Marcel Breuer’s Gagarin House 1: A Mid-century Masterpiece
Designed by legendary Bauhaus architect Marcel Breuer, Gagarin I (1956−57) is Litchfield’s most monumental Modernist residence, epitomizing the perfect marriage of art, design, and luxury. Here is a rare opportunity to own a historically significant home that clearly articulates the simple and streamlined ideals of one of the 20th century’s most influential architects.
Elegantly nestled into a hillside with the aid of bluestone terraces and original stone walls, the residence has been meticulously restored and upgraded with great care and sensitivity towards its origins — integrating every 21st-century comfort. With elevated views of the countryside, the two-story home offers the most pronounced relationship between exterior and interior living spaces of all Breuer designs, with multiple terraces, enclosed courts, and even an interior greenhouse that is an integral part of the living room.
Both inside and outside the house is a rich juxtaposition of natural materials. The angled entrance area, the hallway leading to the master bedroom wing, and a part of the living room are paved with brick; the rest of the flooring is reclaimed teakwood. Ceilings throughout are textured Portuguese cork that transitions seamlessly to the underside of the exterior roof overhangs.
The main level is comprised of an immense (35’x52’) glass-walled living room fronted by a long bluestone roof deck with areas for dancing and dining overlooking a reflection pool and expansive lawn. The main space features Breuer’s signature bush-hammered concrete fireplace — a tree-like sculptural focal point that branches off into sensual curves — beyond which is an interior greenhouse and an uninterrupted expanse of windows affording south and westerly views of the hills. As with all Breuer-architected homes, the living and dining areas act as one expansive space, with the kitchen part of that space. With Gagarin 1, the kitchen space is as distinct as its design, situated in what is in effect a separate wing with en suite guest rooms, pantry, and storage room.
The master bedroom suite is privately situated in a projection off the main volume of the house in a separate wing, complete with its own gas fireplace, dressing room, and a large private courtyard. Adjacent to the master bedroom is a glass-walled sitting/game room/study that opens to an elevated flagstone terrace with sunset views.
Marcel Breuer’s signature floating staircase with its parapet of abstract geometric cutouts, leads you downstairs, which becomes grade level at the rear as the house is built into a hillside. Along with a wet bar and laundry room, there’s a large open space with bonus room — formally known as the children’s living room — containing a wood-burning fireplace and direct access to the grounds and pool. What was once four children’s bedrooms, is now a massive windowed workshop and artist’s studio with garden access. There’s also direct access to the attached three car garage.
The exterior is a sensory treat of varying materials, sun control devices, terraces, and solid and glass planes. Both front and rear of the home are marked by sun-shading overhangs, bending light and casting shadows that change the facades throughout the day. The effect is about as close to decorative effect as Breuer ever got. A Ginko tree that was intentionally planted grows through a large cutout in the first-floor terrace. Fieldstone walls and teak-capped railings trace portions of the elevated terraces, while tall and dramatic fieldstone walls at ground level eventually recede into the ground. A stairway, with its riserless treads cantilevered from the fieldstone wall, leads to the reflection pool. These stairs and the sculptural railings reveal Breuer’s early prowess as a furniture designer.
An Exciting Piece of History That Has Been Well Documented. The home retains many of the original details and fixtures including the expansive glass sliders on Torx bearings, bathroom sinks, skylights, and built-ins. Over 900 documents consisting of letters, drawings, photographs, and other materials related to Gagarin I are available at the Marcel Breuer Digital Archive at Syracuse University.
Gagarin I is located in a serene, very private and natural 1.7-acre setting with protected views in the beautiful Litchfield County Hills (CT.) within walking distance to the quintessential Litchfield Green and about an hour and three quarters from midtown Manhattan. The nearest airports are (private plane) less than one-half hour and (international) about an hour.