Monday, May 13, 2013

The John Wenham House, Grand Rapids, MI

The John Wenham House, Grand Rapids, MI. 1874/76

I was kindly given permission to use the photo above by Doug Copeland, who has taken some stunning architectural photographs; you should definitely check out his photo threads. This is the John Wenham house at 222 Fountain St. in the Heritage Hill historic district in Grand Rapids. It was operated as the Fountain Hill Bed and Breakfast, but that business seems to have been closed. A pdf about the street says the house was built in 1876, although another article says 1874. According to the same pdf, the house has the identical layout to this house in Muskegon.

The house follows the side-hall plan with two symmetrical projections on the sides. This house certainly has some features that appeal to me. First is the beautiful curved and pointed gable in the central bay. A friend of mine calls this shape the 'Anne of Cleves' pediment for the similarity in shape to her headdress. This shape of gable is more familiar to me from Second Empire houses, and it may have appeared on this house because of the popularity of Second Empire and features like this at the same time. The brackets are paired, but what creates the greatest effect in the cornice is the strong dentil molding as does the pointed brick course that creates a base for the entablature. The alternately elliptical windows and the round window with keys (pieces of stone at the four corners) create a pleasingly balanced effect on the third story.

The main body of the house has interesting elongated, narrow windows with curved upper corners. This type of filleted (curved cornered) window has always struck me as more a feature of the 70s and late 60s, and thus is a characteristic of the 1870s construction date of this house as is the slightly steeper pitch of the hip roof. The hood moldings suggest the traditional bracket and molding combination familiar from houses like the Perit house, however, a closer look shows that the shape has been broken up with diamonds and other shapes with incised decoration. This taking of a traditional formula and adding extra decorative pieces that can obscure the clear articulation of the forms but increase the rich effect with complex detail is a definite characteristic of the 1870s. As time progressed, all architectural elements became more and more sculpted. The porch is certainly a later addition in the Colonial Revival vein; the door also appears to me to have been crafted around then with its Federal looking lunette and side lights. Perhaps it was added by H. Parker Robinson who lived there from 1910-30s who wanted to give his very out of fashion home a touch of the colonial. Thank goodness he didn't get around to fully colonializing it. The house originally might have had an elaborate Eastlake or Stick Style porch surrounding the door, or a repetition of the hood moldings over the door. Either is a possibility. One final note; I really enjoy the color scheme of this house. The cream with the slightly darker trim, the red window sash, and the sea foam green highlights form a nice combination that keeps the spirit of Victorian exterior coloring.

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