Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Francis Sellers House, Pittsburgh, PA

The Francis Sellers House, Pittsburgh, PA. 1858 Photo: Wikimedia
Side facade. Photo: sportsedit15224
The Francis Sellers house was once on an impressive 10 acre estate in the Shadyside historic neighborhood. Built in 1858, as Pittsburgh's Landmark Architecture says "It shows the casual attitude to stylistic purity that the Victorians had." (404) The house follows a modified form of the irregular plan, in which there is no tower and the apart from the projecting section, the whole flush facade is slightly recessed. The house has some Gothic detailing with a cornice with odd chevrons coming from the edges; the large dormer and the steeper roof pitch are also characteristic of Gothic. Originally there were Gothic Revival bargeboards on the gables. The house's windows and porches, however, are Italianate. All the windows are round headed, some of which are double. One the front, the area where the tower would occur is noted by tombstone windows. I have often noticed that when a tower is lacking on an irregular plan, a distinctive window usually marks the spot. The porch is surprisingly enclosed, with pilasters with pierced Gothic designs and segmental arched closed boards between the pilasters.

The side of the house is of particular interest to me, shown in the second image. On this side the composition starts splintering with different elements almost glued at random on the facade. An oriel window with Gothic tracery in the round windows is set over double tombstone windows that open onto a bracketed balcony. A long port cochere that matches the main porch has an Italianate classical box window above it, with three arched windows and a pediment. The windows are filled with Aesthetic Movement stained glass, added in the 1880s. The back of the house has a variant porch which has a steamboat Gothic spiderweb design. Although I like every one of the elements individually, especially the box window, I think the design is a little strange; literally every window and door on this side projects in some way from the facade. I'm sure that there is a staircase in this area because of the stained glass and the varying height in the second story windows, and staircases always make a mess of the facade. I feel that a little discretion in the deployment of such eye catching elements might have improved the design. Still it is an interesting early house that is a crucible of styles.

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