Between Design Within Reach and 1stdibs, it’s easy to nab a Saarinen Womb Chair or Greta Magnusson-Grossman Grasshopper lamp. Not such a snap to scoop up a whole house. But for the fervent midcentury-modern enthusiast, what could be better? This month, local auction house Wright has a gem on the block: Rufus Stillman Cottage, a Marcel Breuer design sitting snugly in the Connecticut countryside.
To be auctioned Dec. 11 (estimate: $2 million to $2.5 million), the simple wood-clad house—erected in 1973—is identical to the getaway Breuer built for himself on Cape Cod in 1944. The Hungarian-born designer and architect arrived stateside in 1937, joining his old Bauhaus colleague, Walter Gropius, at Harvard. In 1946, he moved to New York and continued to execute a number of projects, from residences to his harshly handsome box for the Whitney Museum of American Art on Madison Avenue.
In 1949, Breuer built a house in the garden of The Museum of Modern Art, intended, he said, for “the commuter who has personal views in selecting his land” and easily constructed by “any local builder.” Businessman Rufus Stillman and his wife were taken with the building’s dynamic geometry of its open plan and became clients, commissioning four homes over time. (Stillman also hired Breuer to design a number of buildings for the Torin Corporation, of which he was CEO.)
Austere in appearance, the Stillman Cottage is almost shed-like in its program, with just two bedrooms, one bath and a compact living-dining area. This economy may seem a tad miserly, but square footage isn’t the point here. Perched on stilts and afforded a screened-in porch, the house is all about the landscape. (A later addition, done in a sympathetic mode, comprises another living area, along with a bedroom and bath.) A distillation of the virtues manifest in other houses Breuer designed, this simple cottage in the hills expresses the architect’s abiding conviction: “Structure is not just a means to a solution. It is also a principle and a passion.”