Architecture du Jour: Wilderstein

Paleo Retiree writes:

My wife and I recently visited Wilderstein, a magnificent 19th century mansion on the Hudson River, not far from the lovely small town of Rhinebeck. Wilderstein is sometimes said to be the Hudson River Valley’s best Victorian house.

It was initially designed and built in 1852 (by architect John Warren Ritch) in the Italianate style, then re-built in 1888 in the Queen Anne style by Arnout Cannon, a Poughkeepsie architect.

Here are some more views:


There’s no fear of color anywhere in evidence at Wilderstein, to put it mildly. The whole place is a pleasing hybrid of the flamboyant and the dignified-and-restrained, in fact.

The grounds — romantic and sweeping — were the work of Calvert Vaux, the co-designer of NYC’s Central Park.


The outdoors seating definitely wasn’t in the immovable Minimalist-block style.

We weren’t allowed to snap photos inside the house. Words that came to mind as we toured Wilderstein’s interior include: dark and heavy; ornate-but-casual, with touches of the “rich people’s cottage” style; plenty of quiet, plenty of interest, and plenty of color. Tiffany (Joseph Burr Tiffany, not Louis Comfort) did the house’s stained glass, and his work provides a lot of jewel-like highlights for the eye to feast on.

For three generations Wilderstein belonged to the Suckley family, who made their fortune in shipping up and down the Hudson. It’s only five or so miles from Hyde Park, a small Hudson River area town famous for its connections to the Roosevelts. Suffice it to say that the Suckleys and the Roosevelts were not strangers to each other.

The house is owned and operated by a private local nonprofit, and they have done a wonderful job of maintaining it. Volunteers staff the desk and give the tours. Our guide was a lovably cranky local-history nut who took a minute to share his distaste for the dozen of so pieces of modernist sculpture that some curator had seen fit to scatter around the Wilderstein grounds.

Is there no place that your average art curator doesn’t think is improved by the addition of modernist sculpture? I’m fully capable of enjoying abstract and modernist art, but in this case it really did feel like the sculptures were defacing the otherwise pleasing and sedate — as well as carefully, lovingly preserved — 19th centuriness of the location. Everyone in our tour group clucked over the sculptures and wished they weren’t there.


About Paleo Retiree

Onetime media flunky and movie buff and very glad to have left that mess behind. Formerly Michael Blowhard of the cultureblog Now a rootless parasite and bon vivant on a quest to find the perfectly-crafted artisanal cocktail.
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