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Breuer-Designed Wolfson House on the Block

September 18, 2007

by David Sokol

Following his successful sale of Case Study House #21, Chicago’s Modernist-design auctioneer Richard Wright is putting another mid-century residence on the block. But instead of a Pierre Koenig icon, the lot up for grabs on October 7 is an arguably kitschy work by Marcel Breuer.

Wolfson House
Photos Courtesy Wright and Brian Franczyk Photography)

A porch spans the south elevation of the Wolfson house; its design features Marcel Breuer’s trademark cable material.

Wolfson House
At the request of his client, Breuer incorporated a Spartan Trailer into the house.

Wolfson house
The trailer’s interior includes a kitchen.

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The idiosyncratic house, located in Dutchess County, New York, is the result of an equally outlandish invitation from client Sidney Wolfson. The brief: to design a structure that incorporated a loaf-shaped aluminum Spartan Trailer, manufactured in 1947. Despite his initial resistance to this charge, Breuer began work in 1949 after taking on a commission at nearby Vassar College. He nestled the trailer beneath a pergola, making it one terminus of a perpendicular entrance hall; the opposite, permanent wing features several Breuer trademarks, such as a wood-clad second story cantilevered on a stone base and open interior with freestanding fireplace.

Wolfson later commissioned Tip Dorsel to build an artist’s studio on the property in 1960. To relate to Breuer’s contribution, Dorsel used oversize gestures including double-height ceilings and a tall entrance door that, viewed from the trailer, appear equivalent in scale. David Diao, who has owned the 10-acre Wolfson property with his wife, artist Maureen Connor, since 1996, wants to sell it because he says his heart “belongs to the city.”

The December 2006 winning bid for Case Study House #21 exceeded $3.5 million, but Wright estimates that the Wolfson Trailer House might fetch between $1 million and $1.5 million at auction. And while the Case Study house went to a Korean collector who frequents Wright’s regular auctions, he expects that the Wolfson’s proximity to Manhattan—a two-hour drive south—will appeal to buyers seeking a weekend residence.

The Wolfson sale also reinforces the trend of auction houses getting into the Modernist-residence business. Wright says that Christie’s and Sotheby’s, which already have sold a Philip Johnson-designed Manhattan townhouse, the Farnsworth House, and Jean Prouvé’s Maison Tropicale, “are absolutely looking at the success we had.”

Wright admits that taking on another Modernist house is potentially lucrative, but adds that selling these works is intellectually satisfying. “It speaks of a place and time—the quirkier side of America in the late ‘40s. The mix of optimism, consumerism, and naïveté in Postwar America has always fascinated me.” That said, he has no plans to focus on real estate exclusively.

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