|Photo from New York Traveller.|
|The so-called "Munn's Castle", 1 Rutger Park, Utica. 1852 or 1854|
Despite its 'castle' moniker that suggests Gothic architecture, the house is a particularly sober Italianate irregular villa. The design departs somewhat from the expected irregular plan, but considering Davis popularized the irregular plan in the first place, it's his prerogative to futz with it. Unlike the plan published by Davis, the house has a large wing to the left of the projecting pavilion, which dramatically increases its mass and horizontality. The projecting pavilion itself is chamfered (has angled corners) rather than 90 degree corners, which do give it a somewhat castle-like appearance, or make it seem like some overgrown bay window. The chamfered shape of the pavilion is elegantly echoed by the bay window on its first floor whose tripartite division is repeated up the façade. The tower is spare, unlike Austin's tower at the Norton house, with just a few round-headed windows. The brackets are small but frequently deployed without an entablature, again giving the effect of jutting roof beams, as Davis did in his design for the Apthorp house. The finish is scored stucco, an effect we have seen in many houses of the 1850s. Originally the façade was graced by a wooden porch on the right and a delicate cast iron porch on the left. Fortunately for us, Davis' plans and elevations for the house have been preserved and are in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Both of these drawings can be found on the Metropolitan Museum's website (drawing 1 and 2). Looking at the plan, we can see that Davis took full advantage of his chamfered pavilion by incorporating chamfered rooms into most of the first floor. Where a lesser architect might have been forced to create thick and oddly shaped halls and closets, Davis beautifully combined the rooms into a carefully composed jigsaw puzzle that snugly fits these oddly shaped rooms together. From these elevations one can also get a good idea of the original finish of the house. In looking at these drawings, however, you should notice some discrepancies. The house seems to have been 'flipped' by the architect since the elevations show the tower on the left of the projecting pavilion whereas the house as completed has the tower on the right; also one of the porches is missing. A later drawing also in the Met, shows the house closer to its appearance as it was completed (credit).
The Munn house is an impressive example of an Italianate villa by a master designer. The careful balance of heights and widths betray the work of a great architect. I personally love how the tall, thin tower is contrasted with the thick projecting pavilion, how 90 degree angles contrast with chamfered corners, and how a 2 bay wing is balanced by a single bay wing. The house almost has a pyramidal shape as the various rooflines culminate in the tower with its urns. I am excited to see how the Landmarks Society restores this impressive monument.