Tuesday, December 6, 2011

"Red Oaks" the Summer Home of John M. Carrere

By Bart Ferree, 1909
THE homes of architects are quite apt to have an interest to the inquisitive public somewhat beyond their individual merits. The basis of this belief is obvious: architects, whose lives are devoted to the building of houses and other structures, are popularly supposed to devote the best fruits of their abilities to their personal use. Moreover, in their own homes, the architect may be allowed a freedom in arrangement and design that he rarely has when working for a client. These, and other reasons, doubtless account for the interest such homes excite, although, after all, the simple fact that it is an architect's own house is the most important reason of all.
"Red Oak": the entrance drive and porches.

However curious one may be concerning the homes of architects, criticism is immediately disarmed before the very lovely and altogether delightful house that Mr. Carrere has built for his summer's use in Westchester County. There are few houses anywhere more simple or more delightful than this. Built scarce more than three years ago, its low stone walls seem always to have nestled behind the ancient apple orchard that screens it from the roadway. It is a house that, as will presently be disclosed, combines many successes and advantages; but in no way is it more successful than in presenting an old-time flavor in a modern way. It is, in short, a house that produces the old-time spirit, rather than the old-time forms, and it shows an application of this spirit to modern conditions and necessities in a thoroughly charming way. The success of this designing is much greater than is apparent; for, while the old forms and methods are everywhere abundant and have often been most copiously used, the revivifying of the old spirit is a much rarer art, the rarest, indeed, of modern architectural performances. Mr. Carrere has certainly accomplished this with extraordinary facility and perfect charm in his delightful country home, and this is at once its most penetrating and obvious quality.
Most observers of buildings will doubtless approach this house with sundry preconceptions as to what kind of a dwelling this very successful architect might have built for himself. Whatever these may be they will be quickly dissipated. Mr. Carrere would doubtless vigorously deny the suggestion that this is scarcely the kind of a house he would have built when he returned from Paris—was it twentyfive years ago?—and began the erection of the splendid and stately structures that have made his firm famous and brought him the fine rewards of a brilliantly successful professional career. The point is academic and need not be discussed; it is more pertinent to remark that the creation of a simple old-time American country house in the midst of the matured career of the foremost apostle of the French school in America is a splendid triumph of catholicity in design and a really superb demonstration of the designer's masterful resourcefulness. And to live in this house, and to delight in it shows that, after all, it is pure beauty that is the fascinating aspect of architecture, not the arrangement of grandiose forms or the solving of complicated problems. Of both of these Mr. Carrere's work yields the amplest testimony, yet while these matters are completely absent from his own house it is easy to see that the multitudinous experience of one of the most extensive and most varied architectural careers in this country have been but the preliminaries to the creation of this very beautiful house.
View today with terrace ballroom addition

In other words, Mr. Carrere not only knew what he wanted, but he knew how to secure it. It is a fact that should lift the home of every architect from the world of the commonplace and put it in a class by itself. Often enough it does, but I hazard the suggestion that it is seldom so delightfully done as here. The property consists of about thirty-five acres and comprises both open fields and woodlands. It was practically devoid of buildings and there were, therefore, no encumbrances to interfere with the creation of a country estate of moderate size. The house stands back some distance from the public highway, so that little more than its roofs and chimneys are visible above its screen of apple trees. The gardener's cottage is almost directly on the road; to one side is the garage; beyond it is the barn; on the other side, a spacious strawberry field, enclosed behind a picket fence; farther in is the tennis court. The entrance driveway is pleasantly bordered, right and left, with thick growths of rugosa and other roses.
Steps to the entrance drive
The house is a low spreading structure built in three wings. The first of these, which is nearest the public road, contains the hall, staircase and living-room; beyond it, toward the wood, is the kitchen wing; at the back, and at right angles to the other two, is the third wing containing the dining-room. Of land there was a plenty, and of compact building there was no need; so the house was spaced out upon the land with great ampleness of area, and yet with a keen eye to convenience. The chief rooms are thus not only spacious, but amply lighted by windows of generous size, and they are so related to each other that while each part is convenient of access there is quite a marked sense of isolation that is as rare as it is agreeable.

It is built of stone, rough cut and laid in thick mortar. It is "Red Oaks" stone, since it was blasted out of the ground, and much of it was obtained from the space now occupied by the cellar. It is two stories in height, with a pointed roof containing the attic; in the dining-room wing this is elaborated into "dormitories," a couple of great open rooms in which the beds are separated by curtains and which are delightful camping grounds for the young people of the house and their guests. The roof is thus higher here and is broken by a row of large dormers on either side which do not appear in the other parts. And the house is all house; that is to say, it is simply walls and openings. There are no architectural features; no emphasizing of parts; no ornamental fronts; no notes of emphasis. Everything is plain and straightforward, directly simple and charming in its simplicity. It is true there is, at the end of the living-room, and hence on the first part of the house as it is approached, a great square porch, enclosed within a wrought-iron railing, with wrought-iron supports, a floor of Welsh tile, and a ceiling of wood painted blue with white beams; a similar porch serves for the carriage entrance, but, save these, there are no external features of any sort.
The living-room porch and its floral treatment
The windows have sills and lintels of gray stone that so approximate the general character of the walls as to be scarce discernible. The outer woodwork is painted white, the shutters of the first story being solid, with heart-shaped light openings above, while those of the second story have small solid lower panels, and movable upper blinds. All these upper windows everywhere have low iron grilles inserted in their lower parts. There is no cornice, but the eaves project somewhat and are sheathed below with boards painted white. There is a lambrequin-like finish to the gable ends, which give the old-time character to the house. And it stands here, on rising ground, beneath the shade of the great old oak from which the name of the place is derived, as though it had always been here; yet it is a thoroughly modern house designed by on of the most modern of living architects.
Great oak overshadowing the garden

The walls are all trellised with wood painted white, and will in time, no doubt, be lusciously covered with vines. Already there has been a fine growing of rhododendrons at the base of the house by the entrance roadway, a veritable thicket broken only for in-planting of two rare old box trees of most unusual form and growth.  The drawing-room porch has its own little outer steps by which it may be reached from the roadway. The steps are of flagstones, the platform of red brick laid in herring-bone pattern, and a lion lies asleep on the right-hand pedestal. The house is entered by a glazed vestibule exterior to the house and beneath the carriage porch. The hall is a square room, the walls of which are completely lined with wood in small panels painted white. The plain ceiling has an ornamental centerpiece in plaster, from which depends a bronze hanging-lamp. The fireplace has a mantel of black and yellow marble; with a hearth of the same beautiful stone inlaid with slabs of white marble; the andirons are wrought-iron. The floor is of oak, as are all the other floors of this story, on which are laid handsome Oriental rugs.
The hall is square, with paneled walls of wood painted white
The living-room opens on the right. It is a long, low apartment, lighted by windows on three sides. The walls are paneled throughout to the ceiling in a double series of panels, small below, large above, all painted French gray. The ceiling is white and without ornamentation. The mantel is of polished mottled gray marble, with black marble facings and black and gray marble hearth; the andirons are brass and the screen is wrought-iron. The window curtains are of thin white Swiss, with shades in two tones of buff, a treatment that prevails elsewhere on this floor. Bronze candle lights are applied to the walls, and the furniture coverings are green and red velour and tapestry.
The living-room is lighted on three sides and is finished in French gray

On the left of the hall a small room on the entrance front serves as a library and writing-room. It has a low paneled wainscot of wood painted white, above which the walls are covered with a beautiful tapestry paper in tones of green. There is a molded plaster cornice and a plain white ceiling The whole of one side is completely shelved in wood painted white. Behind this room is a corridor that leads to the service wing. Before these important parts are reached space is found for the stairs to the second story, and a "dust" room, fitted with built-in lockers, where there may be a preliminary cleaning up after a game of tennis.

Directly in face, beyond the hall as one enters it, is a passage which fulfills the function of a conservatory, and which obviously leads to the third wing' of the house. It is presently disclosed to be the approach to the dining-room. It is a space that has the distinct quality of a gallery. Three great windows on the right practically occupy all of that wall. There is a low wainscot of wood painted white, and the upper walls are covered with a paper, light gray in tone, of an old-time type, presenting Roman warriors in chariots, framed in small oblongs. This paper, by the way, is used for the halls and corridors everywhere, and is highly effective. The floor is paved with marble, in squares of black and white, with a border of plain white marble. The furniture is of the conservatory type, and is of iron, painted pea-green. In the midst of summer this corridor is, of course, barren of plants; and, hence, a welcome and brilliant color note is furnished by the gorgeous Japanese lantern of embroidered red and blue silk that depends from the ceiling.
The passage to the dining-room
The dining-room at the end is the final apartment in this wing. It is a square room, paneled to the ceiling in wood in two series of panels, disposed between thin pilasters that support the molded cornice. The ceiling is enriched with a central ornamentation. It is a white room, the chief note of color in which is given by the handsome mantelpiece of black and white marble which is built against a large panel in the center of the furthest wall. There are windows on three sides, which approach quite near the floor and are provided with wide sills. There is a central bronze chandelier and side lights, and the furniture is antique, with seat covers of two-toned red velvet.
The dining-room is wood-paneled and has a handsome mantel of black and white marble
The windows at the far end open on to the breakfast-room, which is actually an open porch, with square piers of stone, without enclosing parapets at the further end, with but low stone enclosures on the sides with a free opening in the center. It is floored with Welsh tile. All around it are high slim trees, and just beyond is a wall of old stone that separates Mr. Carrere's property from the open fields adjoining it.
The breakfast room beside the garden

From the breakfast-room one may conveniently enter the sunken garden that has been developed in the angle formed by the living-room and dining-room wings. In the center is a great square of grass, with rounded box trees planted at intervals and a sun-dial at one end. All around this is a narrow path, then a wide border of flowers, mostly of the old-fashioned type, and brilliantly gay at all seasons, and then a wider path. Another gay border completes the floral embellishment. The paths are lined with narrow pieces of flagstones set upright, and the whole is enclosed within a stone wall, capped with flagstone. At the head of the garden—opposite the house—is the magnificent oak tree that gives its name to the place, and which is one of choicest possessions.
Formal garden
While all the parts of the first story are very convenient and direct, it is only on the second floor that the really great size of the house is readily apparent. This is due chiefly to the fact that the lower rooms are articulated with the hall, while in the second floor they open on to lengthy corridors, the chief of which are arranged at right angles to each other. There is a longer, freer vista above than there is below, and the house that seemed modest enough in size below develops into a mansion of the first rank in the second story. The triple division that obtained below is preserved above. One wing serves as a guest wing; another is for the use of the family; and the third is for the servants. The bedrooms are everywhere charming, with their ample exposures and pretty wall papers, most of which have an old-time suggestiveness, but which are everywhere decorative in a very delightful way.

"Red Oaks" is so new a property that the ultimate development of the landscape is yet to be done. Even after three short years of growth there are many evidences of permanent improvements. The house has, as it were, so settled down that one who did not know the land before its walls were raised, can not picture to his mind the site without it. The planting near and around the house is ample and well grown. The old apple orchard has been recovered from the damage that time brings to apple orchards everywhere, and is surely as good as new, if not better; for the trees are of lusty growth, and the evidences of disease and decay have been carefully removed. The grass here, beyond the house, is beautifully kept, with a rock or two jutting up above its surface that the under world may be better kept in touch with the miracles the modern architect can create.

It still survives - as a party and wedding venue - click here.


  1. Et voila, and there you are! Welcome to blogging---and finally, the explanation for Half Pudding, Half Sauce!

    Love this placep---interesting contrast to Hastings's place---the McKim to Hastings's White, don't you think?

  2. Thanks DED! And to Zach for a his encouragement. This is my third incarnation. HPHS seemed fit for a name and then logical to highlight Hastings for the first posts.

    Contrast also to his flamboyant private and public projects. I like it also. Comfortable and elegant comes to mind. The Historic Aerial link at wikimapia shows the wide open acreage surrounding place in 1949. Big contrast today and again in the land the still holds out from development around Bagatelle. Although that is slowing eroding. I have his Port Washington house before Bagatelle. I'll post with Carrere's NYC townhouse. Another contrast!

    I would like to do a similar round of posts for CPHGilbert but have yet to find the same type of peer write ups as I did for Hastings, Platt Atterbury, McKim etc. Have you systematically erased all accolades to his work?

  3. For whatever reason all the Gilbert stuff I find is usually textless. It seems perhaps earlier architectural magazines had a touch of DED in them as well...like he was good enough to warrant a photograph and small mention but not worth a paragraph a more. Quite unfortunate.