Dramatic Mid-Century Princeton Mansion Hits Market for $6 Million
Maison de Verre, a mid-century-modern house set on three-quarters of an acre in Princeton, N.J, was built in the early 1960s for Calvin Pardee Foulke, the scion of a dynasty whose forbears owned coal mines, railroads, and property across the U.S. He died in 1974, and when his wife Marjorie died in 1992, the property was purchased by a member of a different landed gentry.
“Yes, I married into the French aristocracy, though I’m no longer in the French aristocracy after my divorce,” said Rysia de Ravel d’Esclapon, the founder of DeraCom Conference Call Services, who is also, technically, a countess. “Titles don’t mean anything in France officially, but it’s funny how much they love them.”
The moment de Ravel first saw the house, about a four-minute drive from Princeton University, she knew she had to buy it.“I couldn’t imagine that anything which had zero windows on the front could be so filled with light,” she said. Now, though, more than 25 years later, she’s putting the property on the market with Gloria Nilson & Co Realty/ Christie's International Real Estate for $5.995 million.
When de Ravel purchased the property in 1993 for what she said was about $1.2 million, the house was close to 6,000 square feet. Designed by William H. Short, the architect who oversaw construction of the Guggenheim Museum in New York, and William F. Shellman, a professor of modern architecture at Princeton University, the structure was built to accommodate a large staff. “When you rang the doorbell, it only sounded in the back of the house” (in the servants' quarters), de Ravel said. “You can be sure [the previous owners] weren’t going to answer the door themselves.”
“I’m not sure,” she added, “that they stepped foot in the kitchen, either.”
It took de Ravel close to a decade to modernize the house while keeping the original, Frank Lloyd Wright-style aesthetic intact. “I spent about 10 years trying to figure out how to be totally respectful of the house, but to make it have things I wanted,” she said. “It was terribly elegant, but formal. Whenever young people would come over, you could tell they felt like they were in a museum.”
De Ravel took out the butler’s pantry and living room and put in a large kitchen that seats at least 12, along with an expanded dining room. She also added a mother-in-law’s apartment above the house’s three-car garage, expanding the structure to a total of 10,800 square feet.
Including the separate, 1,400-square-foot apartment above the three-car garage, the house has six bedrooms, four with en-suite baths. The house is large enough, de Ravel said, that it has four Miele dishwashers: two in the main kitchen, one in the apartment, and one in the master suite’s “night kitchen,” which she uses mainly to fix cappuccinos in the morning, she explained.
The landscaping also comes with a pedigree: It was designed by Robert Zion, the landscape architect who revamped Statue of Liberty Park and whose design for Paley Park in New York is credited as the city's first “vest pocket” park. “You’ve never seen three-quarters of an acre used quite like this,” de Ravel said. “I have a series of outdoor rooms; each one is a jewel of a garden.”
De Ravel said that she’s selling in order to downsize and move into an apartment at 56 Leonard, a new building in TriBeCa by starchitects Herzog & de Meuron. “If my house takes a few years to sell, though, I’d be happy,” she said. “I don’t care—I’d love to have them both.”