This Eccentric New Jersey Mansion Has a Famous Past
Rare is the couple that so enjoys shopping for antiques together. And when the couple’s house is 24,000 square feet, the fun never ends—whether it’s scoring massive majolica amphorae, Venetian sofas, vintage glass vitrines from Cartier, Axminster carpets, or grotto furniture.
In 2000, from the moment a New Jersey entrepreneur and his stylish, Alabama-born wife first saw—and immediately bought—the huge New Jersey mansion, they understood its appeal. Up the Hudson River and only ten miles from New York’s Times Square, the house is situated in a landscaped, five-acre park, complete with a pond populated by Paradise cranes and black-necked swans. Inspired in design by a royal summer palace, the Italianate house is sheathed in gleaming white-glazed faience blocks and roofed in red terra-cotta tiles.
The interior is very grand, with a columned, two-story oval-ceilinged hall dominated by a sweeping double staircase. The house has two wings and two towers. It has eight bedrooms, 13 bathrooms, a solarium, a dining room, a grand salon, a mahogany-paneled library, a “rustic” dacha-style den, and a music room. Also on the property are a seven-car garage and several architectural follies, including a thatched hut from Indonesia. It is a majestic house with an even better backstory.
It was built in 1926 by architect J.C. Hameltman, of Paterson, New Jersey, for Count Stefan de Poniatowski, heir to the Polish throne, and his American wife, Edith von Stohn, daughter of the owner of what was then the largest silk mill in the state. The house took years to build and cost $2.5 million dollars in 1926.
No expense was spared: European craftsmen were employed to place the faience blocks, lay the imported marble floors, install mahogany paneling, and add carved-stone overmantels with the Poniatowski coat of arms. “Stefan spent all Edith’s money,” the owner said. “And when the silk business failed in the Depression, they lost the house.”
The plot thickens. In 1936, Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., Boston patriarch of the Kennedy clan, was on the board of the Lincoln National Bank of New Jersey when it repossessed the Poniatowski house. Kennedy bought it for $130,000 for his mistress, the actress Gloria Swanson, who lived there for six years.
When the current owners bought the property, they restored the gardens and furnished the house—while also pursuing their passion of collecting Victorian majolica. The solarium boasts a life-size white heron. The powder room has a dolphin console on which is displayed a French vase covered with delicately sculpted morning glories. Pheasants support an antique clock in the living room. Their only collecting criteria: The pieces must be unusual examples of majolica, whether American, English, or French.
In decorating, they had help from Susan Anthony, a designer in Montville, New Jersey, but they buy the antiques themselves. The couple has eclectic taste. The spacious formal dining room, for example, has been furnished with a brass-inlaid Cuban mahogany dining room set, which originally adorned the Jockey Club of São Paulo, Brazil, and is said to have belonged to Walter Chrysler, the American automotive executive. As they acquire new pieces, the couple is constantly upgrading their collection.
And they continue to have a ball together.
A version of this article first appeared in print in our 2016 Spring Issue under the headline Fabulous Folly. Subscribe to the magazine.