2013 Gems of South Orange House Tour

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255 Richmond Ave.

This house was built in 1937 and is an excellent example of Art Moderne style. Art Moderne appeared in the 1930-40s, and is sometimes confused with the Art Deco style, but is distinctly different. Art Deco emphasis the vertical and features stylized decorative motifs, whereas Art Moderne emphasizes the horizontal and unadorned, streamlined, aerodynamic imagery of airplanes and other high-speed transportation. Art Moderne was used primarily for commercial structures and its use in a residential structure is comparatively rare.

The home’s architect was William Wilde, who emigrated from the Ukraine and was schooled in Europe and then at the Rhode Island School of Design. He went on to become a prominent architect of the modern style, designing many notable structures in southern Arizona, where he relocated after WWII. He was featured as part of a recent retrospective by the Modern Architecture Preservation Project of Tucson. You can examine the original blueprint and elevations hanging in the hallway.

As you step into the home, you will at once notice the round porthole window in the front door, and nautical style of the stair railing. Also notice the curved wall, which you will see in other parts of the house as well - a hallmark of this style. Glass block windows feature prominently in the front entry, as well as in the curved wall of the dining room – the rest of the windows in the home have the original steel sash. In keeping with the style, the wall finish is flat with no moldings. Note the characteristic brushed metal fireplace surround and sleek mahogany paneling. Look up to see the owner’s collection of antique radios and fans. The dining room features a fantastic curved wall and the original chestnut built-ins.

Upstairs, you will see more curved walls and paneled wall surfaces. In one of the bedrooms you will see writing left by Sears when they papered the home in 1937.

The home boasted some technological advances unusual for the time. It still uses the original ductwork for the central air-conditioning - a rarity in the 1930’s. Ample closet space and a laundry chute reflected modern lifestyles as they were evolving at the time.

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291 Walton Avenue

Built in 1906, this was the home of Frank Fenner and was known as “Thornden Lodge.” Frank was the son of Dr. Henry Fenner, a prominent veterinarian. The Fenner estate covered much of the land on both sides of the present day Walton Ave., and many of the homes along this road were built for various members of the family, including several Italianate structures on the opposite side of the road. Frank was a leather merchant and served as Village Treasurer when he was in his 70’s.

The home is in the Colonial Revival style, with a center hall and symmetrical placement of the windows. The delicate tracing in the sidelights is reminiscent of that found in Federal and Greek Revival architecture, but if you look closely at the house you will see clues that this is a 20th century home – the triplet window over the front door for example, and the flared belt course of shingles separating the first and second floors that are more typical of craftsman rather than traditional colonial style.

Entering through the front door into the commodious entry hall you will see a fireplace, with traditional reeded columns with acanthus details. This is one of the few original architectural details – when the homeowners purchased the property they found it in disrepair and stripped of much of its original woodwork. Most of the moldings you see, as well as the raised paneling, beams and coffered ceiling were added by the current homeowners.

In the dining room there is an unusual stone feature wall which gives the impression of the room being situated in a former exterior porch, although this is not the case.

The home’s eclectic, contemporary décor continues upstairs in the charming children’s rooms and the master bedrooms with sumptuous en suite.

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167 N. Ridgewood Rd.

This house was built around 1774 by Henry Squire, a revolutionary war soldier who settled in South Orange. The Squire farm was originally part of the Luddington Plantation and consisted of lands running up to the top of First Mountain and on the other side of what is now Ridgewood Rd. Early maps and photos show outbuildings to the north and across the road from the main house. Luddington Brook flowed down the mountain and was dammed to form a mill pond, from which water flowed to a grist mill that was in operation prior to the Revolution. Henry’s son Nathan grew up in the house and became a successful local businessman and is credited with, around 1795, naming the community formerly referred to as Chestnut Hill or merely Orange as “South Orange.”

William Redmond, born in Ireland, came to South Orange after vacationing here and purchased the Squire land in 1850. He had horses and cows on the farm – he is credited with introducing Jersey cows to this section of the country. The current owner has found much evidence of the blacksmiths on the property – lots of broken and rusted horseshoes. He built his Italianate mansion “Hillside” shortly afterwards, which was purchased by the Orange Lawn Tennis Club in 1916.

As you enter the house from the front entrance, stop in the hallway to look at a photo on your right showing what the home looked like in the early 20th century. You can see one of the original fireplaces in the dining room, which has the dentil moldings and reeding typical of the mid-18th century. Also observe the raised paneling below the chair rail and the boards on the ceiling above. On the other side of the hall in what is probably the original kitchen is a walk-in fireplace. The house was remodeled in 1929 at which time the back part of the house was added, as well as the second story. The family room contains an old phone booth that has been converted to an entertainment center. When you step out onto the sunporch you can see behind the bookshelves the stone fireback which was on the original exterior wall.

Painted white throughout to unify the disparate architectural elements that have been added over time, the home is charmingly decorated in a clean, rustic farmhouse style that is in keeping with the house’s origins, and suitable for casual living for the homeowners and their eight children. The kitchen ceiling is painted a traditional porch blue, and much of the cabinetry is repurposed oak furniture with honed granite countertops.

Exit through the back door and you will see the garage which was the stable and carriage house, with living quarters for the stable hands above.

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356 Melrose Place

This dramatic Shingle Style Victorian House, built in the early 1890s, was the home of the Thompson family for about 80 years. Shingle Style homes arose in reaction to the excesses of Victorian style, although some such as this home borrow the irregular massing and features such as turrets from Queen Anne architecture. Its strongest feature is a three story round tower with a conical roof on the right side. There is a smaller round tower on the left side and a columned wrap-around porch with a rounded end. The two toned earth colors differentiate each floor, and canvas awnings add lively detail to the façade.

In the rear of the property is a two story barn, now used as a garage. Inside is hardware from when it was first built to keep horses.

Inside, the house has been opened up from the original layout. Walls were removed from the living room and kitchen making the first floor feel spacious and bright. Care was used to put in woodwork similar to the original. The room at the base of the tower is a round music room with a fireplace. The living room has a semi-circular end and fireplace. There is a fireplace and a beautiful crystal chandelier in the dining room, and French doors that lead to a porch overlooking the back yard. The modern open kitchen has a large island with a black granite top. The countertop over the paneled cabinets is a tan granite.

Going up the stairs is a window seat below the leaded glass windows on the landing. The second floor tower room has a fireplace and used as a child’s bedroom. The master bedroom has a curved end wall and its own bathroom with a large tub as well as a dressing area and walk in closet. There is a door here to a second floor porch. A blue boy’s bedroom with bunk beds is the third bedroom on the second floor. On the third floor are two more bedrooms. The round tower room on this floor has a canopy bed. The other bedroom has an interesting cut out in the wall where the roof of the round end of the left side tower ends.

Gregory George’s nature-themed sculptures are displayed on the property.

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509 Hillside Terrace

Chances are you have never had the occasion to see Hillside Terrace – a dead-end street on the northern border of town. This is a shame, because the South Orange houses, built in 1912 on land that was part of the estate of Henry A. Page (one of the original developers of Montrose) are worth a closer look. Take a moment to enjoy the charming street and the small, neat bungalows that have largely been painted in authentic period colors. Houses of this style are generally low-rise, one or one and a half storeys with dormered windows, and large verandahs.

Walking into this small jewel you would swear that you have just entered a perfectly preserved Arts and Crafts period home. Not so – many the architectural features you are looking at have been lovingly constructed by the homeowners – an architect and his artist wife. Every detail is perfect, from the period colors, dark woodwork and reproduction light fixtures.

The living room is furnished in a mixture of antique and reproduction Stickley furniture. The curtains and most of the pillows were made and embroidered by hand by the homeowner. The carpets are reproductions by “Nature’s Loom.”

The floor plan of the kitchen has been totally reworked and enlarged, and the pocket doors installed. The oak cabinetry with beautiful marble countertops and built-in table and benches were designed by and custom-built for the present homeowners. Don’t miss the collection of antique toasters above the eating area.

The vintage stove was made by the American Stove Company, which introduced its “Magic Chef” line of ranges in 1929. The new line was designed by the director of the New York School of Fine Art, Frank Alvah Parsons. This new line featured sleek lines and rich enamel colors and became so popular that American Stove changed its name to Magic Chef in 1951. The company was sold to Dixie Products in 1958, which was acquired by Maytag in 1986, which was in turn acquired by Whirlpool in 2006.

Please note that just the first floor is open to the tour. However, please feel free to visit the art studio, designed by the homeowner for his wife in what was the garage.

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12 Tillou Road West

The Colonial Revival style started in America in the late 19th century and has evolved over the decades to reflect how family living has changed over the decades. This is the newest home on the tour, built in 2005, and is an example of the current translation of the Colonial Revival style. The exterior is a mix of stone and shingles, with a Palladian window in the front gable. The site is the former Kernan’s Quarry, a relic of the time when the top of the mountain was a place difficult to get to, not the exclusive neighborhood that it became in the twentieth century. A large rock outcropping close to the front door is a reminder of the site’s history.

The house has an open floor plan, with traditional woodwork that helps make this impressive house feel like a much more traditional home. In contrast with the newness of the home, the furnishings are a mix of 18th and 19th century period family pieces and newer traditional furniture. In the 18th century due to trade with China, Americans became fond of motifs from these exotic lands, and styles at this time, eg., Chippendale, often reflect these oriental influences, The Asian art, furniture and oriental carpets throughout the house were collected during the homeowner’s travels. Off of the foyer is an impressive home office with a high vaulted ceiling, featuring an unusual oval desk. The homeowner, unsatisfied with available wallpaper options, covered the walls in Florentine wrapping paper.

The center of the first floor is a two storey high space decorated with faux painted walls, opening to all the rest of the main rooms and highlighted by a dramatic split staircase accented by a Japanese kimono displayed on the landing. An interesting piece in the living room is the gout stool – in the dining room take note of the beautiful Federal clock and non-electric chandelier. You can imagine how beautiful this room must look lit entirely with candles! In these rooms, you can see from the home’s location perched on the edge of the cliff there is a panoramic view. A spacious kitchen has white paneled cabinets and black granite counters. The adjoining family room has a fireplace and large windows and opens to a porch.

The second floor has a beautiful master suite with a sitting room. Two other impeccably decorated bedrooms and bathrooms complete the top floor.

The basement level is an enormous room with a play area, sitting area, and built-in cabinets with a crackle finish. There is a patio outside through French doors.

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45 Crest Drive

This impressive Tudor Revival style home was built in 1933 by Milton and Caroline Held Rothschild. The exterior has all the hallmarks of the style, a mixture of stone and brick, half-timbering and stucco, with a variegated slate room. The top edges of the roof are pitched slightly upwards, giving the impression that the house is of great age and settling down in the middle. The multi-paned casement windows are original and provide great character.

Inside the house is much brighter and full of light more than one would expect from its solid exterior. The layout is simple, with generously sized rooms and high ceilings, along with a muted color palate, giving the house an elegant but fresh look.

The foyer has a classic black and white checkerboard marble floor and pointed arched openings. The sunken living room has a dramatic medieval-inspired decorative plaster ceiling and fine stone fireplace with gothic detailing. There is amusing bookcase patterned wallpaper in the adjacent sunporch. The dining room has paneled wood walls, painted dark to have a dramatic feel.

The homeowners have had the kitchen rebuilt, making a spacious room out of a small kitchen, pantry and back hall. The white tiles on the walls contrast with the dark wood cabinets, stainless steel appliances, and granite countertops. The focal point is a large island with a dark wood top. There is a view here of a gazebo in the backyard.

Upstairs is a large master bedroom, with a dressing room custom built cabinetry and a new master bath done in white marble with mosaic patterned trim. In the second floor hall is a new family bath with walls of white Carrera marble and an elegant tile floor. The two pleasant children’s bedrooms feature custom cabinetry and built-in desks.

A surprise off one of the children's bedrooms is a wing with a nanny's room decorated with paisley wallpaper and its own bath and stairway.