Cobble Close Farm

Fred Century’s last name has an appropriate ring to it, since the much beloved property he has called home for the last 60-plus years will be celebrating a centennial of its own in the not so distant future. The Alfred Hopkins-designed, French Normandy inspired gentleman’s dairy farm, located on 13 acres in Middletown, New Jersey, was to be part of a much bigger estate known as Cobble Close Farm. It was built in the late 1920s by the children of  Isidor and Ida Straus, the early Macy's department store owners. The Straus family, of Jewish German descent, initially settled in Georgia and moved to New York City after the Civil War. Isadore and his brother Nathan founded Abraham and Straus (New York based department stores) in 1893  and then became co-owners of R.H. Macy and Co. (Macy’s Department stores) in 1896. Isadore and his beloved wife Ida famously lost their lives in the Titanic disaster of 1912, when it is said Ida refused to leave her husband for  the safety of a life boat reserved for women and children. Their son, Herbert, and his wife, Therese Kuhn Straus, were the original owners of Cobble Close Farm.
Herbert Straus died in 1933 and Cobble Close Farm was sold in 1949. The large chateau inspired home, originally planned to be the main family residence, was never built. The property now contains four residences and a rental property and is registered as a co-op by the town of Middletown. Through the years the original buildings were re-imagined into historically inspired residences paying homage to the property’s historic provenance. Fred Century and his partner spent many wonderful years overseeing, enjoying and protecting the integrity of the property. Fred’s passion and love for the Cobble Close Farm property is palpable and inspiring. He tells many stories of learning  as you go when it comes to historic preservation. He learned by doing when it came to construction, but all decisions over the years were informed by an overall design plan to maintain the integrity of the property.
The results of that passion can be seen in every corner and cobblestone of this unique property. While strolling the impressive grounds, the whispers of generations of colorful owners, visitors, countless craftsman and farm hands  can almost be heard. Fred Century and the owners of the residences at Cobble Close Farm can take pride in their commitment to the past and their unique contribution to the Farm’s illustrious, colorful and memorable history. They, too, have become a part of the ongoing story of Cobble Close Farm.

Integrity of architecture and design is evident throughout the 13 acre property of Cobble Close Farm. The architecture is inspired by French Norman design from the 11th and 12th centuries, often associated with castles, cathedrals, abbeys, churches, monasteries and fortifications. Many of the buildings were created from elements of European estates and shipped and re-assembled to form the current plan. The buildings are surrounded by  fountains and formal landscaping, as well as a pool and cabana. Belgian cobblestones ground the center courtyard design of Cobble Close Farm. Architecturally accurate arches and connecting elements integrate the different areas and buildings within the complex of buildings and decorative elements. Fred Century was clear that throughout the property’s many years of renovations, additions and restorations, the overall balance and character of the  property has been preserved.
The magnificent attention to detail and finishes cannot be under-estimated on this architecturally rich property’s exterior surfaces. Terracotta roof ing and stone block construction (some of which was cast from molds made from original Norman block) make an undeniable statement and a feeling that these buildings have been here for hundreds of years and were always part of the Cobble Close Farm complex. The mature landscaping and age of the specimen trees and gardens add credence to the initial concept and splash color throughout the complex.

Bronze and copper gutter downspouts feature fairy tale characters and stories of a fantastical nature. How appropriate, since the entire property has somehow transcended the practical working farm concept of the original owner and is now a fantasy wonderland of a kind that has been featured in numerous commercials, a feature film and fashion magazine layouts.

When Cobble Close Farm was at one time a working dairy farm it included a number of connecting buildings: a worker’s dormitory, caretaker’s cottage, cow barns, a 12 stall parking garage, and an orangerie (building used to  winter citrus trees in large holding tubs till they could be brought outside again to bear fruit, once again, in the warmth of spring and summer). These original buildings, each with its own utilitarian purpose, have over the years been  re-purposed as a group of luxury residences.

A beautiful private in-ground pool is the perfect place to cool off on a summer day. Large stone steps, iron gates and imported Greco-Roman statues make this “paradise found” a reality. There are a number of walkways and paths  that are landscaped and feature stone benches and areas for reflection. Water features including fountains and ponds offer visual reflections and a home for a number of swans, geese, ducks and frogs, none of which need to fear  landing on a plate for dinner.

Norman arches and columns are featured throughout Cobble Close Farms architectural design. The warmth of stone is something that cannot be manufactured; it takes time for stone to take on the patina of age, and the natural landscape surrounding the buildings and gardens help to soften any hard edges. The entire compound has a timelessness that seems to emanate from some place deep inside its architectural soul. Once visited, this property is  not easily forgettable. Fred defines this as a very positive “spell” of sorts.

Fred is not shy about his design decisions, and as an example of those bold choices he painted a vintage grand piano green to match the drapes. Rooms have been added over the years, and Fred says he always tried to make  such additions feel very organic and connected to the original structure. He says the entire property’s buildings are built like a fortress where the walls in some places are 12” to 16” thick. Symmetry and building materials were  always chosen with integrity of style in mind. A garden room was added about 30 years ago and contains many art objects, a small pond, iron gates and an environment that flora seem to thrive in.
Arches lead to private and public spaces. A series of cathedral like windows look into the garden room beyond. Although traditional and historic, this home is anything but un-inviting. The reclining sofa and chair, with leopard print,  has a certain whimsy about it and vintage oriental rugs add color and pattern to many of the grand spaces found in this inspiring residence.

Fred has worn many a professional hats in his lifetime, and collecting objects and artifacts has been a lifelong obsession. For many years he was in the antique business and travelled the world in search of unique objects and  artifacts to offer for sale. He says with a chuckle that he has trouble throwing anything out and that many memories are tied to these things. Color and light seem to inform Fred’s wall color choices and serve as a bold canvas on  which to display furnishings and decorative accessories. Mirrors and lighting fixtures serve to reflect and illuminate as well as add life to the interior design. Fred’s home serves as a place to display his passion for life and history. A grouping of letter openers carefully displayed on a leather topped desk become art objects awaiting a letter to open.

Fred loves to cook, and over the many years has entertained countless people within Cobble Close Farm’s walls and grounds. The formal dining room can seat up to 18. A 19th century reverse painted mirror with Chinese motif came from a friend’s apartment and reflects a collection of cut glass and crystal antique pieces. The upholstered dining chairs with bold print fabric offer comfort and style in equal proportions. Windows and natural light, filtered through sheer curtains, illuminate the interior spaces of Fred’s home.

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15 Nov 2015

By Michael Berman