In 1953, Pratt & Whitney founder Frederick Rentschler chose his back patio to discuss the evolution of aviation in the film, "We Saw It Happen." Mr. Rentschler should have discussed another wonder during his interview – the home he built in Connecticut.
One visit to Renbrook, the former residence of Frederick and Faye Rentschler, will leave a lasting memory. The chosen name "Renbrook" is rather easy to decipher. The "Ren" stands for Rentschler, of course, and the flowing brook runs through the expansive property. Rentschler's short commute to the land of dependable engines started here every day until 1953 – the year of his wife's passing. What was once the address to a leading innovator has long been the home for learning, the "Renbrook School," educating students from pre-k to ninth grade.
"There's nothing else like this (home) in the state," said Howard Wright, Renbrook's dean of students and an avid fan of the Rentschler family legacy. "They were quality people, there's no other way to say it other than that. They wanted an instantly old look, and they achieved that."
Some call it a French chateau, others, Tudor Revival, but most agree the house is spectacular. While Mr. Rentschler is credited with changing the way airplanes are powered, credit for this architectural art form must fall to Faye.
"Mr. Rentschler only signed the checks," Wright continued. "Mrs. Rentschler is the one who made the decisions. Her word was the final word."
Her every detail to the home is memorable, and the jaw-dropping experience begins before you even step foot inside. Wright provided an in-depth analysis of some of the home's most extraordinary features.
"They put great attention to the cobblestone courtyard, so it's quite grand when you come up. The Rentschlers wanted to create a very large but old looking mansion, and so they took great pains to make the roof look wavy. Even though it was brand new, the boards underneath are all ceramic tiles, so there's a natural wave to it," Wright said. "They wanted to have certain interesting features, such as the brick squares as you see in the front and back of the Rentschler house. Each square, which is made up of nine bricks, has a different design."
The exterior serves as a preview to the indoor grandeur. Open the solid wooden front door and you walk into the aptly named great hall. If Faye Rentschler was attempting to achieve a moment of amazement – then she succeeded. Little has changed in this wide open entrance since the Rentschlers first greeted guests.
"They wanted it to look both imposing as well as comfortable. There's an interesting blend between the two of them with these high, high ceilings, and the woodwork. The chairs are often straight-backed, so there's a formality there, but it's also very tasteful," Wright said.
As you walk down one of the long open hallways, you will discover that neighboring rooms are just as extravagant, and are mostly unchanged since the 1930s. There is Mrs. Rentschler's powder room, surrounded with not just one but many … mirrors. The dining room is giant but formal, surrounded by dark wooden paneling with ornamental carvings. Over the years, the influential family entertained many VIPs in this room, and perhaps a business deal was sealed over dinner. Adjoining the dining room is a sunroom that looks out onto a seemingly never-ending backyard. Then, there are the bathrooms, with one key feature that a Pratt & Whitney employee might think is vaguely familiar.
"If you look at the faucet heads, they're very hard and pointy to use because it's brass, but they're points to it, they're almost like spokes, about ten spokes or so, and when you look at it, you say, 'Why would you choose something that is so difficult to turn?'" Wright said. "Really, what it is is the closest thing that the Rentschlers could get to the Wasp engine design. It's radial, you start to look at it again, the closest fixture they could get to the Wasp engine design."
Noticeably absent is a large wing that contained living quarters, a ball room, a boudoir, a garden room, and more. It was torn down before the beginning of World War II with no clear-cut explanation as to why.
But the spirit of Frederick Rentschler is engrained in the very fabric of Renbrook School. For example, when a new wing was added in the footprint of what was once here, a section was dedicated to Pratt & Whitney, complete with a Wasp engine, old issues of the "Bee Hive," and pictures of a great entrepreneur. The school even partakes in a yearly "Flight Day."
"There's creativity, imagination. Mr. Rentschler was a visionary, that's what we try to instill in our children," said Wright.
In fact, Renbrook was once known as the "Junior School," which was originally started by several couples, including Pratt & Whitney co-founder George Mead and his wife. When the Rentschler estate announced it would lease the property for a non-profit institution, the Junior School was picked and re-named.
"What was started by one co-founder of Pratt & Whitney we are now located at the other estate of the co-founder of Pratt & Whitney," Wright said.
From an engraved rock bearing the names of their beloved Airedale dogs, to pictures of their young daughters hanging in the Great Hall, Renbrook will continue to celebrate the Rentschler family.
After all, if innovation was at the core of this man, shouldn't his home serve as a foundation for those destined to echo that same spirit?
"There's something special that happens on this piece of property since 1931. People who have lived or worked here have always been motivated by – there's a better way of doing things. I do think this place was meant to be a school ultimately, and to carry on what the Rentschlers started. I do think special things happen on this property," Wright said.