• 63 Chestnut Hill Place
  • Glen Ridge, NJ

THE EXTERIOR

The site. The house was originally intended to be built in Livingston, New Jersey, about five miles from its present location, but World War II made it impossible to obtain building materials, and the Richardsons relinquished the property. The Livingston site dropped off steeply into a ravine, and Wright’s design exploited that topographical feature, as one would expect. The “public” façade (carport, study, master bedroom corridor) would have been close to the street, with relatively few windows, while the “private” façade (living room and bedrooms) opened to the southern sun. The point of the triangular chimney mass thrust the house visually out into the valley below. The Glen Ridge site is much flatter, but it does fall away in the same general direction.   The low parapet wall on the left side of the chimney mass was designed to be mirrored on the right, with the triangular chimney lunging forward toward the viewer, giving the building great energy. With Wright’s agreement, the wall on the right was eliminated to open the living room to the lawn and garden. The left parapet wall creates an enclosed patio suitable for potted plantings.

 

As you approach the house through our neighborhood, you undoubtedly will wonder where a Frank Lloyd Wright house could be buried in the uniform split-level streetscape. All of the houses on Reynolds Road and Chestnut Hill Place were under construction at the same time as the Richardson house in 1951, as part of the subdivision of the twelve-acre Reynolds estate. The large house you may have seen on Ridgewood Avenue, just before you turned into the subdivision, is new, replacing the early 20th century Tudor Revival mansion of the Reynolds family, which burned to the ground in December 2000. The actual Richardson house site, adjoining the Reynolds subdivision, was a synthetic chicle (think chewing gum) factory until the Depression; the business failed when the owner died, and his surviving wife and son were unable to replicate his chicle recipe.

 

The Richardsons departed from the frequent practice of having an on-site apprentice to supervise the work. However, David Henkin, a former apprentice who was largely responsible for development of the well-known Wright community, Usonia, in Westchester County, New York, consulted as necessary. It is also noteworthy that, at the time of construction, Stuart Richardson had completed four years of architectural study at Carnegie Mellon University, so he was not unversed in architectural and construction principles. Wright never visited the site. However, he was regularly in New York City working on the Guggenheim Museum while the house was being built, and the Richardsons consulted with him there in his rooms in the Plaza Hotel.

 

The exterior of the building. As previously stated, the primary materials used in construction were brick, glass and cypress. Bricks were cut on-site to conform to the structure’s hexagonal module. As originally drawn, the expanse of glass that characterizes the living room was even more dramatic than it is at present. Instead of pairs of French doors, Wright specified a single large panel of glass, pivoted at the ¾ point so that, when open, most of each door would be on the outside. (This feature can be observed at Wright’s later, more lavish, Griggs House in Tacoma, Washington.) The design resulted in a very heavy, moveable unit that proved quite expensive to construct. The Richardsons substituted the more feasible arrangement that presently exists. Note that all doors, as well as windows, are hung using solid brass piano hinges. The doors were completely restored in 2014.

 

The exterior cypress was restored in 2015 and 2016, utilizing a coating manufactured by the company Sikkens. The flat roof was replaced in 2006-07, at which time the painted fascia was also replaced with the unpainted cypress that Wright specified. A cap for the left parapet wall was also installed at that time. Additionally, cantilevers outside the “carport” and the study, which drooped badly when we bought the property, have been stiffened with the addition of structural steel.

 

The gardens. Originally, there were a number of large trees on the property, many of which have fallen victim to age or storms. Several tulip trees remain, along with a magnificent magnolia, a crab apple, a weeping cherry and an apple tree. We planted the paperbark maples in the front yard, the dogwoods at the side, the hornbeams on the far side of the pool, and the hollies that are everywhere.

 

The basic landscaping plan is not original to the house, but was established by a prior owner. The “atrium garden” on the north side of the house, sheltered by the study and the bedroom wing, is structured around a low brick wall that was not drawn by Wright but which is original to the house. In 1996, this area was completely overgrown, and the wall had collapsed. It was rebuilt using the original bricks. The small tree in that garden is a Stewartia.

 

Neither the swimming pool nor the waterfall and ponds is original to the house, the former having been added in the late 70s or early 80s and the latter in about 1990. The stone coping surrounding the pool, as well as the pool surface were restored in 2013. Behind the swimming pool, there is an old garden shed/playhouse. Construction photographs confirm that it was originally the contractor’s shack in 1951; it therefore qualifies as “original material.” We restored it to its original condition a few years ago.

 

The property is fenced.   Of significance is the naturally rusty Corten steel fence and gate, constructed in 2009 and 2010. Particularly note the copper light fixtures on the brick pillars on either side of the gate, which echo the shape and design of the house, and the mailbox, with an incised “63” incorporated in the left-hand pillar. Landscape lighting has been installed on the property.

 

Carport/porch. In the original (Livingston) scheme, the entrance would have been through the carport, to the right of the present gravel and stone path. The cantilever would have had a hexagonal cutout in it, and the hexagon would have been echoed in a pond below. When the house was repositioned for Glen Ridge, with the proper southern exposure, the opening to the carport was blocked by a grove of pine trees. Elisabeth Richardson refused to sacrifice the trees, and Wright agreed that the space could be screened, as it presently appears. Additionally the entry was moved to the area directly under the cantilever, the ornamental pool was eliminated, and a skylight was installed in the hexagonal space above it.

 

The kitchen/workspace is adjacent to the carport, with a separate kitchen door to the right. An unremarkable arrangement today, but evidence of the innovative space planning that Wright was pioneering when this house was designed before World War II. Notice the double kitchen window, which opens without a divider between the two panels.