Mott Schmidt Biography

Country Houses
by Mark Alan Hewitt

In 1923 Schmidt repeated the clapboard idiom for banker and former townhouse client Clarence Dillon. In this sprawling summer house in Dark Harbor, Maine, he masterfully assembled a series of cottage-like elements in an offset, interlocking block along the shore of the island (Figure 26). Since he was building in an established summer colony, near the clapboard, Colonial-Revival Isleboro Inn (Edmund Evans, 1917), Schmidt might have felt compelled to use the local vernacular. And, as he was building a rather large house, keeping to the modest New England cottage idiom was hardly easy. Yet the shingled Dillon house achieved the informality and seaside spirit of a summer cottage while fulfilling the needs of a large household. It is Schmidt's most successful rustic house and can be compared with the nearby Antoine Devereux house (1917) by Mellor, Meigs and Howe (Figure 27). The Philadelphia firm treated this clapboard house in a manner indebted to the English Arts & Crafts - much like one of their stone houses on the Main Line. Schmidt was far more faithful to the nuances of the Maine vernacular, if one discounts the odd stair tower on the north side.

Schmidt seemed to hit his stride in country house work by the mid 1920s. His first masterly design was the Serge Obolensky house, called Marienruh (Figure 28); executed for Vincent Astor's sister on his estate in Rhinebeck, New York. For the first time he turned directly to grand 18th century American country houses for inspiration, basing his design primarily on the Matthias Hammond House (1770) by William Buckland in Annapolis, and Montpelier (1751) (Figure 29) in Prince George County, Maryland. The plan of the Obolensky house was a pragmatic adaptation of the model whose "double pile" diagram was compromised for reasons of comfortable circulation and room placement. Schmidt was never adverse to distorting the symmetry within a block to accommodate a stair, powder room or pantry. Unlike his Beaux-Arts-trained predecessors, he placed convenience before formal issues. Still, the Obolensky house has the aura of a great colonial house. Its proportions recall those of the Hammond house, as do the pedimented facades of the center block and the dependencies on the garden side, which are rectangular rather than octagonal (which Schmidt did try in an earlier scheme). The Obolensky house is executed in random ashlar stone rather than brick, and thus acquires a different surface character with different demands in articulation. Schmidt's cornices and door surrounds are more robust than Buckland's, as they must be to complement the rougher surface of the stone. His soft pencil renderings capture the effects of light falling on these variegated surfaces (Figure 30).

FIGURE 26. Dillon Summer House, Terrace and Harbor Facade
Mark Alan Hewitt
FIGURE 27. Mellor, Meigs and Howe. Devereux House, Dark Harbor, Maine, 1917
Monograph, Mellor, Meigs and Howe
FIGURE 28. Marienruh, Garden View
FIGURE 29. Montpelier, Prince George County, Maryland, 1751
Great Georgian Houses in America
FIGURE 30. Marienruh, Ava Obolensky Country House, Rhinebeck, New York. Pencil elevation study by Mott Schmidt for entry elevation.
Avery Architectural Archives