As seen on Smithsonian.com
New Canaan, Connecticut (pop. 20,376)
When Walter Gropius founded the revolutionary Bauhaus school of art and design in Germany a century ago, no one quite knew the impact it would have—especially in the small town of New Canaan, Connecticut. Today this bucolic artisan community (just over an hour by train from Manhattan) is renowned for its wealth of mid-century modern homes, about 80 of them tucked among historic colonials and farmhouses. That’s because New Canaan was home to the “Harvard Five,” a handful of forward-thinking architects in the 1940s who saw Gropius—by this time the head of Harvard’s architectural program—as their mentor. His influence is especially evident in Philip Johnson’s Glass House, an 1,815-square-foot steel-and-glass structure that will be celebrating its 70th year at the house’s annual Summer Party, June 8, in conjunction with 100 years of Bauhaus events worldwide.
It’s this unusual blend of Modernism—a movement that has continued on in structures like the sleek and seamlessly flowing River Building, opened in 2015 as part of the larger 80-acre Grace Farms—and tradition architecture that makes New Canaan especially unique. The town’s harmonious architecture, art and nature range from the contemporary installations interspersed throughout Grace Farms’ meadows and woodlands, to Waveny Park, 300-acres of ponds and open walking trails with a stunning 1912 “castle” as its centerpiece and the Carriage Barn Arts Center, a gallery and performing arts venue located within a restored 19th century stone barn.
Residents take full-advantage of New Canaan’s walkable downtown. It’s a Fairfield County rarity, and one that showcases both the new home of the Summer Theatre of New Canaan and a selection of boutique shops and high-end retailers, as well as restaurants that run that gamut from cozy breakfast eateries to Elm, a high-end open-kitchen space serving up seasonal New American fare.