A historic North Broadway mansion in Yonkers that was designed by noted American architect Wilson Eyre Jr. has been saved from the wrecking ball and restored to glory by James Trosino and Robert Alan. For their meticulous renovation of the seven-bedroom home and the surrounding formal gardens, Trosino and Alan have won an inaugural Curb Appeal Award from Mayor Mike Spano.
Eyre (1858-1944) was an American architect, teacher and writer who practiced in the Philadelphia area, known for his deliberately informal and welcoming country houses. Prior to Frank Lloyd Wright’s rise to prominence, Eyre was arguably the best-known residential architect in the United States.
There are a few Eyre houses on Long Island, but this is the only known one in Westchester. Eyre also designed gardens and was one of the founding editors of House & Garden magazine. He was an early proponent of the need for interaction between indoor rooms and outdoor spaces.
And that’s why Trosino and Alan hired landscape designer Robert Welsch to completely rebuild and restore the gardens and make them feel like an integral part of the 1910 brick mansion again. This spring, Welsch finished the extensive landscaping project and the colorful new gardens are growing in beautifully. It’s easy to imagine how lush and private they will feel in two or three years.
In 2007, this northwest Yonkers house, which was in decrepit condition, was nearly razed to make way for five new homes. But neighborhood preservation efforts took root and the house was granted landmark status.
Trosino and Alan, who are great lovers of old and architecturally interesting houses, first learned of the property in December of that year and closed on it in February 2008.
That September, they moved from San Francisco to Yonkers (you don’t hear that very often!) to oversee the gut rehab. They wisely chose to live in a nearby rental while the home was cleaned up and restored.
“The place was a ruin, both inside and out,” Trosino says. In 2010, they were able to move in and begin to turn their attention to the yard and gardens.
(A “before” shot from 2007, photos by Mark Vergari)
Go to lohud.com to see a full photo gallery.
“Because the house is landmarked, any changes had to go before the Landmarks Preservation Board,” Trosino says. “Robert instantly got both us and the house. He made the process so much smoother.”
“He spoke the right language, so it was easy to get things through the board,” Trosino adds.
With his drawings approved, Welsch, the owner of Westover Landscape Design in Tarrytown, began to dig through the decades of neglect. “First, we had to get a clear canvas and palette to work with,” he says. “There were lots of junk trees and overgrown gnarly stuff that had to come out.”
“We brought machinery in and sort of backed our way out,” he explains, starting at the back of the property and moving forward through the side and front yard toward North Broadway.
“It was a three-year process, giving us time to do the proper grades and levels,” he says.
The entire brick-walled property is well under an acre, but it feels much larger because of the way it’s been generously planted and divided into outdoor rooms and living spaces.
Around the front of the house, Welsch created a spring and winter garden, with the more private summer garden in the back of the house, where Trosino and Alan have a magnificent light-filled sunroom that extends out into the garden.
Like most of the house, this back part was a mess when they bought it. An awful addition had been tacked on at some point, with a large brick wall blocking any view of the back yard. In the sunroom, a leaky fountain had left rotting floor boards.
“You took your life in your hands walking in here,” Trosino remembers. “Mushrooms were growing on the ceiling of the floor below.”
“You can’t believe how ‘Grey Gardens’ this was,” Welsch adds.
The extensive rehab of the three floors is nearly done, Trosino says. “We’re still working on some of the interior finishes.”
The house boasts many original architectural details, including wooden brackets carved as caryatids, a herringbone brick terrace, charming third-story gables, slate roof tiles, casement windows with stained glass schooners, and wooden shutters with iron holders in the shape of bunches of grapes.
For the restored driveway, Trosino and Alan brought in antique reclaimed cobblestones from New York City streets to replace the asphalt drive.
They add a classic, timeless feel to the property, just like the new gardens that already feel lived in and part of the house.
“I love a long, meaty project,” Welsch says. “They were very precise clients — they knew exactly what they wanted.”
The plant palette
To bring privacy to a busy corner on North Broadway in Yonkers, landscape designer Robert Welsch planted dozens of fast-growing evergreens that will create full screening within two or three years.
(Robert among the shrubs and perennials)
On the south side of the 0.7-acre property, he added a long line of Cryptomeria japonica trees in front of a new cedar lattice fence that replaced an ugly chain link one. On the street-facing north side, he planted a long line of Leyland cypress and Norway spruce trees.
He also wanted the new gardens to feel like they have always been a part of the 1910 house.
“We tried to stay with the period of the house with the plant selection,” Welsch says. That meant avoiding modern things like ornamental grasses and shrubs and perennials tricked out with variegated leaves.
Instead, you’ll find lots of classics like rhododendrons, London plane trees, fragrant daphnes and lilies, dogwood, ladies mantle, asters, magnolias and alliums and daffodils in spring.
Welsch chose three kinds of hydrangea for the property: native oakleaf, Nico blue and Endless Summer.
“I kept the plant palette pretty tight, with lots of repetition,” he says. “In all of the front and side gardens, you’ll find no more than 10 varieties.”
He also tried to work with existing sun and shade spots and how water already flows through the property.
For example, willows love wet spots and you’ll find a very happy 3-year-old willow tree anchoring the end of the back yard. “All of the water on the property moves to this corner,” Welsch explains.