Look Inside Cape Cod’s Hidden Modern Houses


When you think of Cape Cod architecture, you might call to mind shuttered, clapboard cottages with pitched roofs and gables — not the Bauhaus. But between the 1940s and '70s, Wellfleet was a hotbed of modern architecture, and home to some of the movement’s biggest names. In 1936, Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius — who had just accepted a teaching position at Harvard’s new Graduate School of Design — rented a summer house on Planting Island in Marion, Massachusetts, near the base of Cape Cod, with his wife, Ise. They weren’t the only European émigrés to settle down in the area: Over the course of the late '30s and early '40s, Hungarian designer and architect Marcel Breuer, British architect Serge Chermayeff, artists György and Juliet Kepes, and Finish architect Olav Hammarström all bought plots on the Outer Cape shore — where, amid the pine trees and sand dunes, avant-garde cottages began to pop up.

Over the following three decades, the area would become home to nearly 100 modernist homes — as well as a destination for intellectuals from the country’s top art, architecture, and design institutions, including the Saarinen family, Florence and Hans Knoll, Arshile Gorky, Max Ernst, and Peggy Guggenheim. This summer, Cape Cod Modern, a new book by Peter McMahon and Christine Cipriani, celebrates this largely unknown chapter in American modernist architecture, from Breuer’s Kepes House to Cherymayeff’s studio. Taking cues from Colonial cottages, many modernist Cape houses were modest, hidden away in the woods and made from inexpensive and salvaged materials. With an emphasis on blurring indoor and outdoor spaces, décor was informal; kitchens were small and utilitarian, and some cottages had only screens instead of glass windows.

Click through the slideshow for a look at some of the rarely seen costal interiors from the era, including designs by Breuer, Hammarström, Charles Zehnder, and more.