Historic Holiday House Tour and Reception

The home of Jean and Rupert Walters


Larchmont Historical Society’s December Holiday House Tour provided  a festive evening celebrating 100 years of holidays.  Guests toured the century-old craftsman beauty, decorated for the season, while enjoying music, champagne and canapes.  Board member Stacy Caffrey gave an historical overview of the home when presenting the plaque marking its inclusion into the Century Homes Club.  A portion of the proceeds from this event benefited the Cancer Support Team Organization of lower Westchester.

The following is excerpted from the program for the event.

 

 

At the home of

JEAN AND RUPERT WALTERS
126 HICKORY GROVE DRIVE EAST

Like many who choose Larchmont as their home, Jean and Rupert Walters lived in New York City with their two young boys before moving to Westchester. Rupert hails from a Southern clan in Tallahassee, Florida while Jean is a first-generation American of Irish descent who grew up in Philadelphia. That is where the two met when Rupert was in business school. A job with J. Walter Thompson brought them to New York City where they settled into a West Village apartment and their two sons were born. Eventually they located to the Upper East Side.

Colette Rodbell and Jean Walters

When their older son was five years old, Rupert was making the “reverse commute” to Purchase, New York and he thought it made sense for the family to make the big move to the suburbs. Jean was not completely sold on that idea and envisioned them ending up in Connecticut. However, a tour along the Northbound train line took her to Larchmont where she began the search for her first home. To her surprise she liked what she saw and in 1978 the Walters bought their first house at 124 Murray Avenue.

The Murray house was a good fit for the young family; close to the elementary school and it had a spacious back yard, which was simply perfect for two growing boys. There was just one problem with their new home: it lacked the “proper” center hall that Jean longed for. She lamented this fact over the decade she lived there, so much so that the “missing CR” became a standing family joke.

In 1990, feeling a change was due for the family – still longing for the elusive center hall – Jean began looking at potential properties. The search ended quickly when she saw 126 Hickory Grove Drive East, a charming Arts and Crafts bungalow perched atop a rocky outcropping in Larchmont Gardens. It had all Jean was looking for, including that elusive center hall! She bid on the house even before telling her husband and sons.

The Walters family moved into 126 Hickory Grove Drive East in 1990. Jean immediately went to work with her decorating magic and transformed a house coated with “battleship gray” paint into a cozy, colorful jewel box.

An antiquarian (she has a booth at Hampton Galleries in Stamford, CT) and a consummate collector, Jean has decorated the Walters’ home using a stylish combination of Asian objects and English furniture. She has what one describes in the trade as a “good eye”. Her decorating doctrine includes a strict attention to symmetry and the adage that every room should have something black, red and gold. Luckily, those colors complement green, her favorite color, as you will see on the tour.

Each room, while at first glance quite formal, offers a sumptuous comfort much like an English country home. Objects are artfully grouped and placed throughout the rooms inviting questions and spinning an exotic narrative. Jean’s flair for mixing antiques with textiles, texture and bold color is evident throughout the home. She is fond of changing her “stories” within each room — constantly circulating objects throughout the house and reconfigures her decorative schemes — so don’t be surprised to find that some of the items noted here may well have been moved to a new location by the day of our tour!

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

“Hickory Grove” is the name that Richard Mott gave his farm that occupied this site in the late 1 8th century. Mott was a Quaker minister and the eldest son of James Mott, owner of the famed Premium Mill that was located on the site of the present day “Mill House” at 4 Pryer Manor Road. Around 1790 Richard Mott established Mott’s Spool Cotton Mill at the top of Sheldrake Falls on land that had been part of the farm. The mill spun cotton into thread and was in operation until 1815 when the wars in Europe and the resulting trade embargoes caused the mill to falter and eventually close.

In 1911 an astute real estate developer, Clifford B. Harmon, began development of a 145 — acre property along the Sheldrake River that included Mott’s Hickory Grove area. He called it Larchmont Gardens. In a clever marketing move, Harmon attracted buyers with luxury-style amenities: a planned clubhouse, tennis courts, gardens and the use of the soon-to-be-built Larchmont Gardens Lake — now affectionately known as the Duck Pond.
The clubhouse, converted to a private residence in 1924, is known locally as “The Waterfall House” at 110 Hickory Grove Drive.

HISTORY OF OWNERSHIP OF 126 HICKORY GROVE DRIVE EAST

In July, 1911 Augusta C. Austen of 21 Laurel Place in New Rochelle — the 1910 census shows Augusta Austen, her husband Charles V. Austen, a stockbroker, a son and two daughters and two servants at that address — purchased lots 9 — 11 from the Larchmont Gardens Company, evidently the first such purchase in that development.

The Austens had taken out a mortgage on the property that was foreclosed upon in the fall of 1913 and sold at auction on December 3r of that year, purchased by Michael Staub and Salvatore Solfanelli. Staub, who apparently bought Solfanelli’s interest, was a local contractor/builder, active in buying and selling properties in the area during these years. Our Bromley Street Atlas of 1914 shows indication of a house on that property as of that date. We speculated that Staub had built the house by 1914.

However, in a recently found piece in the New Rochelle Paragraph, July 14, 1911 we see that

“Barnard & Wilder, architects, of New Rochelle have been given an order for an Italian stucco bungalow to be erected for the Clifford B. Harmon Company in their new development at Larchmont. This will be the first bungalow on this new property and is to cost about $5,000, being located on a high point, overlooking the new five acre lake now being constructed.”

If, indeed, this newspaper citation is a reference to a house being built for the Austens, then this information may suggest construction of it was completed by 1912. And, these architects have been cited in newspaper articles as designing houses in the Larchmont Woods area as early as
1909.

In 1917 the house was purchased by Susan W. Allison, wife of retired Brigadier General James N. Allison; however, he died in 1918 and the house was sold in 1919. In time more lots were acquired by subsequent purchasers allowing for some expansion and the addition of the driveway. The house changed hands several times through the years until 1990 when the Walters’ bought it.

ARCHITECTURAL DETAILS

Some of the notable Arts and Crafts details exhibited by the Walters house are the low-pitched gable rooflines and coordinating dormers, the emphasis on horizontality, the wide and unenclosed eave overhangs, the decorative brackets under the front facing gable, the stucco wall cladding, exposed stone chimney and multi-paned windows. The green door is also a classic Arts & Crafts color choice.

What is particularly interesting about this4 house is the contrast between the front and rear facades. The front looks like a bungalow house while the rear structure reveals an interesting open courtyard embraced by symmetrical wings. This courtyard is directly above the garage that was added onto the house by one of the future owners.

There has been a great deal of conjecture about the original purpose of this house: was it built on speculation? Did someone build it as a residence for personal use? The favored rumor was that it was used as a hunting clubhouse of some sort where skeet shooting took place off the second floor balcony. There are architectural details that surely raise questions: why is the second floor seemingly built like attic space? ‘What was the purpose of the small second-floor balcony? And why is there a courtyard, a feature that is not associated with the bungalow style?

One possible theory is that Michael Staub built the current house sometime after his purchase of the property with Salvatore Solfanelli. Staub, an Italian who immigrated to the United States in 1880, perhaps brought some elements of his native Italian architecture to buildings he constructed here. Although an Arts and Crafts bungalow on the exterior, 126 Hickory Grove Drive East exhibits several features that are not associated with the bungalow style that could be considered to have been drawn from certain types of Italianate architecture. Specifically, the house’s harmonious layout, the central courtyard with several symmetrically arranged doors opening on to it, the shallow second-floor balcony, the high ceilings throughout the first floor that lend the rooms an airy feeling – quite different than those in a true bungalow interior – are all elements associated with traditional Italian architecture. The house’s exterior quite necessarily follows the rules governing construction in Larchmont Gardens, which specified that all structures must be in the bungalow style and must not exceed one-and-a- half stories in height. The height restriction might explain the reason for the rather cramped second floor rooms, as much of the interior height was reserved for the house’s first-floor public rooms. In summary, it is possible that Staub’s Italian influence combined with the Larchmont Gardens building restrictions may have been responsible for the unusual finished product.

With regard to the persistent rumor that 126 Hickory Grove Drive East was once home to a gun club and possibly constructed for that purpose, it seems difficult to believe that Harmon would have allowed such an organization within his tranquil suburban development and particularly in such close proximity to the Larchmont Gardens clubhouse.

One indisputable fact is that 126 Hickory Grove Drive East is a bungalow- style on the exterior. One designer who popularized the bungalow in the United States during the early 20th century was Gustav Stickley. In 1904, Stickley began publication of a monthly magazine called “The Craftsman”. His proposed clubhouse, dated 1908 in this monthly publication, could have been the inspiration for the Larchmont Gardens clubhouse constructed three years later. By 1916, the Craftsman movement was on the wane, yet houses reflecting this style were still being built in Larchmont Gardens. The house at 126 Hickory Grove Drive East is a testament to the movement’s wide appeal.

INTERIOR NOTES

Upon entering the house, you come into the now famous, spacious center hail with its lovely balcony, which was the “selling point” for Jean. Please note the original Arts and Crafts staircase and banister, fireplace and French doors leading out to the terrace. Although the Center Hall was everything that Jean wanted, she added to “perfection” and made some revisions: namely adding a mantel and installing sconces above, as well as, lighting in the top hail, additional molding and renovating the powder room. It was done in a black and gold color scheme with a recently added Irish mirror with crystals that reportedly symbolize tears. Because of mirrors facing each other, a “Versailles Effect” is produced, making continuous, multiple reflections appear. With regard to furnishing, the front hail has always had a round center table with the newest version being a black lacquered, gilt – edged table with mother of pearl inlayed playing cards and a dolphin decorated base. Always a staple in the front hail is an armoire placed on the left side of the hall to counterpoint the staircase.

Taking in the center hall is to absorb the philosophy and history of the Walters’ approach to decorating. Years ago while living in the city, Jean started “junking” and “antiquing” as her avocation and was bitten by the collecting bug. She has a fondness for Oriental items, especially porcelain and black papier mache boxes, Chinoisiere furniture, as well as, English mahogany boxes, antique horn and dolphin items, bamboo furniture, mirrors and silver. Throughout the house, you will see examples of these items, although many have been stored to make room for the abundant Christmas decorations. Jean is constantly on the lookout for “unique, special finds” since she is in the Antique business, but mainly enjoys the pure joy of discovery Items in the house are frequently changed and often spend a period of time in the house prior to being relegated to her Antique Booth. A prime example would be the various wall sconces and chandeliers that have been added to the house. Most are the 4th version and similar scenarios exist with the furnishings. Her style is eclectic; mixing the old with the new and what may seem worn to some is seen as “patina” to Jean. Philosophically, Jean tends to change rooms frequently as regards color and theme, always decorating with the primary emphasis being on entertaining.

The Library at the Walters

Keeping the above in mind we will enter the Living Room on the right. Since it is an inside room, yellow has been chosen as the dominant color and the furniture is arranged in various conversation areas to accommodate both large and small groups. On the far left you will see a collection of Rose Medallion porcelain and various pieces of black, Chinoisiere furniture placed throughout the room. Almost all the porcelain in the room is 19th century. The mantle is new to the house that replaced the original one which was brick. Many of the lamps in the room are Oriental, some of them having been made from vases. Continuing with the Asian theme, you will note the hand painted leather screen in the corner. As you continue right, you will enter the green sun room, aka, the family room which is cool in the summer and cozy in the winter, all due to leaves being on or off the trees. The furniture has been around for quite some time with numerous re-uphoisterings based on the color scheme and theme of the room. Again we see the Asian influence in both the lamps, papier mache and lacquer items that are presently in the bookcases making room for Christmas decorations.

Back into the Living Room turn right into Rupert’s Study with its burgundy walls and ever – lighted fireplace. The mantel and bookcases were recently added to the room. As in other rooms, you will see an Oriental influence, love of dramatic colors and a collection of English boxes and Celadon porcelain. ‘When you are in this room, with its entrance to the terrace and view of the kitchen across the terrace, you will observe the fact that we have lost the architectural Arts and Craft feel of the house and will be struck by the unusual shape of the home, namely it is configured like the letter “U”, both up- and down-stairs. In warmer weather, we would have you go out onto the terrace, that is over the garage, so as to give you a better “feel” of the exterior aspect of the house, but now we want you to re-enter the living room, go back into the center hail and proceed upstairs.

The upstairs consists of three bedrooms, one-and-one-half baths and a master bedroom with an en-suite bath. As you are at the top of the stairs, you will see two bedrooms and a bath off a narrow hail to your right. One bedroom is English style and the other, Asian style (which is presently both a bedroom and home office) with a small, renovated, rudimentary bath in-between. Both bedrooms have campaign chests, one English and one Asian, but both consisting of a chest on chest with handles on the sides for carrying. These campaign chests were used for traveling with the English ones used mainly for ship traveling.

As you continue around the hall, the next bedroom, with French doors, is the guest room. It is small but bright and cheery with a half bath and is decorated with bamboo furniture. All the pieces have been in numerous rooms throughout this house and our previous house, including both bathrooms and kitchens.

Next we come to the Master Suite/Bathroom/Dressing Room with its Oriental theme and decorated with French faux bamboo furniture, mostly circa 1850-1890. The master suite was renovated around the early 2000’s and has turned out to be quite functional. In the bathroom are two of Jean’s favorite pieces; a Prayer Chair and an Oriental runner the restoration of which is Jean’s next project.

Now return down the stairs, through the Center Hall and into the Dining Room. The table from the 1940’s has been used for many parties. If it could talk it would have many interesting stories to tell. The dining chairs, which are about the seventh set that the family has used, will be the last, since they have been personalized with the family letter. The Dumb Waiter at the back of the room is English and was purchased at a Westport Show from an Antique Dealer who Jean had met while her older son was living in London.

Next we enter the Pantry/Bar and the kitchen where the most significant renovations took place in 1992. This was followed by the addition of the fireplace in 2005 and a subsequent upgrade in 2008. A major reconfiguration with the removal of a small bedroom and bath resulted in the present layout. To give you an idea of the changes, the basement stairwell was previously located in the space that is now in front of the refrigerator and the stove was located in the pantry. The sliding glass doors were added to give access to the terrace and make for a wonderful access of the outdoors and a flow of traffic from one side of the house to the other.

We hope that you have enjoyed your tour and the gracious hospitality of the Walters family.

A portion of the proceeds of this event will go to support The Cancer Support Team in memory of the Walters’ son Adrian who passed away in May, 2010.

Licensed by the New York State Department of Health, The Cancer Support Team is the only cancer-focused, nonprofit homecare organization in the area offering free services. For more than 30 years, the support services of CST’s staff of nurses and social workers, as well as an extensive network of volunteers, have been available to those living in lower Westchester County Services include nursing care management, social work counseling, advocacy, education, information about community resources, financial and transportation assistance. (www.cancersupportteam.org)

For further information about Cancer Support Team’s services, you can call 914-777-2777 or email jdobrof@cancersupportteam.org.
We join the Team in thanking you for your generous and continued support.