Dezeen Magazine

Marcel Breuer Cape Cod holiday home under threat of demolition

Campaign launched to save Marcel Breuer's Cape Cod holiday home from demolition

The Cape Cod Modern House Trust has launched a campaign to raise $1.2 million to purchase modernist architect Marcel Breuer's holiday home in Cape Cod, USA, to save it from likely demolition.

Non-profit Cape Cod Modern House Trust is aiming to raise the money to purchase the house, which was designed by the Hungarian-American architect as his own summer house in the 1940s, from his son Tomas Breuer.

"Most significant of the Cape's many modernist buildings"

The group describes the building near the town of Wellfleet as the "most significant of the Cape's many modernist buildings" and believes that if it is purchased by a private buyer it will likely be demolished.

Tomas Breuer has set a purchase price of $2 million, of which $1.2 million will need to be raised from donations.

"We need to raise £1.2 million and are approved for a mortgage for the balance," explained Cape Cod Modern House Trust founding director Peter McMahon.

"The house is 1,700 square foot and a house twice the size can be built on the lot with no need of a variance," he told Dezeen. "It's un-heated and in disrepair so most buyers would be only interested in the land."

Marcel Breuer's Cape Cod holiday home
Top: Marcel Breuer designed the building as his own holiday home in the 1940s. Photo by Raimund Koch. Much of the original furniture and fittings remain. Photo by Tomas Breuer

The original house is an early example of the Long House typology developed by Marcel Breuer, who was a master at the influential Bauhaus school in Germany. It was then expanded in 1961 by adding an art studio and again in 1968 with the addition of a small apartment and darkroom for his son Tomas.

Although it is in a state of disrepair, the home contains almost all its original furniture including one-of-a-kind tables, couches and hand-woven rugs designed for the house. It also contains artworks numerous artworks designed by Bauhaus alumni Paul Klee, Josef Albers and Herbert Bayer.

Marcel Breuer and his wife's ashes were laid under a stone slab made by sculptor Masayuki Nagare on next to the house.

"It was a vibrant meeting place for Bauhaus alumni and local creatives for decades," said McMahon. "It is fully intact with the family's art, books, furniture and photos, so it's loss would be a blow to scholars and the public."

"In Europe it would be listed and protected"

The Cape Cod Modern House Trust aims to restore the house and turn it into a centre for preservation and residences for its fellowship.

"In Europe, it would be listed and protected, but we have very weak laws in the US for the preservation of historic buildings," said McMahon.

"The Breuer house is not only an important piece of architecture, it was also a meeting place for many of the great designers and artists of the era including the Saarinen family, Florence Knoll, Alexander Calder, Walter Gropius and many others," he continued.

"We have a chance to save it from ruin and to make it a busy nexus of learning and creativity again."

Marcel Breuer's Cape Cod holiday home
It is in a state of disrepair. Photo by Marta Kuzma

The cabin is the latest modernist house to be under threat on Cape Cod, with the preservation group estimating that at least one significant building has been lost every year since 2016.

Last year another of Marcel Breuer's houses – Geller I house on Long Island – was demolished overnight.

Modernist house on Cape Cod
The house is one of the most significant modern buildings on Cape Cod. Photo by Marta Kuzma

"We have lost many significant modern homes due to increasing land values and lack of stewardship, including Breuer's Geller house on Long Island in 2022," said Liz Waytkus, executive director of preservation group Docomomo US.

"There is so much to be studied and learned from these modest places and our cultural legacy can not be replaced," she continued. "Everyone who cares about the legacy of the 20th century should support this effort to save Breuer's own house and his final resting place."

The Cape Cod Modern House Trust has been given until spring 2024 to raise the funds to purchase the house.

Marcel Breuer was one of the 20th century's most significant modernist architects and furniture designers. He was awarded the AIA Gold Medal in 1968. After studying and teaching at the Bauhaus he fled Germany to London as the Nazis gained power before moving to the USA and establishing his studio in New York.

He designed over 100 buildings in the US including New York's Whitney Museum of American Art, which was recently sold to auction house Sotheby's.