Friday, April 15, 2016

'Prospect House' the Thomas F. Potter House, Princeton, NJ

'Prospect House', Princeton, NJ. 1851

Prospect House is probably Notman's greatest surviving masterpiece of residential design, and fortunately Princeton University has preserved it inside and out beautifully (if you happen to be in Princeton, just walk in and take a look, it's open). It was built in 1851 for Thomas F. Potter, a South Carolina merchant who relocated to Princeton. The university, which grew up around the house, acquired it in 1878 as the president's house; it is currently a faculty dining club, which occasioned a large modernist addition on the back. Designed the same year as Alverthorpe, one can see many of the same influences here, though Prospect House is far less elaborate. It follows the pavilion plan with a tower to the side (the opposite side from Alverthorpe) with a side wing to the left fronted by an iron porch with tent roof. The same materials, local stone with brownstone quoins and trim, feature on this house.

In Prospect House, Notman opted for a lower two story plan and banished the tall gables, removing much of the verticality and giving the house a strong horizontal focus. In many ways Notman inverts his decisions for Alverthorpe here. The front of the house is all about triple windows in both the side and central bays, rectangular on the first floor and arched on the second. The front entrance is surrounded by a weighty English-looking port cochere with rusticated stone, panels, double s scroll brackets, and a Renaissance balustrade. The original shutters have been unfortunately painted over, but were recessed in the deep window casings. Note the appropriate way the painted wooden details match the stone! In the primary cornice, Notman again used a double row of brackets, giving the house a top heavy weighting. The tower, deeply integrated into the plan without a strong projection, has interestingly only one rather than triple windows (inversion!) with balconies and a stronger entablature than the rest of the house. Note that the wooden awning on the bay window is supported by iron brackets. The porches on Prospect House follow what we have come to expect from Notman with lacy designs (gothic on the left and wing) and tent roofs. The left hand service wing is connected by a hyphen dramatized by the iron porch, making it look like a separate building only incidentally connected to the house.

The interiors are well worth a look for the fine preservation. Of note is the central hall with a circular oculus that reveals a (later) stained glass skylight. It was probably clear. The entrance hall has niches and etched glass windows. The finishes inside are very impressive, with delicate plaster moldings, fine gilded light fixtures, and strange plaster fans. The small room at the base of the tower has a full circular ceiling. Another room has a concave ceiling. The stairs have a barrel vault. Notman clearly was having fun. The finest treasure to the house is the restored faux graining on the dado, which simulates inlaid wood. Take a look at the plans below of the first floor.

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