Exhibitions: Decorative Arts Galleries and Period Rooms: Nicholas Schenck House

Installation View of Nicholas Schenck House

This house was built by Nicholas Schenck (1732–1810) in what is now the Canarsie section of Brooklyn about 1775. It was a one-and-one half story farmhouse with a gambrel roof typical of houses built in America in areas settled by the Dutch. The house was heavily remodeled in the early nineteenth century and is therefore installed here as it might have looked about 1830 when Nicholas Schenck, Jr. (1765–1836) lived in it with his family. The house of Nicholas Schenck, Senior’s grandfather, Jan Martense Schenck, is also on display in the Museum. Together, these two houses suggest the way one Dutch American family might have lived in Brooklyn over a period of 150 years.

When the Museum acquired the Nicholas Schenck House in 1929, the house was in a state of disrepair. For years it had been used as a concession stand in Canarsie Park. When attempts to preserve it on site failed, the entire house was given to the Museum.

In previous installations, the house was exhibited as an eighteenth-century house even though many features, including the windows, the staircases, and the molding around the fireplaces, dated from the early nineteenth century. Only the beamed ceiling and the paneled walls surrounding the fireplaces in the parlor and dining room reflected the house’s eighteenth-century origin.

In the current installation, these eighteenth-century features have been retained as they were when the house was remodeled, but early nineteenth century modifications are shown as well. For instance, the large fireplaces, considered inefficient by 1830, have been closed up and replaced as sources of heat by cast-iron stoves.

The color of the woodwork is based on fragments of paint found under the fireplace mantel and accurately reproduces the original color. It is unlikely that the ceilings were painted white in the early nineteenth century. But it was impossible, unfortunately, to strip off their many layers of old paint.

The furnishings of the house, like its architecture, are a mixture of both eighteenth- and nineteenth-century styles and traditions. Family heirlooms such as a high chest and a kas (a large wardrobe based on Dutch models) are mixed with more up-to-date items. This installation therefore represents the way in which a house and its contents slowly grow to change over several generations. No single style predominates; the old coexists with the new.

Schenck Houses