Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Brewster Randall House, Janesville, WI

The Brewster Randall House, Janesville, WI. 1862 Photo: Wikimedia
Photo: Wikimedia
This house is an example of remuddling at its most dramatic. It was built in 1862 for Brewster Randall, lawyer and senator, as a simple side hall Italianate with Greek Revival eared window surrounds and a rather fussy molded door surround, reminiscent of Federal designs. The greatest amount of ornament was confined to the fine cornice, with its attractive c scroll brackets with beads and acanthus leaves, that interrupt both dentils and s scroll brackets rotated under the very wide eave. A view of the house as it was can in 2003 be seen here. At some point, someone decided to have some fun. The visionary decided to add some Gothic style exterior lambrequins to the windows, added somewhat incongruous classical pediments over the windows, glued sculpted lions onto the door, and added an oversize classical balustrade to the door's cornice. Additionally, the simple lattice porch was enlivened with further Gothic and ovoid tracery. However, even though this is unquestionably a remuddle, it is surprisingly consistent with the Victorian innovative spirit and love of ornament. As we have seen in Janesville, there is a strong drive toward the eclectic syncretism of styles, as in the Tallman house. The redesigner's combination of Gothic, Classical, and Rococo forms onto an otherwise staid Italianate house could have been done in the 19th century as much as in the 20th. Although sometimes we value the perfection of style and bemoan later additions, for people in the 19th century a house was something to personalize, to constantly reinvent. They didn't think of their homes as museum specimens and felt no shame at adding a Queen Anne porch or a Second Empire turret to an Italianate cube. Italianate is an interesting style precisely because you can apply any sort of style to it. Thus, although this house may not be the perfect specimen of Italianate purity, it is a perfect example of the restless spirit of Victorian architectural innovation.

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