The House of C. Ledyard Blair, Esq., Bernardsville, New Jersey
THE building of a large house means very much more than the incurring of a great expenditure. Costliness is, indeed, an essential element in all large building enterprises—an element unavoidably entailed by the very extent of the building operation. And a great house in the country, destined for the accommodation of a family and the entertainment of many guests, must have space ample and abundant for every possible occasion. It is big, therefore, not to display the wealth that created it, but because size is a fundamental requirement.
A large house requires a large site. There must not only be room to build upon, but there must be ample grounds for the proper environing of the house with land that will give the dwelling suitable individuality, pleasure grounds for the inmates, and perhaps a farm for their further delight and sustenance. A great house in the country implies opportunities for the enjoyment of rural life in every aspect, so that a large estate is both a necessity and a natural consequence of the building of such houses.
Acreage alone is not sufficient. The land must be pleasant to look ujxm, with fine outlooks across the country, and perhaps a stream or lake or harbor to add to its beauty. A beautiful site—that is the desideratum in all large country buildings, and very beautiful indeed are many of the places chosen for the location of our great country houses. The human element is supplied by the architect, the designing genius whose part it is to create a house that will fit the site, that will stand just where the house should stand, and which shall have an artistic outward character in keeping with the surroundings. Almost as weighty is the share of the landscape architect, to whom is assigned the agreeable task of beautifying the grounds in immediate contact with the house, of designing the formal garden, of arranging the walks and drives, of giving the crowning touch of beauty which welds every part into one perfect picture.
Such a picture, combining in one splendid whole the elements that help in the making of fine American country places, is presented by “Blairsden,” the picturesquely placed house that Mr. Blair has built on the steep slope of one of the mountains of Somerset County” near Bernardsville, New Jersey. It is a fine house, finely placed on a superb site; not, indeed, on the summit of the hill, but, more wisely, and somewhat after the Italian manner, on the sloping hillside, so that it may have the advantage of the wooded background which adds so much to the beauty of the location. A rather startling innovation is the placing of the stable on the top of the hill, above the house, but it is so placed that it can not be seen from the house and is scarcelv visible from the surrounding summits. The wooded slope of the hillside terminates in the valley below, at the edge of a winding and beautifully clear lake, and on the other hill of the slope are the dense forests of a neighboring Country Club. It would seem, therefore, that the wild features of the landscape must be always preserved.
As one passes through the gateway and approaches the house, which is placed on a stone terrace with almost menacing abruptness, one can hardly realize that scarcely two years sufficed to bring the land immediately around one to a fine state of perfection and growth. Rows of cedar trees of great age and size, as may be seen in the frontispiece of this book, have been transplanted for the creation of the formal approach, and have been so ably blended with the natural beauties of the place as to form an integral part of one of the most elaborate and extensive schemes of its kind ever carried out in America.
The driveway, after it passes through the gateway and up the gentle slope, turns at the foot of the steps abruptly to the left, and thence onward to a level plateau of considerable extent, at the extreme end of which is located the mansion itself. The road encloses a greensward with an ample water basin, filled with lilies and tropical plants, which reaches almost to the doorway. On turning to the right and approaching the house the formal treatment has been again very happily carried out; while on the left the natural wildness of the mountainside has been retained in all its primitive beauty—a fine touch of genius that enhances the contrast between nature and art which has been so completely attained in this beautiful estate.
The house is built of red brick and Indiana limestone, and is designed in the style of Louis XIII. It is two stories in height, with a third story in the high pyramidal roof. It is simple and stately, the main doorway being contained within an ornamental stone framework, supporting a low pediment carried by double pilasters. The general plan is rectangular, with projecting wings at each end, the shorter side facing the entrance roadway, and the longer overlooking the valley immediately below and the hills beyond.
The spacious interior is extremely elegant, with reception-room, library, drawing-room, breakfast-room, dining-room, and music-room opening out of the great central hall. The hall, with its ornamental staircase, is entirely of Caen stone. The dining-room, at the end of the hall, is paneled throughout with oak and has a coffered ceiling. The hangings are green and gold, and the carving on the oak is also gilded, with a very successful introduction of color.
The library is in Italian walnut, and, like the dining-room, is wholly paneled. The ceiling is plaster, and the mantel of marble. The tone of the living-room is gray. This is a charming room, delightfully finished with the decorative materials taken from an old drawing-room in Second Avenue, New York, the ornamental features of a fine old New York room being thus utilized in this modern New Jersey home. The billiard-room is treated in the Renaissance style with good detail.
The upper floors of the house are given over to bedrooms, arranged singly and en suite, and with many bathrooms. Bright, cheerful colors are used in the bedrooms, and a tour through the upper parts of the house presents a succession of pleasant pictures, admirably arranged for the comfort and convenience of the many guests who frequently throng this delightful home.
The elevation of the house on a hillside, and the necessary building of terraces on which to support it, provide some additional space below the main floor, which has been put to good use. Here are a squash court, a plunge and Turkish bath, and Mr. Blair’s lounging-room.
Like all great country houses, “Blairsden” is amply provided with sumptuous gardens and grounds. Viewed from below, the house is supported by a great stone terrace, with double flights of steps. The space thus created forms a species of open court before the house, and is treated with lawns and paths, and decorated with many bay trees. From the stone terrace descend the great terraced gardens of the estate, closely lined with trees and treated in a formal way, a superb approach, by which the traveler on foot may reach the house.
At the farther end of the house, from the entrance doorway, is a pergola leading to an outdoor lounging-room, a unique apartment, with brick walls, open arches, high wooden roof, and a fireplace, a spot not only agreeable with all the agreeableness of good taste, but from which can be had most charming views of the surrounding country. Within, and behind the connecting pergola, is a small enclosed flower garden court.
The house is the center of a great estate, with stables, carriage houses, an automobile house, farmhouse, dairy, and other essentials of a like nature. Mr. Blair is much interested in his stable, and the finest possible accommodations have been provided for his blooded stock, all of which are housed and cared for in a state almost regal.