Midcentury Modern on The North Shore

March 11, 2021

Inside these walls, the nature of the Bauhaus movement is crystal clear.

Text by Tovah Martin     Photography by Kindra Clineff

Dana and Joe Arndt were not convinced they wanted to go the glass-house route until they saw the light. Literally. When the husband and wife walked into the Martin Bloom-designed house in Swampscott, Massachusetts, and felt the boundaries between indoors and out disappear, the deal was clinched, especially after spending several years inside a dark and slightly claustrophobic colonial. Ultimately, the couple decided to waive the walls and raise their newborn son close to nature.

The Arndts were always drawn to midcentury modern—from afar. Fully conversant in the Bauhaus movement, they hadn’t encountered the right fit until Dana stumbled upon the North Shore listing. Even so, when the couple arrived at the house for the showing, its strong horizontal lines initially didn’t speak to them. “But the minute we walked in, the landscape stepped out, and it was suddenly an expansive vertical space,” says Dana Arndt. “It was an amazing surprise. As soon as you’re inside, you’re outside.”

The masterwork of Martin Bloom (1927–2017), the house was his first project as a newly minted architect and student of Walter Gropius and Josep Lluís Sert at Harvard University. Commissioned by his sister, Phyllis Patkin, and her husband, Bloom designed the seminal ode to form and function in 1957. Located on a two-acre lot, Bloom’s design features banks of windows facing the wooded backyard so that the landscape would always take centerstage. (The architect ultimately embarked on a highly successful career in the design of theaters.)

When the Arndts bought the house from Patkin in 2013, the interiors were in pristine condition, but the property needed finessing. For the garden design, they turned to Barry Archung, who bonded with the project immediately. Playing off the black fence and moon gate the Arndts installed, Archung selected foliage rather than flowering plants, inserting variegated and chartreuse creeping jenny, hellebores, hostas, and hakonechloa for color bursts, and going with groupings for impact.

The family is ecstatic with the result. “People wonder why we don’t have curtains,” Arndt says. “We never want to block the seasons out. It’s the best show on earth; we don’t want to miss a thing.” Highly cognizant of their role in the continuum of an important house, the couple feels strongly about stewardship. As Arndt sums it up, “We are the keepers of the story.”

The Arndt glass house gardens will be open to the public in 2021 during the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days. Visit gardenconservancy.org for information.

Landscape design consultation: Barry Archung, Fine Gardens
Architecture: Martin Bloom