Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Pelitiah Perit House, New Haven, CT

A side and front view of the Perit House in New Haven.
As my inaugural house, I picked one of my favorites, the Perit House on New Haven's Hillhouse Avenue. Hillhouse Avenue is a street in New Haven that was developed by James Hillhouse at the opening of the 19th century and was conceived of as a showplace of architecture for the city's wealthy. Although it only really came into its own from the 1820s onward, the street attracted some of the city's wealthiest families of the mid 19th century who built houses that exemplified the architectural styles of the day, most notably the Italianate style. Ithiel Town and Alexander Jackson Davis (one of the co-authors of Cottage Residences) had a hand in designing some of the street's homes (Town actually lived on Hillhouse), as did Henry Austin. In each decade new homes were added to the stretch so that it is possible to see in a microcosm the evolution of American architectural styles of the 19th century on one street. The dominant styles on Hillhouse are Greek Revival and Italianate, although it includes examples of Federal, Gothic Revival, Beaux Arts Classicism, and German Renaissance.

Now to the Perit House. It was built in 1859/1860 and was designed by Sidney Mason Stone, a local New Haven architect. The house has gone through a few changes since it was built; a third story was added in the 1860s and in the 1880s, a large rear addition was added to accommodate a Jacobean/Tudor library, however, the additions were designed in sympathy with the main house. As we can see, the house is of the symmetrical plan with a small cupola, which resembles more a monitor (a low cupola) in the center of the hip roof. The detailing is classical in concept. In fact, the decoration on the house is slightly more classicizing and Renaissance-inspired than many Italianates you will encounter.

As you can see, the porch is a heavy classical composition with paired Corinthian columns, a classically correct frieze, and smaller brackets than are usual on Italianates. The windows as well have heavily carved brackets supporting thick moldings, and on the second floor the hood moldings alternate pointed and curved pediments, a feature found in Renaissance and Palladian architecture. The façade, like many Italianates, is covered in stucco which is scored (scraped) to looked like blocks of stone a treatment which was common on Italianate houses made of brick. The front door pictured below with its rope moldings and large windows completely framing the door is an interesting feature that this house shares with a few others in New Haven.

The main cornice as well is understated in its bracketing and Renaissance characteristics with an implied frieze because of the band of molding. The placement of windows in the frieze is a feature that can be traced to Greek Revival design but was continued throughout much of the 19th century.

The house could be cited as an example of Anglo Italianate detailing. Anglo Italianate is a subset of Italianate architecture, although it was not recognized as such in its day, that conforms more closely than most vernacular examples to the Italianate architecture current in England. Anglo-Italianate is characterized by detailing and massing that conforms more to a Renaissance palazzo and attempts to follow classical precedents closely. Probably the best known and possibly the earliest example of Anglo Italianate architecture in the US is the Philadelphia Athenaeum, designed by John Notman (1810-1865) in 1845. Notman was trained in Scotland; thus he was more acquainted with European Italianate precedents than other architects practicing in America. Below is an image of the Athenaeum from Wikipedia.
Although the Perit House is a bit less 'correct' than the Athenaeum's following of Renaissance prototypes, it nonetheless draws from the Anglo Italianate decorative vocabulary for its ornamentation.

A few more remarks about the Perit House. First if you look at the images at the top of the article and the following image, you can see that despite the symmetry of the front façade in the symmetrical plan, the side elevations of an Italianate are rarely symmetrical. They are often characterized by the protuberance of bay windows and small projecting sections of façade. Queen Anne is often cited as a style which makes its interior plan visible from the exterior; however, Italianate is just as likely to display the function of the house in preference to a symmetrical exterior. Italianate houses also often extend back very far on their property with subordinate ells and wings in the back. Sometimes this is simply how they were designed, but often it is the result of later additions. In the image below, the back two bays of the house constitute the addition of the 1880s.

Because I have been inside this house (it is now owned by Yale University), I thought I would include a few pictures of the Jacobean library and other interesting features of the house, although they may not strictly fall under Italianate interior aesthetics.

 The Jacobean Library of the 1880s.

 A small office, probably also from the later 19th century.

The staircase may be original to the house.

The inlaid floor in the main hallway.

The interior doors; note the etched glass, a common feature of Italianate doors.

The next few posts for this week will focus on some other Italianate mansions on Hillhouse Avenue.

1 comment:

  1. Absolutely wonderful. A pleasure to read.