Mott Schmidt Biography

Beginnings and Sutton Place
by Mark Alan Hewitt

For Anne Morgan, who devoted much of her time to women's causes and took in callers on a daily basis, the degrees of privacy provided by Schmidt's plan were welcome. For Vanderbilt, a busy hostess in her own right and widow of one of the richest men in America, the decor of the rooms was crucial in establishing the taste and distinction which were expected of her.

The interiors of the Morgan and Vanderbilt houses reflect the clients' desire for city houses which were both comfortable to live in and elegant places in which to entertain. Their character was delicate, even feminine, in keeping with Elsie de Wolfe's concept that "the American home is always the woman's home ... men are forever guests in our homes, no matter how much happiness they may find there". The Vanderbilt house was planned around Anne Vanderbilt's collection of antique furniture and a few treasured objects, such as the deal paneling from an old English room in the "little Georgian parlor;" and a set of Dutch decorative paintings which established the color scheme of the dining room. The muralist Allyn Cox painted the walls of the circular stairway specifically to harmonize with the two Chinoiserie pagodas which were originally part of the Royal Pavilion in Brighton (Figure 8). American though the architecture is, the interiors of both houses evoke a distinctly English feeling, especially the imported Georgian panelling used in Miss Morgan's office (Figure 9).

Schmidt learned important lessons on the planning and decoration of houses from Elsie de Wolfe, and through her found his own style. The two designers balanced each other as artists -- the architect provided a disciplined handling of space, proportion and a sense of historical accuracy, the decorator injected a sense of flair, surprise and wit. The Sutton Place townhouses demonstrated that Schmidt was more than just a capable practitioner from Brooklyn. He was an architect with a strong eye, a sense of refinement, and a clear understanding of what constituted elegant living. With this commission, he earned a place among the distinguished group of New York society architects who were designing houses for the Jazz Age. This initial success led to more residential work, including country houses and large-scale apartment blocks.

FIGURE 8. Vanderbilt Townhouse, two views of stairhall and entry
Architectural Forum, 1924
FIGURE 9. Morgan Townhouse, Miss Morgan's office
Avery Architectural Archives