20.1.10

Houses I Dream About: Baroque Rococo on the Hudson

My thoughts have wandered out of New England again, over the border into New York and down the Hudson to this  fantasy house, straight out  of a Rex Whistler painting.
 Is it Vogue Regency?  Baroque?  Rococo?   The curvy beauty was designed by John Churchill in the early 1940's for Vincent Astor's first wife, Helen Dinsmore Huntington, later Mrs. Lytle Hull, on her ancestral acres at Staatsburg,.  It replaced a Second Empire manor built for her grandfather in the mid 19th century.  John Churchill is an architect about whom I know very little, and would love to know more.  This theatrical house, filled with light, curves and seduces,  literally embraces its site.
The new house, designed by architect John Churchill
 
The Entrance Front.  I'd do something about the overgrown plantings...something tight and architectural required here.
 First Floor Plan
 
Helen Huntington Hull in a portrait by Bernard Boutet de Monvel.  Note the wonderful mantel, with agrarian motifs. (AD)
The interior architecture was as downplayed as the exterior was fantastic.  Simple woodwork, huge windows opening onto the lawns, and elegant mantels were foils for her elegantly furnished interiors. A serpentine staircase seems downright modern in effect.
Drawing Room in Mrs. Hull's era (AD)
Drawing Room, Present Day
Mrs. Hull was a leading music patron, and weekends at The Locust saw many of the leading figures in the arts and society gathered.
The gentlemen play croquet before dinner
 
Louis Armstrong and Grace Kelly in the Library

The Library Fireplace (AD)
 
 Dining Room set for a party (AD)
Dining Room, present day view.  Notice the lovely triple hung windows allowing direct access to lawn
After Mrs. Hull's death in 1978, The Locusts passed through several owners, including Penthouse Magazine magnate Bob Guccione. The house survived remarkably well, with only the addition off the drawing room of one of those damnable Machin 'Gothick' conservatories that everyone had to have a decade ago, all wrong for this house, and an especially ill considered swimming pool on the front lawn.
The sight of it causes this blogger pain---someone didn't pay attention to the 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' rule---poorly placed, out of sync and out of scale with the house, which had been designed to open to a sweeping lawn and the river views beyond.  If a pool in that location was absolutely required, close your eyes for a moment, and consider how much better it would have been as an oval, with larger scaled paving, and perhaps a darker surface, instead of the tropical turquoise?  Or perhaps shaping the terrace around it into  baroque scrolls?  But what do I know? I'm only a dilettante.  At least it isn't an infinity pool.
Main stair, present day view

The house is now owned by hotelier Andre Balazs, and has been re-imagined as an events venue and small hotel.

ADDENDUM:  Since posting this earlier today, I happened across a terrific post about pools, all of them well designed and placed, on the Limestone and Boxwoods blog.

23 comments:

Scott Fazzini said...

I love that house sooooo much! The exterior is perfect, the curved facade... well, that's just amazing! I love the floor plan too. You're absolutely right about the swimming pool. Maybe the next owners, it seems to have a tendency to have many, will rescue it from the poorly added modern touches.

little augury said...

What a wonderful house, and posting I will add. I am fascinated by the women especially that founded their own unique space. The present interior is sadly lacking and the pool is just sad. thanks for the lesson. pgt

Reggie Darling said...

Truly a gorgeous house--the architecture that is. Really grim interior decoration, right out of the mid-century/modern of the moment two years ago cookie cutter design book with zero context. Ugh--I want a drink just looking at it and it isn't even 9 am yet! And you are right, the pool is ghastly situated jammed up against the house.

smilla4blogs said...

A beautiful post...why would anyone even want to go swimming in the front yard??? Tragic addition.

The Down East Dilettante said...

Scott, the plan is a dream, isn't it?

Little A, she seems to have been a very stylish sort indeed.

Reggie, I thought you might like the croquet player's party attire?

The decoration is bland, but At least the interior architecture is untouched, unlike so many of those ghastly Architectural Disgust 'before and after' articles, where something good and distinguished is gutted and sheetrocked over with builder spec level replacements.

Smilla, beats me.

The pool could at least have been framed in a baroque curved terrace, or low plantings in a wild stylized curve...any number of things, but...

La Petite Gallery said...

I agree about the Pool. The interior needs help. You did a good jub on this post as always.

ADAM said...

VERY EMILIO TERRY- BEYOND CHIC!!!

Blue said...

The pool placement is about as insensitive as can be - everything about it is wrong from concept to color. Yet, how often do we see what some would describe as desecration and others improvement? Love the rococo decoration at the roof line and above the door.

Anonymous said...

If my memory serves me right, Albert Hadley once told me Mrs. Hull was a PH client. I believe there is documentation of this fact in either- 100 Most Beautiful Rooms in America OR The Finest Rooms.

The Down East Dilettante said...

Anonymous---How could I have been so stupid? I write these little posts on the fly, and indeed meant to mention Parish Hadley, and didn't. I also had wanted to use the picture of the drawing room from Finest Rooms, as it is from exactly the same angle as the modern view, but didn't have time to scan before leaving for the office, so used the AD picture instead.

Mrs. Blandings said...

I can see why the pool is vexing, but cannot get over the color of the dining room walls in the AD piece. Heavenly. Literally.

The Down East Dilettante said...

Mrs. Blandings! How nice to have you stop by! I'm a great fan of your blog (and btw, we have a mutual acquaintance. The world is very small)

Turner Pack Rats said...

an amazing house - the locusts website calls it "neo-barouqe" but i think barocco. that asymettrical frieze over the shell door is so interesting and the pic of that room with the cute little fireplace in the corner - what a touch.
maybe locusts doesn't refer to trees but to the insect and the current owners will be beset by a flock of them for putting that pool in. when people with no taste buy a unique house like this and apply their "expertise" in decoration, i'd almost (almost) rather have them tear it down.

An Aesthete's Lament said...

A great friend of mine used to spend a lot of time at The Locusts, being a friend of Mrs Hull's, and I've heard so much about the life there, the butler who stood by with a bucket of water at Christmas (lest the trees, illuminated by candles, burst into flames), Helen Hull's concern over the lifespan of the elm trees off the terrace, et cetera. It is a beautiful house indeed, very barocco, terrifically lovely details. It's so dull now, the decor I mean, so sadly dull. On the plus side, however, Mr Balaz seems not to have tinkered with the architecture, which is a blessing.

An Aesthete's Lament said...

Mr Balaz has an interesting PDF of an AD article about the house on his website. In credit for the interior decoration is given to society decorator Anne "Nanny" Tiffany, an aunt of Rory Cameron. Sister Parish (not Parish Hadley) freshened up the place in the late 1950s, I believe, or at least the sitting room.

An Aesthete Laments said...

Re John Churchill ... Born John Dwight Winston Churchill in Boston, MA, on 21 December 1903, he was a son of the American novelist and painter Winston Churchill (author of the once-well-known "Richard Carvel") and was head of the Charleston office of the architecture firm Pennington & Lewis in the 1930s. His clients included August Belmont 3d, for whom he designed a "French modern" country house in Gladstone, New Jersey, in 1935. By the 1940s he was living in Washington, D. C. His first wife was Mary Deshon Hand (1905-2003), a daughter of Judge Learned Hand, whom he married in 1930 and later divorced; they had one child, Jonathan Hand Churchill (1932-2010). In 1937 he married, as his second wife, Katharine Emmet Canfield, former wife of publisher Cass Canfield and future mother-in-law of Lee Radziwill. The architect died on 15 August 1961 in Vineyard Haven, MA.

Moving Company said...

I loved that houses very much. The interior as well as exterior is looking fabulous. It is Truly a gorgeous house. I am going to move in my new house but it is too simple as compared to it. I wish one day I will buy A beautiful house.

Anonymous said...

What a ghastly addition to that beautiful lawn,,,,Mrs Hull would be stunned.She was a lovely woman and the interior design of the house suited her well,,,now,it would not,,,not at all.I can still see her coming out of the elevator with my son and with the dogs in tow,,,,the house was a testament to her taste.

Kellsboro Jack said...

Nice to see the additional pictures of the home. While not cited but likely known the late Bob Guccione owned the property prior to Balazs. Guccione's wife Kathy Keeton, who predeceased up in 1997, is buried on the property.

man and van in London said...

I went through countless blogs, each different in its own way, but by far this blog is far better than the rest. In both content and design, really good job in keeping it up.

Cynthia Lambert said...

After seeing the house in person, I must agree that the interior design is sadly lacking and a big disappointment, especially after seeing how Mrs. Astor had decorated. And the pool, I would imagine, was a Guccione addition. It's better in person than in the photos, but lacks in style. It certainly could be improved upon. What is very interesting about the property are the barns and outbuildings. They are truly spectacular and numerous. They have cloverleaf windows and some of them are quite large. Andre turned one of them into a party space. The original house was not just a house, but a mansion, much larger than the present structure.

Terri Stone said...

Hello: I need some help. I'm writing an article about Churchill for a magazine and want to use some of the images in your blog. Can you tell me where you found them so I can ask permission to reproduce in my article? Many thanks!

Eric Buchanan said...

1940 construction, neo-classic/paean to Georgian-Regency?
Looking a lot like the architect may have been influenced by the Hollywood-Regency designs of Paul Williams, a very prominent designer of mid-century Los Angeles whose reputation is burnished further with each year that passes. If one isn't aware of his body of iconic work, check out the website the Paul Revere Williams Project. Truly a groundbreaking taste setter out here in the provinces (we are a tad more forward thinking than the East Coast design elite will admit to), Williams is also a significant figure in American architecture owing to his being the first African American admitted to the American Institute of Architects. Also seemingly influencing the interiors here is the pioneering interior design work of one time silent film actor William Haines, who was blackballed from the insular and regimented world of 1930s film because he would not "tone down" his overt "gayness" for studio bosses. Tall, blond and handsome, Haines became the Hollywood designer non-pareil, rendering chic high end residential interiors and production designs for film. His extant furniture and designs are now highly sought after in auctions coast to coast. Churchill's designs seem directly descended from Williams and Haines both; these photographs don't do the work product justice. Southern California light helps a lot too.