Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Vowell-Smith House, Alexandria, VA

The Vowell-Smith House, Alexandria, VA. 1854
Alexandria is a city famous for its impressive Colonial and Federal architecture, but the city also has some excellent examples of Italianate that can be overlooked when exploring George Washington's town. One of the houses I posted in Springfield, 383 Union Street, reminded me of this house in Alexandria, VA because of its entrance with a surround of oversized brackets. The Vowell-Smith house also has a resemblance to the Brearley house and Henderson Hall type in that it is a three story symmetrical plan house with a projecting center bay and a pediment. This house was built in 1854 by Francis L. Smith, a lawyer, on a quarter of a block he inherited. The house was built on Wolfe Street, which by the 1850s had been so improved that several people built impressive mansions on the street, and the Smith house was one of the most impressive. The ornament on the house is grand without being bombastic. The cornice is made of simple stepped brackets and large dentils, which interestingly are not hanging from a molding but are simply flush with the board above them. The brackets are paired in the same way as the Brearley house; doubled brackets accentuate the corners while single brackets mark the placement of the windows. The windows are doubled on the front facade topped by two brackets and a cornice; on the third floor, the tombstone windows are arched with Venetian tracey and eared molding surrounds.

This treatment only applies to the front facade; the side facade looks almost Greek Revival with its simple windows, plain lintels and shutters. The house was obviously designed to impress from the front angle, but economy was employed on the sides. In the simpler sides, one can see the influence of Alexandria's Federal architecture, since, except for the cornice, the design is reminiscent of late 18th and early 19th century designs. The door surround has doubled s-curve brackets and finials like those at 383 Union St., but these are much simpler in the carving and shape with only raised swirls for decoration. The flat roof and the length of the windows above the overhang suggest there was originally a balustrade making this a balcony. Two notable features are the balustrade on top of the hip roof where a cupola might be expected, and the survival of the elaborate iron fencing around the property and the iron balconies on the first floor. The posts of the fence are even topped with what seem to be original urns. The following images by me illustrate a couple of the details.

No comments:

Post a Comment