Le Corbusier, the éminence grise of modern architecture, said that a house is a machine for living. Well there are machines and machines. Rabbit Hill, Scarborough, New York is a Rolls Royce of a house.
Although built for another age this house manages to purr along with all the grandeur of a stately Rolls but is somehow arranged in a way that fits today’s family lifestyle. Like any grand marque it is timeless. It was built for New York banker, William S Lambie, in the late 1920s by Mott B. Schmitt – architect to the wealthy.
Schmitt was a favourite in the immediate post-Gilded Age for families with names such as Vanderbilt, Astor and Morgan. But the architect also managed to design smaller homes – some based on English country houses. These were for the merely very comfortably off rather than for billionaires with more money than the US Treasury.
The Rabbit Hill location matches the house. Approached along a gently upward sloping drive that winds easily through a delightful wood with rocky outcrops, the house stands behind an elegant carriage forecourt with central fountain. But this is just the beginning. The dramatic backdrop is the majestic Hudson River and its steeply wooded sides.
Over a hundred years ago the super-rich of New York built themselves grand houses overlooking the Hudson. They would use the river to travel to and from these magnificent homes. Rabbit Hill followed this trend but today residents will probably use a car to get to the city, less than an hour away, or use the excellent local rail service from the nearby station into Grand Central, NYC.
So here is a very fine New York house that eyes the mighty Hudson River sliding endlessly by. It may reflect the past but perfectly fits today. It is imposing without ostentation and it is solid, but with a lightness of touch. It politely whispers high status. But then it does that thing that any good house does – it provides the space for a family to grow in size, stature and character. Yes, Rabbit Hill is a machine for living – but what a machine!