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 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)
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.
Photographs : Vintage interior shots form Architectural Digest, 1979, vintage photographs and recent interiors from the newLocusts website
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.