Friday, April 26, 2013

A Unique House- The John Graves House, New Haven, CT

The John Graves House on Hillhouse Avenue, 1862.
The John Graves house makes a statement. On a street of mostly conservative, symmetrical, stuccoed Italianate villas, the Graves house breaks with the precedents of Hillhouse Avenue. Although in plan it is of the symmetrical type, the house's constantly shifting planes and masses, the restless breaking of the cornice line, and (from the side) the profusion of projections give the house a dynamic energy not seen in many Italianate villas. The front façade consists of two symmetrical bays, the third story of which breaks through the cornice line with a gable, almost giving the impression of half dormers. The corners are further enlivened by thick second story pilasters which seem to hover above the thinner first story corner boards. The center of the façade features two broadly jutting pilasters surmounted by a curved pediment that appears as a huge shadowy arch under which a balcony is placed. The depth of the arch is subverted by the projecting box window and balcony that rests upon a porch that juts out further still. Thus from porch to pediment, we see three large elements that recede as they move higher up. The whole is crowned by a more steeply pitched hip roof than is usually seen and a small cupola. The side elevations are just as complex.

The north side features three bay windows in a line with a shadowy recess under the central window.

The south façade also features a bay window and in the rear a large wing that because of the amount of windows gives the impression of a large box window. Again, a balcony tops this wing. A house with so many balconies and window effects was certainly designed to maximize the view of the avenue and surroundings.

Unlike the other houses I have posted, this house is of wood without any pretension of simulating stonework. The architect chose to emphasize this with many elaborate carvings and clear clapboard siding. Everywhere there are ornaments tucked into the houses nooks and crannies and blind panels filling wall space. A strong belt course in wood divides the first and second stories dramatically. The front windows have heavy cornices and brackets and vary from floor to floor. This house is a celebration of variety and carving ability. The brackets on the box window above the porch are particularly interesting as they intersect all the horizontal bands of the entablature. The following pictures show some of this delightful ornamentation.

First floor window treatments. The window is topped by a segmented arch. Note the paired s-scrolls that form the brackets and the carver's inclusion of foliage.

The windows on the second floor, with different brackets and elaborate foliage carving within the arch. Note the simple brackets on the cornice, a surprise given the elaborate treatment of the façade elsewhere.

                   The pediment and bay window.                                  A porch pilaster.
The delicately carved central flower on the porch entablature.
A close-up of the box window's cornice.

These pictures give you an idea of the delicacy and robustness alternating in the Graves House's decoration. While some people find this decoration monstrous, I tend to delight in the whimsy and complexity of it all. The same things that cause me to enjoy it are exactly the qualities that encouraged people in the mid 20th century to label the house a 'monstrosity' and encouraged them to demolish them. In looking at a house like this, you eye never knows what to focus on first, and that appeals to me, making this one of my favorite houses on the avenue. I've also always thought that the color scheme was particularly well done; the red window sash, the alternation of browns, creams, and yellow tints all are period appropriate choices and don't overemphasize the decoration as a "painted-lady" color scheme might have. The Victorians loved their browns and this house responds to that period's point of view.

The interior of the house has recently been renovated by Yale. The staircase is particularly fine with its carved newel post.

The gracefully curving stairs and the Renaissance Revival newel post.

The wainscoting along the stairs employs half of a newel post as a terminus for the paneling. The second view is of the stained glass in the box window over the porch.

 With this picture, shaded by the thick trees, I bid adieu to the John Graves House.

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