Built as a personal residence for John Snyder, the Chief Executive of the Pressed Steel Car Company which manufactured Goldberg’s Unicel freightcars and Unishelter homes, the Snyder House was designed utilizing prefabricated components from the Unishelter program. The prefabricated units, complete with bathroom, kitchen, plumbing and HVAC, were fabricated in Chicago, shipped by rail, then by boat, and finally assembled on Shelter Island. Two separate units, the guest and main houses were glued together on site. The prefabricated elements were built of naturally finished mahogany plywood, which gave the exterior a dramatic sheen. The interior of the main house featured a massive stone fireplace and flagstone floors. The natural materials provided a dramatic contrast to the glass and steel exterior of the main living space. The focal point of the house was a dramatic cantilever, composed of the prefabricated units, which jutted out over Long Island Sound. A man-made beach became a landing area for amphibious airplanes used to transport onlookers between New York City and the “demonstration house.”
As a student in the Bauhaus in the early 1930s, Goldberg discovered the possibilities of a creative relationship between the industrial process and the design industry. The Snyder House was a dramatic expression of that belief. Goldberg was no stranger to the possibilities of plywood. He had used it for everything from furniture to freight cars. With the Snyder House, Goldberg wanted to create a design that would make a commonly invisible building material visible and take the stigma out of plywood.