, October 1948, 94-95). In 1949, Breuer House I was included in the first Modern House Tour and was featured in Architectural Review. In 1951, Marcel Breuer inserted a fieldstone wall under the sagging cantilevered porch. The assessor's notes from the 1940s and 1950s indicated that the basement wall had cracked and the roof leaked. After the Breuers moved, Lally columns and posts were placed under the cantilevered ends to provide support. In 1951, Breuer moved his family to Breuer House 2 and Russell Roberts became the new owner. In 1964, Peter M. and Gertrude M. Robeck purchased the house. In 1969, a two-car garage was constructed and a swimming pool was added in 1971. Current owner John P. Horgan stated that sometime in the 1960s, the owners purchased $70,000 of mature trees for the property.

Between 1985 and 1988, architect and former Breuer partner Herbert Beckhard was hired to design renovations to the house. Beckhard replaced the Lally columns and posts under the cantilevered ends of the house with fieldstone walls. The foundation was clad in fieldstone and the basement windows were enlarged. The brise-soleil may have been replaced at this time; the new brise-soleil extends further east but no longer covers the cantilevered porch, which is now shielded by an awning. The most significant alteration was the construction of an addition at the rear, but it is set back to be largely invisible from three facades. On the interior, the kitchen and dining room were expanded, the stair was moved, and new bathrooms, dressing rooms, and laundry room were built. John R. Horgan purchased the property in 1994.


National Trust for Historic Preservation, 2009.