Friday, January 30, 2015

'Ridgewood' the Edwin Litchfield House, Brooklyn, NY

'Ridgewood' Brooklyn, NY. 1854-57 Photo: Wikimedia
Photo: Kim
'Ridgewood' also known as 'Litchfield Villa' is perhaps Alexander Jackson Davis' most important and lavish Italianate mansion and bears the distinction of nearly duplicating a house we have looked at before, the Munn house in Utica, NY. Currently surrounded by Prospect Park in Brooklyn, it was built in 1854-57 by Davis for Edwin Litchfield, an extremely important figure in the development of Brooklyn's Park Slope, the Gowanus Canal, and railways. When Propsect Park was laid out, the Litchfields were allowed to keep their home until their deaths in the 1880s, after which the park service occupied the house as offices. After a long period of neglect, the house is in the process of being restored.

The house strongly resembles the Munn house in plan, and Davis seems to have simply expanded the already impressive design he had constructed in Utica a couple years before. A comparison of the facades of these irregular plan houses reveals a variety of differences. First, the placement of the tower and the chamfered projecting pavilion are reversed between the two houses. Unlike the Munn house, there is no recessed archway around the front door. The left hand wing, which once had a similar porch to that on the right, terminates in a surprising round tower with a conical roof. Round towers are exceedingly rare in Italianate houses. The disposition and treatment of windows is mostly the same, except the triple windows of the Munn house on the pavilion are paired arched windows here, and a balcony has been added to the third floor of the pavilion.

Decoratively, the Litchfield house is far more elaborate and more Anglo-Italianate, than the Munn house. The house has rotated s curve brackets typical of Anglo designs, as well as a highly refined acanthus leaf frieze and full classical entablature on the porches and windows. Most startling is the use of corn and wheat capitals instead of the traditional acanthus Corinthian capital, a very uncommon stylistic quirk that was part of the attempt to Americanize classical forms. Although the facade appears to be brick, it was intended to be stuccoed white (the stucco was removed in the 1930s and never restored). Overall, the Litchfields seem to have outdone Davis' earlier designs and created a more sophisticated and playful version that sought to convey a more European sensibility.

The house's interiors are quite stunning. A series of interior pictures can be seen here as well as a period image below. The floors feature beautiful Minton tilework, elaborately carved Rococo Revival fireplaces, pilasters, columns, and an interior rotunda. Finally, the house's interiors are being carefully restored, and one can only hope that someday the stucco may actually be replaced to allow the house its full effect.

Photo: Frank Sinks
Photo: Wikimedia

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

'Blandwood', the Charles Bland House, Greensboro, NC

Blandwood, Greensboro, NC. 1844
Continuing my exploration of some early Italianate houses, Blandwood in Greensboro is one of the nation's oldest Italianate homes, and it's spare design reflects the simplicity of many early Italianate houses. Begun as an 18th century farmhouse (the four room plan of which can be seen below), the home reached its current design in 1844 under the aegis of none other than Alexander Jackson Davis, the man who introduced Italianate design to America. Davis altered the house for James Moorehead by creating a new wing connected to the original house by a central hall and adding Italianate details, such as the arched entryway, central tower, plaster exterior, and rafter brackets, which are characteristic of most early Italianates. The lack of cornice ornamentation is also typical of an early design. The facade is of the symmetrical and central tower type, and unusual for this kind of design the tower projects dramatically from the facade and is not relieved by side porches. The overall effect is severity at its extreme.

Atypical for an Italianate house, this building lacks the usual play of round and flat headed windows that are usually found in towers. Similarly, the small size of the second floor windows is uncommon. The house also creates a strong sense of formality by the connection of the kitchen and side buildings with segmental arched arcades and simple pilasters. A folly like this is more common in English formal design than American. The interiors are well preserved, since the house was saved from demolition and now operates as a museum. A couple images below, selected from the NCSU page on the house, illustrate the elaborate interiors in their pre-restored state. Blandwood is a rare survivor of a fascinating early page in the history of Italianate design in America. 

Following Photos: NCSU

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Thomas Gaff House, Aurora, IN

The Thomas Gaff House, Aurora, IN. 1855 Photo: Johns S
This is certainly a one of a kind early Italianate house. Built in 1855, its designer was Isaiah Rogers, the father of the American hotel who worked primarily in Greek Revival. Rogers dotted the nation with dozens of grand Greek edifices that revolutionized the way Americans lodged when traveling. The Thomas Gaff house was built by Rogers for an important local distillery owner, and the design is unique as a specimen of Italianate and Greek Revival fusion. The house is far more eclectic than most examples of Italianate we have seen. While the plan is symmetrical, the large projecting semi-circular portico is more characteristic of Regency design in England than houses in the US. The thinness and classical inaccuracy of the columns on the central portico and side porches are much more characteristic of Federal design than Italianate or Greek Revival. The effect created is one of lightness and buoyancy rather than classical monumentality, a feature that is reflected in the delicacy of the second floor ironwork. The decision to side the house in flushboard rather than clapboard is another element which, although not unprecedented in Italianates, is very common in Greek Revival.

Features that are typically Italianate are the Renaissance style details in the corner quoins, second floor window moldings, and round arched windows which dominate the central bay. Also significant is the uncommon round cupola that reflects the curve of the central bay and is marked by paired tombstone windows. The cornice is simple, as are the brackets which are crafted like rafter brackets, a kind of bracket found on earlier Italianate homes of the 50s and 40s. A final interesting feature is that the house is built on a slope; the entire back of the house is a maze of ells, porches, and additions that sit on the sloped rock behind, as seen in the following images from HABS. The house is currently well maintained and functions as a house museum.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The A. G. Stobaugh House, Honey Grove TX

Stobaugh House, Honey Grove, Tx, 1875 Photo: James Gerling
Photo: John S
The Stobaugh house is an interesting little home in the small town of Honey Grove, TX, built in 1875 (or so). Despite being located in a relatively small area, the house displays a great deal of sophistication. With a clapboard facade, the house is a symmetrical plan villa with paired brackets, eastlake window surrounds, a simple cupola and a porch with surprisingly thin columns. The real treat, however, are the box windows in the side bays on the front facade that are surmounted by porches topped by pediments and brackets. This is an unusual feature that gives the house a very grand feel and was surely meant to impress. Although the original balustrade and urns over the porch have been removed, the house looks beautifully cared for and even sports a very appropriate paint scheme.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The John Kendrick House, Waterbury, CT

The John Kendrick House, Waterbury, CT. 1866 Photo: Wikimedia
The John Kendrick house in Waterbury, CT is an impressive Italianate villa in an unfortunate urban setting. Hemmed in by taller, modern buildings, it is one of the only Victorian buildings facing the Green that has survived the fires, floods, and renewals that have taken their toll on Waterbury. Surprisingly, it has maintained many of its features. The house is a symmetrical villa of plain brick (perhaps once stuccoed) with fine brownstone details and iron balconies on the first floor. The porch of the house is noteworthy, with its triple arches and elaborate detailing.The porch columns themselves have very strange capitals that are loosely Ionic in design and seem to be almost gothic in inspiration. The simple s and c curve brackets are regularly spaced and given definition by an architrave board that defines the cornice. Perhaps most noteworthy is the recess on the second floor created by pilasters that create a depression in the center that is decorated by an unusual brownstone arch and brackets that looks more like it fits the parlor of the house rather than the exterior. The whole is crowned by a pediment that reinforces the central thrust of the plan. Though the house, as I write this appears neglected and abandoned, it nonetheless provides an attractive possibility for renovation.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The William Treadwell House, Hudson, MI

\The William Treadwell House, Mudson, MI. 1860s Photo: Doug Copeland
Photo: NRHP
Sorry to my readers, I have returned at last! The William Treadwell house is a significant landmark near the town of Hudson, MI, a place known for its impressive collection of historic homes. This is a particularly exuberant example of the irregular plan with an exciting array of features. The facade is articulated in brick with limestone or sandstone hood moldings. The brick is plain without many raised features. The first floor is marked by not only segmental arched windows, but also elaborate wooden canopies trimmed in jigsaw work over each element, a particularly expensive and eye-catching feature. Cast iron balconies provide relief from the constant woodwork that this house showcases. The front door itself has a glass surround. The second floor takes as its central motif paired tombstone windows with a triple arched palladian window, seen on a few other Italianates. The brackets are particularly large on this house and are c and s curve in style. What really strikes the eye, however, is the tower, which has an elaborate balcony that surrounds the top stage. The balcony is gothic in style with a series of round arches and a crenellated banister. Large turned finials at each corner complete the effect and echo the larger brackets on the tower. Overall, the house has a constant sense of movement and restlessness. The house's interiors can be seen here.

A second house nearby in Hudson, at 313 Church St. (also built in the 1860s) is nearly identical to the Treadwell house. It differs primarily in the elaborate brick patterning in the cornice of large blind arches and the addition of a poorly thought out colonial-revival porch of the late 19th century.

Photo: Doug Copeland