Stillman Cottage by Marcel Breuer: Architecture Legacy for Sale

Celebrated modernist structure reveals fascinating story of its architect, client and political environment of the 1970s America. Auction house Wright will offer this gem of mid-century lifestyle at unique December sale.

Marcel Breuer, Rufus Stillman Cottage, Litchfield, Connecticut, 1973-74

Stillman cottage is one of the Marcel Breuer‘s residential projects of his late career. Breuer was highly influential architect and designer on both sides of Atlantic ocean. He came to USA in 1937 after accepting the appointment as chairman of Harvard's Graduate School of Design. It was a great change in his career. It started at 1920s Germany when he invented tubular steel furniture while active at Bauhaus. And then continued with short British period and culminated in the USA during the 1950s till 1970s. When in USA, Breuer became one of the most prolific and active architects of the time, celebrating new forms in residential as well as large public commissions.

Residential work was essential for Breuer. While in important public commissions, Breuer adapted style of prefabricated concrete modules to create visually strong and brutal buildings, in residential design architect worked in more subtle style, using lightweight wooden construction, contrasting with heavy stone masonry. Since the early 1940s, he have built dozens of significant residential designs, including Frank House in Pittsburgh, together with Walter Gropius, Geller House in Lawrence, New York, Breuer House in New Canaan, Connecticut, Neumann House in Croton-on-Hudson, Levy House in Princeton, New Jersey, Witalis House in Kings Point and New York, Krieger House in Bethesda, Maryland, among many others.

Some of the most successful projects during his career, Breuer designed for his longtime client and friend Rufus Stillman. Over the course of three decades, Rufus Stillman commissioned Marcel Breuer for more than twenty projects, including his first home in Litchfield, Connecticut in 1948, number of other significant residences, industrial plants, offices and schools. Rufus Stillman cottage, designed by Marcel Breuer and built by Rufus Stillman in 1973–1974, belongs to a series of other Stillman residences in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. It was built on the hill behind Stillman Houses 2 (1965–1966) and 3 (1973–1974), on a hundred-acre parcel.

Marcel Breuer, Rufus Stillman Cottage, Litchfield, Connecticut, 1973-74
Marcel Breuer, Rufus Stillman Cottage, Litchfield, Connecticut, 1973-74

The building echoes earlier Breuer‘s residences, most notably his own cottage from 1944 which is almost identical in design. It is constructed of light wood and masterfully ensisions Breuer‘s approach of a house as a platform for observing nature. It is elevated on the wooden stilts and floats above the ground. The idea of floating was essential for Breuer. He also mentioned in his book Sun and Shadow, referring to a connection of a house and landscape through elevated volumes, improving views. 

The house is comprised of two bedrooms, one bath, a combined kitchen and dining space, and a cantilevered screened-in porch. Connected by a breezeway is an MBA-designed pavilion addition (posthumously built—and as found on two of the four Wellfleet cottages Breuer designed) with foyer, great room, master bedroom with bathroom and walk-in closet, and two abutting screen porches running its full length. Massive dark brown wood contrasts with white plaster inside. Interior feautures custom-built storage systems, and open living spaces with floor-to-ceiling windows.   

Marcel Breuer, Rufus Stillman Cottage, Litchfield, Connecticut, 1973-74
Marcel Breuer, Rufus Stillman Cottage, Litchfield, Connecticut, 1973-74

The house in not interested just because of its architecture but also later use. Already in 1976, Rufus Stillman sold the residence to his friend, the newly elected U.S. Congressman Toby Moffett. Together with his friend Ralph Nadar, founder of Connecticut Citizen Action Group, they became leaders of environmental issues and leading opponents of the oil industry. Alexander Calder, Roy Lichtenstein, Romare Bearden and Norman Ives created campaign artworks for Moffett and the house was campaign headquarters and frequently the site of meetings of politicians, artists and supporters. Now you have a chance to own piece of American architecture and political history.  

Auction title:
Marcel Breuer: The Rufus Stillmann Cottage
Auction date:
13 December 2018
Auction house:
Wright, Chicago

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