William Landsberg House
The William Landsberg house is located in a residential area at 5 Tianderah Road in Port Washington, NY, United States. The house is oriented eastward and faces Tianderah Road at a forty-five degree angle. The site is a lightly wooded hilled area, with the grade of the hill running along the axis of the house east to west, as well as north to south. The house is a two-story split level with a principal entrance facing Tianderah Road, and a secondary entrance, facing the back yard, located on the second floor.
The plan of the house is rectangular. On the first story, the rectangle is interrupted by the garage located on the eastern side, set back approximately four feet from the adjacent exterior wall. A bay on the second story, part of the 1963 addition, extends outward 8’-2” on the western side of the house. A flat roof caps the house, interrupted by a short chimney located on the north-eastern portion of the roof directly above the living room fireplace.
The length of the second story from north to south is 6 feet longer than that of the first story. Equally distributed on both ends of the north and south sides of the second story, the excess length cantilevers 3 feet over the north and south sides of the first story.
Vertical cypress panels clad the garage doors, as well as the exterior of the second story, from the roof to the base of the first story. A set of square and rectangular windows is located on the northern end of the eastern elevation second story. The southern most rectangle is a colored panel rather than a window. Set just to the left the front door and is a cylindrical pole. A notable feature of the façade is a fieldstone wall made of “Manhattan Schist” that comprises the northern half of the eastern elevation’s first story.
Windows ornament each facade. Of custom dimensions, they vary in size but are all either rectangular or square. The cluster of glass panels on the eastern side and the windows directly opposite, on the western side, stretch from the floor to the ceiling, as do a pair of windows on the northern side. The transparent effect of such large windows facing each other creates a very open and well-lighted area of the interior living and dining room.
The first floor of the house has five primary spaces: a garage, entrance hall, furnace room/workshop, recreation room and studio. Taking up approximately one third of the floor space of the first floor plan, the two-car garage was initially intended as a carport according to a 1950 revision of the original plan. A floating staircase with one intermediate landing ascends from the entrance hall of the first story to the second story hallway.
The second story is comprised of nine rooms: three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen, a dining room, a living room and a laundry room. The three bedrooms are located against the eastern and southern walls of the house. One bathroom is attached to the master bedroom in the southwestern corner and the other bathroom opens into the corridor that connects the bedrooms to the living room.
Although the living room and dining room are demarcated as separate rooms in the plan, there is no wall that separates them. The entire area of the living room and dining room runs the length of the northern wall. Windows on the eastern wall of the living room open on sliders that move horizontally. Directly across from them on the western wall of the dining room are windows and a set of horizontally opening sliding glass doors that lead out to the patio and back yard. A fireplace serves as a buffer between the staircase and the corner of the living room.
The house is heated by a radiant heating system. Heating coils are found underneath the foyer and basement floors, and between the second floor ceiling and roof.
An addition was completed in 1963 that extended the kitchen, dining room and laundry room of the second floor. The addition replaced a wood deck that was demolished in order to allow for the extension of the western wall.
The kitchen was most significantly altered during the 1963 modifications, as its orientation was shifted, making the original L-shaped kitchen into a larger square room. Orange kitchen cabinets installed during the alteration that replaced the original cabinets line the interior wall that separates the kitchen from the dining room. Spaces for a stove range and dishwasher are built into the counter and lower cabinets.
No significant changes have been made since the 1963 expansion and the house remains almost entirely unaltered, retaining most original interior finishes and fixtures as well as extensive custom designed cabinetry. At present, it also retains many of its original furnishings.
Many features of the William Landsberg House are characteristic of Modern design and ideology. Following the modernist philosophy of harmony between nature and building, the house, which is built into a wooded hillside, is designed in conjunction with its environment. The two story elevation, with the second floor cantilevers, questions weight bearing elements of conventional construction. Custom furniture designed or altered by Landsberg himself coincide with Modernist philosophies of interior decoration, where design styles of furniture and interior spaces follow the same visual program and functionality of the building’s exterior. Bauhaus style tables and chairs in the living room are minimal in design, as are closet doors, which feature small rectangular dowels as handles. The kitchen cabinets and large glass windows were designed to custom specifications by Landsberg and manufactured by local companies. Appliances such as the stove range, dishwasher, and food processor in the kitchen and a stereo system in the living room are tucked into walls and spaces between cabinets to maximize space efficiency. Landsberg’s hand in the interior decoration represents the importance of continuity of design throughout all aspects of the house.
Designed by Landsberg for his own family dwelling, the William Landsberg House could be considered a unique example of his work because the architect himself executed the design to personal taste. Landsberg was not only a resident of Port Washington, but also was the owner of his own architectural firm, whose office was located on the town’s main commercial road at 921 Port Washington Boulevard. He served on the Board of Zoning Appeals for the Baxter Estates neighborhood of Port Washington and was a member of the North Shore Community Arts Center; Manhasset Art Association; The Community Synagogue; and the American Institute of Architects.
The house, rather than rejecting its natural environment, participates in it by using the hilled site as a design feature. Wooden paneling made of Georgia Cypress and local “Manhattan Schist” add a naturalistic element to the house that complements the surrounding trees and rock formations on the property. “Manhattan Schist”, unearthed from the excavation of the New York City Subway, and Cypress wood from Georgia, chosen for its natural look, density and insect resistance are both materials that are no longer available.
The William Landsberg House is a significant example of Bauhaus style Modern Architecture generated in the United States. Landsberg, who studied under Marcel Breuer and Walter Gropius at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, and continued a professional relationship specifically with Breuer first as a draftsman and then as the director of design of Breuer’s own firm, was personally and intellectually linked to the design styles of the aforementioned artists. Landsberg also worked for notable firms Shreve Lamb & Harmon, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Kahn & Jacobs, Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum, and Edward Durell Stone. Under his own firm, Landsberg completed the design for 28 residences, but also designed other building types, such as offices, commercial buildings a synagogue and a veterinary hospital. The Landsberg House was one of Landsberg’s earliest independent designs and clearly reflects the influence of Marcel Breuer’s design style.
Featuring the flat roof, right angles and floor to ceiling glazing of Breuer houses, the William Landsberg House, as well as other houses and buildings designed by Landsberg, highlight not only the keenness of Landsberg’s ability to design in an established style, but also serve as an example of the development of Landsberg’s own personal style. The Rudolph Joseph House, Herbert Perry House, and Randall McIntyre House (all featured in Architectural Record) designed by Landsberg (with the Herbert Perry House being designed in conjunction with Herbert Beckhard), all feature the same floor to ceiling windows, vertical wood cladding and cantilever on their second story that is seen in the Landsberg House. The standalone small rectangular window on the southern end of the eastern elevation of the Landsberg House is found in the design of the Herbert Perry House and the still extant, Landsberg designed Crichton House. Although he designed many projects during the active time of his private practice, including additions and alterations for many homes in the local Long Island area, only ten buildings remain today. Landsberg’s body of work proves his ability to work in an established style and meet the aesthetic as well as technical challenges of designing for site-specific needs while maintaining ease of livability, proportion, and integration with the natural surrounding. The Landsberg House, where Landsberg served as both client and designer, remains perhaps the best fundamental expression of his design style.
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