You may not be an early 20th century industrialist, but you can still capture one of the grand homes for the wealthy designed by a master of the form, David Adler.
It’s even on the East Coast, something a bit harder to find in Adler’s portfolio. The house on the market at 145 Milton Road in Rye is a classic example of his work from 1915.
Adler produced his most significant residential designs in the period between the wars, a last heyday for great American estates. He launched a firm in 1911 in Chicago with friend and architecture classmate Henry Dangler and began designing residences for the society set with a nod to historic European styles and an awareness of American needs.
While he is best known for his houses for the rich in and around Chicago, he wasn’t a complete stranger to other locales and designed houses in California, Massachusetts and New York. His clients on the East Coast did tend to have Midwest connections, including Benjamin and Hazel Nields, for whom he designed the house in Rye.
Like many Westchester towns, Rye has roots in the 17th century but the big population boom came when transportation came to town. Train routes and the emergence of the automobile turned many Westchester spots into bedroom communities for New Yorkers, with bankers, industrialists and others moving to spacious new homes.
Benjamin and Hazel Nields were one of the young couples who made their home in Rye. Nields was the New York Representative for the National Malleable Casting Company (later the National Malleable & Steel Castings Company.) The company was based in Cleveland, and it was there that Benjamin married local girl Hazel Whitelaw in 1910.
At the time of the wedding, Benjmain was already living in Rye and, according to a social snippet in the Rye Chronicle, had signed a three-year lease for a home for he and his bride the same month as their marriage. By 1915 the couple were working with David Adler on a brand new home on Milton Road.
The home was not a modest suburban retreat, but a country home in keeping with the Adler aesthetic. Guests could motor down the grand drive to the sweeping courtyard with an impressive doric-columned entry. The classic-inspired brick home was set in extensive grounds with carefully planned gardens.
In the April 1922 issue of The Architectural Forum, photographs of the house were used to illustrate an article about the domestic architecture of Adler and his late partner Henry Dangler. Adler and Dangler were partners until the latter’s death in 1917. The partnership was productive but also necessary; Adler did not have a professional architecture license despite his studies at the École des Beaux-Arts.
Of the Adler and Dangler houses illustrated in the article, the Nields house was the only one located outside of Illinois. All were described as “unmistakably American” but inspired by a variety of historical styles with “individual charm of ensemble and detail that makes us admire the originals of the period.” According to the article, “the interior design and the decoration and painting of walls” were determined by the architects and “schemes for furnishing” were often suggested. Alas, no interior photos of the Nields house were included in the article.
Thankfully, drawings from Adler’s architecture firm were microfilmed as part of a larger architectural documentation project and digital copies of plans for the Nields house are accessible via the Chicago History Museum. The drawings showcase Adler’s attention to detail, including intricate elevations for the paneling, bookcases, mantels and other details which set the tone for the interior of the house.
The Nields family owned the house until 1964, when son John W. Nields sold the property after the death of both his parents; Benjamin died in 1945 and Hazel in 1964. The current family purchased the house in the 1990s.
While the house has had some upgrades over the years, the vision of Adler largely survives. A brick-walled terrace added in the 1960s was thankfully removed from the main facade and the grand columned portico once-again dominates.
The house delivers a statement-making punch when stepping into the foyer. Adler’s staircase with iron railing curves into the space and his streamlined paneling lines the walls. Checkerboard marble floors were not unusual in Adler’s spaces and his floorplans seem to indicate the ones here were part of the original design scheme.
The main floor has a layout that hasn’t changed much from the original plan, although many of the rooms have been put to new uses. What was a servant’s hall is now a TV room and the former smoking room is a healthier library.
In modern parlance, the massive living room is now a great room, with original paneling and a mantel. The listing doesn’t mention whether the fireplaces are in working condition, but there are three on the first floor and two above. French doors lead to a terrace that stretches across the rear facade.
Off the great room is the gently curved garden room with multiple views out to the grounds. The lattice-like details on the walls appear in Adler’s drawings.
On the opposite side of the great room is the dining room with a stone mantel, wainscoting and crown molding.
The former smoking room, now a library, retains the original built-ins designed by Adler.
The kitchen doesn’t quite have the glamorous early 20th century charm of the rest of the house, but it’s spacious, with a windowed breakfast nook.
Upstairs, the original layout has been slightly modified to allow for more modern bathroom layouts.
There are seven bedrooms, including a master where the former sleeping porch has been turned into an en suite bath. There aren’t any photos of the bathrooms in the listing, but there are a total of five full and two half baths.
Outside, steps lead from the broad terrace on the rear facade to a pool and manicured formal gardens.
The house is set on just a bit over two acres. While the setting might seem like the country, it is just about a five minute drive to downtown Rye and the train station with MetroNorth access to Manhattan.
The property is listed for $6.495 million by Fran Klingenstein of Julia B Fee Sotheby’s International Realty.
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