Mott Schmidt Biography

Country Houses
by Mark Alan Hewitt

In 1926 the architect took advantage of his new-found prosperity to build a substantial country house for himself in Bedford, Westchester County, New York (Figure 31). Bearing the whimsical name Pook's Hill, it won a national award for distin­guished design of a brick residence in a competition sponsored by The Architectural Forum. Like many architects, Schmidt used his own house as a laboratory, testing solutions for later works. Again, the architect based his design on the eighteenth-century block with dependencies. Also known as the Maryland 5-part type, Schmidt's flanking wings were more prominent-the entire right wing was given over to the living room. The stair was removed from the entry hall and assigned its own room-a Showcase for a beautiful, intricately carved balustrade. In later houses he was to adopt this solution almost exclusively, generally utilizing the floating curved staircases which had become his trademark in his townhouses. Initially, he built the staircases out of wood stringers, much as they had been constructed in the eighteenth-century. Later, in keeping with new technologies, he experimented with concrete construc­tion, which was concealed with woodwork. This offered greater freedom in design, and allowed him to make the stringers as light and graceful as possible.

The typically understated exterior of Pook's Hill is carried almost to a fault-there is very little ornament to relieve the long brick facades. The massing is somewhat ungainly, but this is offset by deft sitting and well planned gardens. Following the English tradition of country house design, the mansion is revealed in stages rather than all at first glance. It is approached through a spectacular allee of trees which leads to a garden gazebo. Nearby are a service court and stables, and off to the right a grassy plateau lines up with the house. The grounds also include an orchard and a picturesque garden in the rear where the dense planting gives a sense of enclosure in con­trast with the openness of the formal front

Though Pook's Hill derives from an eighteenth-century model, more direct precedents are to be found in the work of Charles Platt, William Adams Delano and especially John Russell Pope, who designed the first pared-down Georgian houses in the years before and after the war. From Platt, Schmidt learned the integration of house and garden elements, and the careful balancing of focal points with neutral areas of facade. Pope, a master of classical proportion and architectural understatement, provided the paradigm for "stripped" Georgian houses (Figure 32). Schmidt also studied Pope's plans to good effect, especially the five-part Thomas Frothingham house in Far Hills, New Jersey, built just after the war. Delano set the standard for Georgian brick and stone detailing, and further abstracted the style in a number of his houses-- particularly the well-­published James A. Burden estate (Figure 33), Woodside, of 1916, in Syosset, New York. Thus, Schmidt followed a continuous set of precedents in his work, not only from early American houses but from modern ones.

FIGURE 31. Pook's Hill, Main Block and Entry
Samual Gottscho, Avery Architectural Archives
FIGURE 32. John Russell Pope. Andrew V. Stout House, Red Bank, New Jersey, 1919, Exterior View
Architectural Record 48, October 1920
FIGURE 33. Williams Adams Delano, Woodside, Syosset, New York, 1916, Entrance Facade
Avery Architectural Archives