The small house obsession isn’t unique to the 21st century. Packed with curbside allure, this diminutive charmer was completed in 1939 and earned an award for its small house design.
The colonial-inspired house on the market at 294 Old Colony Road in Hartsdale was designed by architect Benson Eschenbach as a home for his family and a showcase of his work.
Eschenbach seems to have been good at the marketing part of his profession, or he had someone who did the publicity work for him, which makes researching this little house just a bit easier. Eschenbach, full name Walter Benson Eschenbach, graduated from Pennsylvania State University in the 1920s and, according to a 1983 obituary, went on a tour of Europe before settling down as an architect in New York. He established his own practice in Westchester County in the early 1930s, specializing in residential architecture.
His small house plans start popping up in design and decor magazines with some regularity by the late 1930s. In May of 1937 three of his small houses, each designed with the “temperament of three different bridal couples” in mind, were featured in House & Garden. The houses ranged in style from Dutch Colonial to “modern.”
Word of Eschenbach’s plans for his own house in Hartsdale appeared in The New York Times in December 1938 with the headline “Builds His House On Side of a Hill.” The hook of the article was that Eschenbach had chosen a sloping site in the Old Colony Ridge subdivision in Hartsdale and incorporated the topography into his design. From the front, the house appears to be two stories but is actually three when viewed from the rear.
The overall design, according to the Times, was “one such as might have been erected many generations ago in the Connecticut Valley.” Eschenbach apparently planned to incorporate some old materials in his new house, including building the chimney using bricks taken from a recently demolished 100-year-old building and beams from an old barn.
By the fall of 1939, the house was complete and Benson, his first wife Laura and their three children moved in. The Scarsdale Inquirer published a lengthy article about the house, including photos. Once again, the emphasis was on the unusual layout of the house with “two ground floors” because of the sloping site.
The paper also provided details of the interior and photographed one of the interiors for the article, depicting a room with a very Colonial Revival inspired interior — including brick floors, a beamed ceiling, rag rugs and ladderback chairs. Laura Eschenbach, an interior decorator according to the paper, collaborated with her husband on the design of the furniture and presumably had a hand in the overall decor of the house, which had a color palette of soft blues and reds.
The house fits right into the community of Old Colony Ridge — Eschenbach had already designed more than a dozen houses in the community and some of those also received positive press. While he was getting press notice Eschenbach was also apparently busy submitting plans to design competitions. The plan for his own house was awarded first prize in the category of small houses of seven to ten rooms in House Beautiful’s annual small house competition for 1939. In 1940 he won an honorable mention from House & Garden for the Strong residence in Scarsdale.
The Eschenbach family seems to have lived in the house for just under a decade. After World War II, Eschenbach headed to California where he eventually joined the Utah Construction Company, designing houses, shopping centers and towers in the Bay Area.
The little house he left behind in Scarsdale doesn’t look very different from his original design. On the exterior, there are still red shingles and white trim, although the roof color has been changed. The New York Times article indicated the roof originally had black shingles, which would be a nice contrast to the red and white. The covered passageway to the garage is wonderfully still intact, adding to the period charm.
On the interior, much of the Colonial Revival character remains, including beamed ceilings, wide planked floorboards, massive fireplaces and brick floors.
While the use of some of the rooms has changed, the layout remains the same. The first floor, located off the passageway from the garage, includes a living room, bath and bedroom.
The lower level holds the kitchen, dining room and family room. Since the lower level is at grade in the rear it can accommodate doors off the dining room into the rear yard.
What Eschenbach indicated as a library on the floorplan now serves as a family room, but the brick floors, beamed ceiling and diamond-paned glass are intact.
The kitchen as had some updates to accommodate contemporary appliances but it still includes a feature which delighted the Scarsdale Inquirer in the 1939 article. It declared the kitchen the room that would “most delight homemakers,” particularly the clever addition of a well-window by the sink, which provided enough illumination for an indoor garden.
There are a total of three bedrooms in the house. Two of them, including the master bedroom, are located on the second floor.
There are two full baths in the house, one with what appears to be an original tub and the other with a built-in shower.
The house sits on over an acre of land which includes the previously mentioned garage and a landscaped yard.
There are lush gardens with stone walls and steps.
The house is listed for $999,900 by Biagio (Gino) Bello with Houlihan Lawrence.
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