A Surprising Plaster Art Showpiece in New Rochelle

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While at a quick glance it appears to have an impressive wood-filled interior, not all of the details inside this 1920s New Rochelle are as they appear. Beams lending a medieval air to the interior are plaster, not wood, thanks to the ornamental plaster business run by an original owner. There are plenty of other enticing details too, from decorative painting to stained glass, but they are all in need of a buyer with the vision and funds for a restoration.

The house listed on the market at 129 Lyncroft Road was built in 1925 as the home of Gustave S. and Mathilde Jacobson. Gustave was the head of Jacobson & Co., a business which began on a modest scale around 1889 and developed a specialty in architectural plasterwork.

view of living room toward elaborate mantel

The company, still in business today, designed and produced exterior and interior elements, including mantels, ceilings, and other decorative features reproduced from historic examples. Catalogues from the early 20th century show off the range of styles replicated. Projects completed by the company include the 1920s Pompeian Court at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Gustave and Mathilde Jacobson, who married in 1889, were both born in Germany and arrived in the U.S. as children. They were in their 60s when architect Oscar V. Vatet designed their Lyncroft Road house. Vatet grew up in Brooklyn and studied architecture at Cornell. He joined McKim, Mead & White after his graduation in 1905 and launched a firm with a partner in 1915. By the early 1920s he was living in Westchester County while his practice was still based in Manhattan.

For the Jacobsons he designed a French Norman home of stucco with a slate roof. The style, inspired by the rural architecture of Normandy, was popular in the 1920 and 1930s. The Jacobson house has a sharply pitched roof, a tower, and an eclectic mix of windows including an oriel, some hooded lintels, and dormers. It appears from the listing photos that there is just one striking chimney remaining, but there would have been three in the original design.

black and white photo of exterior

The chimneys are visible in this early photo of the exterior. Image via Arts & Decoration

The original exterior and interior details are known thanks to photographs captured by Samuel H. Gottscho soon after the house was completed. The resulting images were published in a number of periodicals between 1926 and 1929, including Architectural Record, Arts & Decoration, Country Life, and The American Hebrew.

Accompanying text and captions in many of the articles convey a sense of the original vision for the property. While Vatet was the architect, the interior was no doubt heavily influenced by Jacobson as a showpiece for his company’s products and a reflection of his interest in historic ornament. The design of the house also incorporated purchases made by the couple during excursions to Europe and accommodated their love of music and musical instruments.

a black and white image and a color image of the entry

Left: The entry as published in 1926 with floors of slate and a balcony of plaster. Photo by S. H. Gottscho via Arts & Decoration Right: The entry today. Photo via Keller Williams

The faux wood begins in the entry, with a beamed ceiling and balcony in plaster. The plaster trusses are “supported” by ornaments that were reported by Arts & Decoration to be portraits of family members. Other design touches include a statue niche, actual wood moldings around a door to the living room, and a green and purple slate floor.

living room with woodwork and built-ins

Left: The entry of the living room as published in 1926 with organ screens and a mural above the door. Photo by S. H. Gottscho via Arts & Decoration Right: The living room with the organ screens turned into bookshelfs. Photo via Keller Williams

An actual wood door leads into the living room, where casework on either side of the doorway originally enclosed the pipes for an organ. The organ is gone, donated to a local school in the 1930s, and the built-ins were altered to accommodate books.

black and white image of a living room with beamed ceiling

The living room as published in 1929 with the plaster beams, stained glass windows, and French mantel. Photo by S. H. Gottscho via Country Life

living room with beamed ceiling, stained glass windows and a mantel

More plaster beams disguised as wood grace the living room ceiling, but the standout feature is the elaborate stone mantel. Rather than one of the company’s replicas, this is apparently an original purchased by the couple in France. Also of antique origin are the stained glass details fitted into the leaded glass windows. The pieces, with designs including knights and heraldry, were collected from “various parts of the world.” Not identified in any of the articles is the artist behind the painted lunettes above some of the windows and doors.

black and white photo of the dining room

The dining room as published in 1926 with an ornate plaster ceiling and real wood linenfold paneling. Photo by S. H. Gottscho via Arts & Decoration

dining room with plaster ceiling and linenfold paneling on walls

Guests would have been surrounded by ornamentation while dining in a room wrapped in intricate linenfold paneling and topped with an ornate strapwork ceiling. Published articles describe the wall covering as oak, not plaster, either coming from “an old English castle” or “brought from an English manor house.” Interestingly though, a photo of the dining room appears in a 1928 catalogue for the company describing the paneling as made of their composition product, Woodkast, and reproduced from “authentic examples of old Tudor paneling.” Woodkast was advertised as fireproof, cost-effective, and visually indiscernible from wood.

black and white floorplan showing the original layout

Plans for the first and second floor and the formal garden. Image via Arts & Decoration

An original floor plan shows the kitchen at the rear of the house along with a maid’s room and pantry. While the kitchen got updated in the later 20th century with wood cabinets and a picture window, it is spacious. The pantry got a redesign at the same time.

Up the stairs to the plaster balcony that overlooks the entry is another change: An elevator has been inserted into the space.

Photos of the private spaces were not published in the 1920s, but some were described enough to indicate that some plaster details were present. Those details are more restrained, like an Adams-inspired ceiling that graces the largest bedroom. That bedroom, one of three, has an ensuite bath with some updates that left intact the Art Deco tile walls and built-in shower. There are two full and two half baths in the house.

top floor room with wood mantel and plaster ornament

On the top floor is a bonus space that was designed as a game room and display space for the Jacobsons’ collection of antique musical instruments. A large rough wood mantel is at the center of the space with the phrase “Our Hearth Fire Burns For You” painted across. The room hasn’t escaped plaster ornamentation; a large decorative panel is above the mantel.

The published plan of the house shows the extent of the original outdoor features, including a driveway leading to the built-in garage and a garden. The landscape was designed by Loutrell W. Briggs and included a formal garden designed to be viewed from the terrace off the living room. At the rear of the yard was a rose garden. The listing photos show the garden does still have a couple of decorative features that could be original to the design, including a small pool at the center of the formal garden. Not in evidence is a sundial and garden gate that were featured in a local paper in 1930 with the claim that both had been purchased by Mr. Jacobson in London when Devonshire House, home to the Duke of Devonshire, and its garden were demolished.

The Jacobsons would spend only about a decade in their house and garden. Mathilde died in 1935 and Gustave sold the house soon after his remarriage in 1936.

A significant number of original features have survived the many owners over the decades, but those details are all in need of a fair bit of TLC from a buyer willing and able to tackle the restoration of some interesting 20th century features and materials.

As noted in the listing, the sale is a foreclosure and the house is being sold as is. It is listed for $999,000 with Emmanuel Heredia of Keller Williams.

entry with stone floor and wood surround to living room

built-ins at entry to living room with decorative paintings

view towards living room entry with built-ins

a stained glass window with a knight on a horse

sun room with arches and pilasters

kitchen with wood cabinets and tile floor

kitchen with center island and eating area

kitchen pantry with sink and wood cabinets

elevator inserted into stair landing

cage door on elevator

bedroom with wood floor and ornamental details above windows

bedroom with wood floor and two exposures

bedroom with wall moldings and wood floor

bedroom with wood floor and small window

top floor room with wood mantel and plaster ornament

bathroom with art deco tiles and later cabinetry

bathroom with mirrored walls and peach vanity

bathroom with white fixtures

basement with black and white checkered tile floor

exterior with view of rear entrance and garage below

view from garden with stone benches and a pond

ivew of service court with steps up to garden

stone benches and pond with statue in the garden

view of rear terrace with doors into living room

brick path to pond and stone benches

steps up to driveway in front of the house

curving driveway to the house

new rochelle - house exterior with stone circular drive

front facade with drive to service court

[Photos via Photo via Keller Williams unless noted otherwise]

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