In 1947, Swiss political scientist Arnold Wolfers, who had come to the U.S. a few years earlier to take the post of Master of Pierson College at Yale and would later become director of the Center for International Relations, built a summer house on a wild and lovely stretch of ocean front at the end of Naskeag Point in Brooklin, Maine.
View from the West
For their architects, the Wolfers went to Harvard, choosing The Architect’s Collaborative (TAC), the socially idealistic partnership formed by Walter Gropius and seven other young architects, including Benjamin Thompson, who was simultaneously remodeling a large summer house for his mother and her partner in nearby Blue Hill (we’ll follow the Thompson thread, an interesting story, in a future post).
The entry breezeway, looking out to the bay
Dr. Wolfers and his wife Doris were a cosmopolitan couple, and this house, with its gull wing roof and glass window walls, was radical for the time and place. Locals and summer residents alike compared the house unfavorably to a factory or a school. Walls and ceilings of clapboards, painted the gray of a foggy day, further blurred the distinctions between outside and inside. The house was furnished with examples by the modern masters, creating a seamless aesthetic.
After retirement, the Wolfers moved full time to their Maine house. The open breezeway was enclosed, the house was doubled in length, adding a new sitting room and bedroom suites. The Wolfers brought their elegant traditional furnishings and art collection from their Washington house. Mrs. Wolfers, a fabric collage artist of talent, made the modern house her largest canvas, with wonderful objects from many centuries and cultures–french chairs, Italian brocades, Chinese porcelains, Greek bronzes, tribal rugs, modern paintings, all playing richly against the modernist framework of the house. I’m sorry I don’t have pictures of the house in that era. The look recalled the deMenils in Dallas, and spoke wonderfully of a cultivated mind and discerning eye.
The height of modernity, 1948. It was a simpler age. The floor was red marmoleum.
Embarrassing Personal Anecdote: Long ago, at a dinner party at this house, we were taking our places at table. Graceful 18th century candelabra on the Bruno Mathsson table lit the summer evening. Everything gleamed. The soup had been laid, ready for us to begin. Across from me was the uber-elegant wife of an ambassador—don’t be impressed, he was a Reagan era ambassador to a minor country, one far smaller than his ego—and after helping the lady next to me with her chair, I sat down. As I did, my tie, an elegant number of whisper light silk from Barney’s, took flight and defying gravity for a moment, gently, gracefully, landed in the cream of avocado and pea soup, slid across and landed ,with its soggy green load, in my lap. I am still haunted by the look of suppressed mirth on the face of Mme. Republican Ambassadress. I continued to be invited back. however….and always, to this day, hold my tie to my chest as I sit at a table…..
I buy less expensive ties nowadays, too.
All Photographs from House & Garden, May 1948