R5 Two Men, an Icon, and a Cause

How an award-winning 1950s contemporary escaped the wrecking ball and was restored to its original glory.

Set on a stunning property in a woodlands section of Armonk, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Honor Award-winning 1957 modern home had, by 2007, become an embarrassing eyesore. It had been abandoned and left to decay for seven years; neighbors just wanted it knocked down and put out of its misery. Few knew that it had been designed by Skidmore, Owings, Merrill architect Arthur Witthoefft, who lived here in the 1950s and 1960s with his wife and three children. On three sprawling acres that encompassed woods, boulder outcroppings, and a rock-strewn stream, the compact white brick-and-glass rectangular home was barely recognizable as the proud icon it had once been. Plaster walls crumbled from water damage, floors were rotting, the ceiling was caving in, and there was mold everywhere. It seemed like a lost cause.

The steel-and-glass dining table is rimmed with orange Herman Miller chairs.

Leather aqua-colored slipper chairs and a flokoti rug share space with other iconic ’50s modern furniture—all original—in this living room that could double as a set for Mad Men.

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To the rescue: real estate broker Todd Goddard (architectural homesny.com), who specializes in high-end iconic contemporary properties, and his partner, Andrew Mandolene, an independent creative director. They were living in Los Angeles and considering a move to the East Coast when this neglected building came to their attention. Together 22 years, they were no strangers to transforming distressed homes into showstoppers. (One of the four California residences that they bought, renovated, and sold was the backdrop for a W Magazine photo shoot featuring Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt when they were filming Mr. and Mrs. Smith.)

Goddard and Mandolene were able to look past the photos of disintegrating, waterlogged walls and focused on one interior feature—a completely intact four-sided fireplace with travertine and steel columns. “We saw the fireplace and knew we had to move here to save this home from the wrecking ball,” Goddard says.

And save it they did. With a clear vision of paying homage to the structure’s original intent—and lots of sweat—Goddard and Mandolene spent two years sourcing the materials required, down to the flecks of iron in the white glazed brick exterior to accurately restore the once beautiful architectural icon back to its original glory. Now, it easily could serve as a set for Mad Men. “As a real estate broker who specializes in environmentally friendly houses, I could see that this house was amazingly ahead of its time,” says Goddard. “It sits off- kilter on the property to maximize solar efficiency.”

Front doors, of glass and steel hardware, are original to the house. All architectural elements had to be sourced, down to the iron flecked white glazed brick exterior.

The house is primarily constructed of steel and glass—which is “the only way it survived,” says Goddard. The back of the house features 95 linear feet of glass windows. The front doors, too, are solid glass. Goddard replaced windows throughout the home with eco-friendly double-panes but kept the front doors intact as thick, single panes to accommodate their original steel hardware.

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Mandolene chose Gaggenau appliances for the sizable teak and stainless-steel kitchen, allowing his inner creative chef to run wild. It was originally a galley kitchen; the couple decided to bump it out, adding a high-tech steel island. “Andrew does the cooking, and I like to creatively ‘set the stage’ when we entertain,” Goddard says. “It’s a nice balance.” An adjacent dining room contains a steel-and-glass table encircled by Herman Miller chairs. White poured-cement flooring (the blighted original was jack-hammered out) in the living room, kitchen, and dining areas is varnished to a blinding sheen. Together with stainless-steel and cloud-white walls, the effect is as dazzling as an ad man’s smile.

Goddard and Mandolene turned two small bedrooms (the home originally contained four bedrooms) into one large study, which opens onto a pebbled aggregate-surfaced patio that runs the length of the house and features an inlayed planter, a rectangle of grass, and a brilliant seamless “gate.” (Within the solid black steel fencing, two pieces detach easily to provide access to a rugged path etched into the boulder outcropping that tumbles to the lawn below.)

 

The floors throughout the bedroom wing are padded with wall-to-wall striped Missoni carpet in whites, greens, and blues, and, as in every other part of the house, rooms sport Bird Chairs, Herman Miller, Eames, and the like: the type of furniture you’d find at Design Within Reach, though, Goddard asserts, their collection is all original with original fabrics.

Innovative details make this house a prime example of modernist forward thinking: globes in the ceiling diffuse natural illumination from skylights during the day; at night electricity kicks in, a very eco-friendly feature. Drainage pipes are incorporated into interior bookcases and walls in place of roof gutters, and white plaster hallway walls exhibit a half-inch “reveal”—the black negative space near the floor and ceiling where molding typically goes—creating a crisp, pinstripe appearance.

Even the bathrooms, small by current luxury-home standards, display an attention to detail unmatched by many of today’s upscale designers. Every element in a pint-sized ultra-white hall bathroom—right down to the shower drain, faucets, and sink—is square. And if you’re at all afraid of heights, stay out of the master bath where one outside wall, fabricated in Ireland of ribbed frosted glass, pivots open to the outside and a 12-foot drop, mirroring a similar feature on the opposite end of the house in the living room.

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In the living room, one easily can imagine trendy suburbanites sipping after-work martinis, cigarettes between their fingers, taking in the views of surrounding woods from this cantilevered perch. As an architect who sought to integrate nature into his designs wherever he could, Witthoefft inexplicably chose to design a window for his own house that opened onto…nothing—an unobstructed 10-foot drop—to maximize the cross breezes and the sound of water gurgling over the rocky brook below. “In all these years, they only lost one child,” Goddard winks, obviously joking. While growing up, Witthoefft’s daughters often would change into bikinis, slide the window open, and suntan inside the living room.

The home’s saving grace—the four-sided, travertine-paneled fireplace—floats in the heart of the living room. “Arthur’s wife, Ellie, who was an interior designer, picked up the stone herself in her station wagon,” Goddard says. “This house truly was a labor of love.” Aqua-colored leather slipper chairs and other trophies of modern design pin down a white Flokati rug. Goddard pointed out two large abstract cityscape paintings; one on the wall, the other on an easel. “These were in Frank Sinatra’s office,” he says, opening a book that was placed conveniently on the Noguchi table: Frank Sinatra, My Father by Nancy Sinatra. There was a photo of The Chairman of the Board himself holding court near the two oils.

After the restoration was completed last year, Goddard and Mandolene invited Witthoefft, now 91, back to see the home. It was a sentimental reunion. “When he saw what had happened to his masterpiece back in 2007, he cried out of sadness,” says Goddard. “But after we finished restoring it, he was so happy, he had tears in his eyes. He told us, ‘You guys really put the icing on the cake.’”

Malerie Yolen-Cohen, daughter of a Westchester modern architect, was thrilled to document this architectural “rescue” for Westchester Home.

 

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