Marcel Breuer’s architecture is enjoying a renaissance in popularity, enhanced by the rebranding of the Whitney Museum’s former inverted-ziggurat home as the Met Breuer. But what of the modest houses that marked Breuer’s rise to fame in the 1950s as he provided a vision of suburban life outside neocolonial saltboxes? Even as the Hungarian-born, Bauhaus-trained architect has reentered the spotlight, the overheated real estate market has still spawned towering or sprawling extensions to his generally compact single-story houses, often overshadowing their signature juxtapositions of glass planes with stone walls.
Last year I encountered repeat Breuer-house owners with an opposite strategy – historians doubling as activists or perhaps activists as historians. At the time I had been procrastinating over a book of essays on Breuer, since published by Lars Müller. The same Google alerts that pinged me daily about tubular steel Cesca chairs on eBay alerted me to the existence of two fellow Breuer fans, if hardly fellow procrastinators. Ken Sena, an equity research analyst, and Joseph Mazzaferro, an executive creative director in advertising, had spent more than a decade reviving two of the multiple residences – both in Litchfield, Connecticut – that Breuer had designed for one of his most faithful clients and friends, Rufus Stillman. Building on archival evidence and hours of conversation with Stillman himself, the couple peeled away awkward additions to the 1950 Stillman I house, bringing it back as close as possible to its original state. After selling the property to faithful recruits, the couple then embarked on a similarly scrupulous pruning of the cottage that Stillman had modeled, with Breuer’s blessing, after the architect’s own Cape Cod getaway.
Homeowners Joseph Mazzaferro (left) and Ken Sena lounge in the living room of their Marcel Breuer–designed home in Upstate New York.