Sunday, August 12, 2012


                    . . . . .The Best House of the Year . . . . .
The east side of 'Killenworth", Mr. George D. Pratt's home at Glen Cove, L. I. Architecturally the building is based upon the early Renaissance  in England. It is built of a seamed faced  granite, varying in color through gray, gray-green and buff.  
 To Mr. George D. Pratt goes the $1,000 prize offered for the best house built and first occupied in 1913 - "Killenworth", Glen Cove, L. I., of which Messrs. Trowbridge & Ackerman were the architects.
Upon the upper level is the south terrace, connecting the loggia with the tea house which is outside the  picture to the left.
 THE May number of Country Life in America announced the offer of a prize for the best house occupied for the first time in 1913. It is unnecessary now to repeat all the conditions and details of the offer, but it is well to recall the fact that the entries were judged on a point system that put houses of all sizes and a great range of cost as nearly as possible upon the same footing before the judges. In the hundred points representing perfection, the plan counted 35; exterior appearance, 25; interior furnishing and fittings, 25; setting (by which is meant the arrangement of walks, drives, subsidiary buildings and the planting), 15 points. 

 It is the unanimous opinion of the judges, Mr. Guy Lowell of New York, Mr. Howard Shaw of Chicago, and the Editor, that Killenworth, the country home of Mr. George D. Pratt, at Glen Cove, L. I., designed by Messrs. Alexander Buel Trowbridge and Frederick L. Ackerman, is the best house submitted. A check for $1,000 has been sent to Mr: Pratt and the Country Life in America gold medal with a check for $500 t0 Messrs. Trowbridge & Ackerman.

 The judges have also named the following entries for Honorable Mention, and these houses will appear in forthcoming issues of the magazine: The home of Mr. F. C. Morgan, Senneville, P. Q., Canada - David Shennan, architect; the home of Mr. Boardman Robinson, Forest Hills, L. I. - Albro & Lindeberg, architects; the ranch house of Mr. Pierre E. Letchworth, Covina, Cal. Reginald D. Johnson, architect; a house built for Dr. George Woodward, St. Martin's Gate, St. Martin's, Pa. - Robert R. McGoodwin,  achitect; the home of Mr. Clayton S. Cooper, Fieldston, N. Y. - Albro & Lindeberg, architects; and the home of Mr. Charles A. Slosson, Riverside, Conn. - Louis L. Stockton and Henry C. Pelton, architects.
The pool occupies the low spot filled by a rose gardern in connection with the house that was torn down, and by its location upon a major axis of the dessign, determines the location of the house upon the site.   It is used as a swimming pool.
 While the judges are quite satisfied with the high degree of excellence shown by the prize winner and the houses given honorable mention, they were disappointed with the general average of the entries. Both Mr. Shaw and Mr. Lowell recalled a number of houses built in 1913 that, had they been entered, would have received the serious attention of the judges. There were too many houses entered that were merely good in a superficial way, failing the acid test of a rating on the point system. There were many entries that fell into the class of the merely commonplace - quite lacking individuality. Furnishing proved a stumbling block in a great number, and there were far too many in which the owners, designers, or both, had failed to make the most of the chosen site in the matter of the setting and the planting. At the same time, it must be acknowledged that there were extremely few entries that were hopelessly bad - far less than must have been the case in a contest of this kind if held five years ago.
Block plan, showing the faultless coordination of the various parts of the building with its surroundings - particularly the sunken service court.
 IN ORDER to comprehend clearly the problem of "Killenworth", it is necessary to study the block plan with contour lines and to understand that the prevailing summer breezes come from the south, while the principal view over Long Island Sound is toward the north - the points of the compass are indicated in the lower right corner. The owners had occupied a house on the exact site of "Killenworth" for fifteen years and were therefore thoroughly familiar with the big essentials of the problem.   The architects were given the opportunity of living in the old residence for a month during the summer immediately preceding the active study of the problem in order to become acquainted with the local conditions, such as the points of the compass, breezes, views, grades, approach, etc.
The east facade in which the central bay forms the main entrance, facing upon the forecourt, the extent of which is shown more clearly in the plan. On the first floor the bay at the right indicates the dining room; that on the left. Mr. Pratt's study.
 In the former residence the entrance drive swept up the grade and passed under a porte cochere at a point corresponding to the axis of the pool on the south terrace. The loop required for turning a carriage or car was approximately 100o feet to the west of the porte cochere. It was obvious that a very valuable portion of the grounds was given over to the entrance drive at the expense of the outdoor life of the family. The first point of importance determined was, therefore, the entrance door at the eastern end of the site. The porch was placed at the western end to secure both the prevailing summer breezes and the view. The dining-room was placed in the northeast corner to secure the morning sun and the superb view over the Sound. 
The service court lies beyond the far wall at the right, completely isolated and on a lower level.
 The low ground at the southeast was chosen for the service court because of its proximity to an existing service drive, and particularly because of an obvious advantage in placing the steam boilers and in subduing as much as possible the vibrations and noise of the machinery for operating the vacuum cleaner, the elevator, and the refrigeration plant. It will be observed also that the service is placed where it will be least likely to be a disturbance to the owner's family. Supplies are brought to the service court either by way of the service drive from the south or by way of the main entrance drive through the eastern end of the long forecourt and around by the curved road to the south of the forecourt. 
Stairway leading from the south terrace to the flower garden, with the service court hidden at the right.
 The level of the service court is one story below the general basement floor and two stories below the main living floor. By sinking the boiler room floor still lower, the steam supplies and returns are carried in a tunnel under the floor of the general basement, thus avoiding the usual confusion of overhead pipes so frequently accepted as a necessary evil in the average house.

 The owners gave the architects a complete programme of requirements with approximate dimensions of the principal rooms, and a request to include an open attic on the third floor, lighted with dormer windows, but containing no family bedrooms. The survey showed ground sloping downward toward the south, north, and east. At the western end of the site stands a small hill which is surmounted by a medieval water tower in shingted architecture. The need of screening this was an early requirement of the programme. On the site of the present pool there existed a sunken rose garden surrounded by a slender latticed trellis for the support of rose vines. While the character of this garden was charming, it was too small in area and scale to suit the new development, and the larger and more massive pool treatment was substituted. It will be observed that the pool treatment entered the problem at an early date, for a glance at axes shows that the pool fixes the position of the house on its site. The south terrace with balustrade and tea house grew out of the desire to utilize to the utmost the ground near the house, and at the same time to screen the water tower. The heavy planting serves the double purpose of  masking the water tower and of providing an effective background for the tea house. The architecture preferred by the owners was a simple, unaffected adaptation of the Early Renaissance in England. It was particularly stated, greatly to the satisfaction of the architects, that the more ornate examples of English work were to be avoided. The desired impression was that which is obtained through carefully studied proportions and scale rather than through the use of ornamental forms which commonly are associated with Jacobean architecture and which too often form the basis of adverse critical comment. If "Killenworth" lives as a specimen of vital architecture, defying the caprices of changing fashions, it will be because of the fact that it is not a copy of any structure in England, or anywhere else, but is a sincere attempt to solve a special problem peculiar to the Glen Cove site and applicable to no other site which does not possess a similar collection of local governing conditions.   While  its architecture is inspired from English sources, it is interpreted through American eyes and controlled and governed by American selective taste. The materials used in its construction are all American with the exception of the steel casement windows, which were made in England. The general wall material is a seam-faced granite from Massachusetts; the trim is Indiana limestone; the slate is from Vermont. The house is fireproof and very substantially constructed. With the kind of care such houses usually receive, it ought to last indefinitely.
The square hall at the head of the entrance stairs, looking into the gallery. The walls and floor are of a warm buff marble.
 The interior differs from the exterior in that the range of English periods is wider. The simpler, cruder forms of Jacobean carved ornament are contrasted with the more conventional and precise details of the Adam and Georgian periods. The living room, gallery, and dining room are designed in the spirit of Jacobean work, the music room in Adam, while the reception room, morning room and bedrooms are generally Georgian.  Each room is the result of separate study. Thus, because of a low ceiling, the reception room is detailed in a much finer scale than, for example, the morning room, yet both are inspired from the same original source. 
The gallery, paneled in old English oak,. The scheme of decoration has a special significance in view of Mr. Pratt's great love of hunting.  
 The Jacobean ornament in the gallery is heavier than much of the similar ornament found in English homes, but it was felt that the ample dimensions of this room, both vertical and horizontal, demanded a scale to fit the room rather than a copy, line for line, of some ancient ornamental forms. 
The living room, in which is paneled in  buuternut, with the lartger beams carved. This room is about twenty-five by forty feet in size and has anthoer great bay at the oppisite end.
 A modern flavor is imparted to the living-room through the use of butter-nut tor the trim and ceiling, toned to a dull soft brown quite unlike the typical oak treatment in English rooms. 
With windows to north, east and west, the dining room occupies the end of the north wing. In the steel casements are leaded some odd bits of old stained glass that Mr.Pratt has picked up from time to time.
 The gallery, dining room, den, and main stairs are in oak. The boys' room is in gumwood.
Overlooking the south terrace and pool is the music room, gray and white in the of the brothers Adam.
 The remaining rooms have painted trim, excepting in the case of the music room doors, which have mahogany faces on the music room side. The  house  is furnished  rather  simply, considering its size and character, and with an eye to comfort. The owners and their guest have declared that it is livable and homelike, which means, after all, the fulfillment of a primary condition in a "programme" of house architecture.

 MR. PRATT would like to add a word to the above out line of the problem as described by the architects. In the family's experience, the house has proven itself most livable, both for the everyday family life and for entertaining. On the main floor the relation of the rooms to each other is especially well worked out. They open into one another in a particularly spacious and pleasing way, affording long vistas on the
many axes. 

In spite of the size of the house and the number of  its rooms, it will be noticed that nearly every room has an outlook in two or more directions.
 It will be noticed that, in spite of the great size of the building, almost every room has at least two exposures, due to the fact that the whole structure is made up of rings. 
The owners bedroom, extending across the full width of the west wing with exposure to north, west and south. The paper is soft figured gray.
 On the second floor the majority of the bedrooms are arranged to receive the coolest breezes in the summer - breezes which are seldom lacking on a site so near Long Island Sound.
The arrangement of the owners' sleeping quarters is particularly interesting, with the two dressing rooms, spacious wardrobe space, baths and boudoir.
 Mr. Pratt's satisfaction with 'Killenworth" and the success with which the problem has been solved by the architects are both indicated by the owner's statement that if he were building  again  he would have no change to make in the house.   A statement of that kind is infrequently enough made by the man who has recently built a small house or one of moderate size, but such an expression  of satisfaction takes on a greater significance when applied to a house the size of "Killenworth".

 Click HERE to see all posts to date for "Killenworth". HERE for wikimapia location.


  1. I agree with the jury; even today, the furnishings of a new house are often not suited to the architecture. And not just in terms of style, but in quality, scale, arrangement and finish, the house, its furnishings and its landscape setting are too often not considered in coordinating terms.

    I was expecting a much more modest house to win the competition. However, I wouldn't have challenged the decision.

  2. The Honorable Mention houses became Country Life's "Best Twelve Country Houses in America". Look for those twelve here in future posts.

  3. Killenworth has to be among the very earliest houses in which the design and placement of a swimming pool was an integral part of the overall design. In fact, Killenworth must be among the earliest houses in America with a swimming pool: I have been told that prior to the 1940's, the "science" of keeping a swimming pool- the filtration systems and chemicals- was all but unknown, and that the protocol for keeping a pool involved bi-weekly emptying and scrubbing, resulting in perpetually freezing water- and a great deal of work.

    I especially like the Adamesque music room. It adds an appealingly authentic touch- like so many Tudor manors that were updated over the years.

  4. Can't say they made a bad decision. One of the most beautiful and complete estate properties on Long Island even today.