Just Like New

Edward Durrel Stone designed Westchester's Mandel House- one of the country's great International Style residents- 70 years ago, but its sleek lines are as fresh as ever.



Just Like New

 

Though celebrating its 70th birthday, Westchester’s

Mandel House looks as modern as ever

 

By Reed Sparling

 

The drive passes through an allée of tall pines before spiraling gradually up the side of a round hill. When it reaches the top, the view is stunning, and unexpected. There, blindingly white on a sunny day, sits one of the finest International Style houses in the country — and a real rarity in the Valley.

 

The Richard Mandel House, in Bedford Hills (Westchester), was built in 1934 by Edward Durrell Stone for the Midwest department store magnate. Later in his career, the architect became known (and, in many circles, reviled) for his take on classical forms, such as his Mayan-inspired headquarters for PepsiCo in Purchase and the temple-like Kennedy Center in Washington. But back in the ’30s, fresh from a trip to Europe, where he was inspired by the new, pared-down architecture of the Bauhaus in Germany, Stone was thinking only of the future.

 

The International Style was partly a reaction to the architectural excesses of the Gilded Age (when, as one wag has noted, too much ornamentation was not enough). It relied on factory-produced building materials, such as glass, concrete, and steel. Sty-listically (and simplistically), it consisted of a series of boxes laid out in geometric patterns, one atop another. Inside, there was lots of open space, and rooms tended to flow from one to another. It was the minimalism of architecture, and simplicity was paramount. It became the predominant style for office buildings, but it never quite caught on with homeowners. Houses that were built tended to be on the West Coast.

 

The Mandel House has been likened to an ocean liner or aircraft. With its stacked decks, the ship metaphor seems more apt. Except for the circular dining room that juts out from one side, it is all straight lines and right angles, and sleek as can be. The white stucco exterior is relieved only by horizontal bands of windows. It looks shockingly out of place on its verdant aerie, which makes it all the more breathtaking. (Stone intended the house to stand apart from its surroundings.)

 

The unprepossessing entryway, next to the three-car garage, passes through a solarium with a built-in planter and then into a hallway. Off the hallway, there is a powder room for the ladies, a bathroom for the men, and a circular barroom whose curving turquoise banquette sits in its original position. A wide, gently rising flight of stairs — perfect for Jean Harlow to make an entrance — leads up to a spacious living room surrounded by a ribbon of windows. There is also an oak-paneled library with built-in shelves, and the dining room, the house’s pièce de résistance. Constructed of a combination of glass blocks and clear glass, and featuring a black terrazzo floor, the room literally glows in the sun. The nearby kitchen contains most of its original stainless steel fixtures.

 

In fact, with a few exceptions, the house is almost entirely intact. The original sinuous aluminum stair rails and cork floors are still there. Much of the furniture, which was designed specifically for the house by Donald Deskey, also remains. (Deskey created the best Art Deco spaces in Radio City Music Hall, as well as the lasting product designs for Prell shampoo, Crest toothpaste, and Tide detergent.) His chrome chairs and lamps — and especially the Bakelite-topped dining room table — perfectly complement the rooms’ understated elegance. It’s rumored that George Gershwin played the Deskey-designed piano in the living room.

 

The main floor also contains a guest suite, as well as a squash court. Upstairs there are four bedrooms (including a huge master suite with more Deskey furniture), several of which have their own private terraces overlooking nearby woods and the Croton Reservoir. The estate encompasses 21 acres today (down from the original 100), and features a swimming pool, tennis court, and lots of rolling lawn.

 

The house’s pristine condition is the result of 10 years of toil by its third owners, Eric and Nanette Brill, who reportedly spent four years convincing the second owners to sell it to them. “Theirs has been such an unbelievable labor of love. These people are really devoted to it — and they are purists,” says Tracy Cunniff, a broker with Houlihan Lawrence in Katonah, the realtor handling the house’s current sale. In addition to their restoration work, the Brills are responsible for bringing back much of the museum-quality Deskey furniture (some of which may stay with the house). Now eager for warmer climes, they have put the 7,500-square-foot gem on the block at $5.9 million. Listed since last fall, it has attracted a steady stream of architecture fanatics, says Cunniff, but as of press time no buyer.

 

There’s no doubt that eventually the right owner will come along. After all, as Cunniff says while gazing at the house, still amazingly modern after all these years, “When you think 1934, it’s just mind-
boggling.” — Reed Sparling

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