|The Edward M. Holmes House, Hannibal, MO. 1885|
Photo: Amanda Baird/BlackDoll Photography
Friday, April 29, 2016
Wednesday, April 27, 2016
|The William Ebert House, Hannibal, MO. 1865 Photo: Brandon Bartoszek|
Monday, April 25, 2016
|The John Robards House, Hannibal, MO. 1871 Photo: Brandon Bartoszek|
|Photo: Mike Steele|
Saturday, April 23, 2016
|The J. B. Brown House, Hannibal, MO. 1870 Photo: Brandon Bartoszek|
|Photo: Amanda Baird/BlackDoll Photography|
Thursday, April 21, 2016
Having presented seven of John Notman's houses, it's now time to deal with the man himself. For being one of America's most important early architects, not a lot is known about Notman's personal life; there are no diaries, letters, and the usual ephemera that tell us about 19th century architects. Not only did Notman introduce Italianate to American design, but he also developed American Gothic and built one of the first academic Gothic churches in the country. His legacy is best found in his buildings, a surprising number of which survive. Beyond a selection of drawings (held in Princeton and Philadelphia) and some personal correspondence between him and his clients and friends, we don't have much. The main monograph on Notman is called John Notman, Architect (1810-1865) by Constance Greiff, whose series Lost America no doubt made her a "constant grief" to progressive minded architects in the 1960s. Greiff offers a conservative, scholarly estimate of his career and provides a full account of his buildings with accompanying plans and drawings.
John Notman was born in Scotland in 1810 and although his early life is little known, he ended up in Edinburgh in the 1820s and was an apprentice to one of the major architects there. Greiff suggests William Henry Playfair because of his Italianate and Gothic designs which could have influenced the young architect. Indeed, Playfair is one of the earliest English Italianate designers, though his works owe much more to traditional Regency plans than the freedom of Italianate asymmetry and massing that characterized the works of Charles Barry and Notman. Perhaps the young Notman was in the know about experiments in asymmetrical planning; he certainly seems more acquainted with Italian rustic architecture than his English predecessors who preferred high style Italian Renaissance urban idioms. In 1831 Notman immigrated to Philadelphia where he set himself up as a "carpenter", really the term for an architect at that time; in his early years he seems to have designed little of note. In Philadelphia he met John Jay Smith, the head of the Philadelphia Library Company who would introduce Notman to a host of rich clients in Pennsylvania and New Jersey for whom he would design his best villas. It was through Smith Notman was given the commission to design Laurel Hill Cemetery in 1835, both its landscaping and its architecture (including an odd sculptural tableau of Sir Walter Scott!). It was also through Smith that Notman met George Washington Doane, for whom he constructed 'Riverside', America's first Italianate building in 1837-9.
|Laurel Hill Cemetery Photo: Wikimedia|
|The Athenaeum Photo: Wikimedia|
While he was designing Ellarslie in Trenton, Notman was also working on one of the seminal monuments of American Gothic design in Philadelphia, St. Marks church (1849). Getting in with the high church Anglican society was a tough nut for any architect to crack. Notoriously fussy with a host of nitpicky liturgical and denominational requirements, they made a hobby of sneering at architectural designs that were too low church for them. Notman's St. Marks is one of the first Gothic buildings in the US designed for this group, and he studiously sought to allay criticism by adhering to English Gothic precedents. Notman's care thus gave the US its first academic Gothic design that entirely departed from colonial preaching boxes and tried to communicate some of the asymmetry and spirit of Gothic. Church commissions poured in afterwards.
|St. Mark's Philadelphia|
Photo: Tom Ipri
As the 1850s dawned, Notman was a firmly established master architect for the mid-Atlantic. The beginning of the decade saw the construction of Prospect House in Princeton and Averthorpe in Jenkintown, PA. Notman had established his style and his remaining commissions until his death in 1865 continued in the same vein, working in both Italianate and Gothic modes. In this period belong Fern Hill (originally designed by Notman in a Gothic idiom) and Fieldwood in Princeton. After a fire at Princeton's colonial Nassau Hall in the 1850s, Notman added Italianate towers and a new cupola to the design, bringing the old Georgian building up to date (his additions have been mostly removed). Never one to shy away from innovation, Notman even finished the Second Empire 'Ogontz' in 1862. At his death in the year the Civil War ended, Notman could look back on a revolutionary career in shaping American architecture, and fortunately many of his buildings, especially those of a particularly style-making character survive so we can get a clear picture of his legacy not only through plans but through the buildings themselves.
Notman's Domestic Italianate Designs
As fascinating as his legacy in Gothic design is, here we are most concerned about Notman as an Italianate designer. Departing from English precedents, Notman offered an approach to design that introduced picturesqueness to America, a country he found filled with rectangular, symmetrical Georgian, Federal, and Greek Revival houses that looked inward. Essentially, the way that Notman conceived of a building was as a series of symmetrical blocks, each one filled with one or two rooms. In some senses, each of those blocks serves as its own design unit, sometimes harmonizing, sometimes conflicting with the dominant design. These blocks were grouped around a central focal point, usually a central hall. Like the monasteries and farmhouses of Italy, which were built for functionality more than aesthetics, the Italianate design reveals the interior organically, forcing the exterior to some extend to conform to the interior. Without having to worry about fitting rooms into a rigid rectangle with a set window plan, architects could freely combine different rooms and create vistas and flow in a more exciting way. Additionally, it brought the outdoors inside, since each block created a different viewpoint to the outside, one of the reasons Notman worked to landscape around his houses, in order to frame the outdoors for each of these varying rooms. It's no wonder people embraced Italianate design. Not only could you basically do what you wanted and infinitely add on large rooms and pretend like you were living in romantic Italy, but it was something new, something that did not look like the rows of neat but repetitive colonial houses.
The two basic building blocks of Notman's house designs are the rectangle (the block-based plan), often with symmetrical projections, and a group of two rectangles intersecting, the L-shaped plan that would grow into the irregular plan. The block-based plan is in essence a rectangle, while the L-shape has its eponymous profile. Onto these two basic shapes, Notman grafted all sorts of projections as needed for different rooms and vistas. Additionally, there is the tower block, which in Notman's designs is sort of a free agent, moving around the plans and never occurring in the same place. Unlike later designers, Notman located the tower to the side rather than situating it in the center. Thinking of his designs as rural villas, Notman didn't hang any façade out to dry. Because they would be viewed from every angle, most of his houses are finished on each side. This means that one can often seen several different sorts of plans and facades in each house. A back projection, for instance, automatically creates an L-shape, while a long side façade creates a rectangular block. Italianate houses have two conflicting thrusts, verticality and horizontality. For Notman, being a good designer, it was important that these harmonized well. Every time you raised a tower, creating vertical thrust, it had to be counter balanced by a horizontal thrust, which in his case usually took the form of low servant wings. Looking at a comparative drawing of the villas we have examined (Fern Hill excepted, as it follows Upjohn's double tower plan) we can see the block arrangement clearly. Below is a comparative drawing of six of Notman's designs.
It's not only Notman's plans which express his unique style. A look at any of his houses shows a pretty consistent grammar of ornament. Most Notman houses include these features:
-Stone façade, usually of colorful fieldstone with simple brownstone trim (and quoins)
-Large emphatic arches, often in porches
-Renaissance balustrades, harmonizing with high style expectations
-Triple windows and entrances; while this is characteristic of many Italianates, Notman takes it to an
-Very thin ironwork porches with concave wooden awnings, historically painted with stripes
-Large overhanging eaves with simple beam brackets, sometimes in double rows
I hope you enjoyed this post. You should now be able to clearly spot a house by Notman or influenced by him. Make sure to visit the ones you can; many of them are open to the public. Leave a comment and vote for your favorite Notman villa!
Tuesday, April 19, 2016
|'Fieldwood', Princeton, NJ. 1853-5 All Photos: HABS|
Perhaps John Notman's largest home (now) in Princeton is the house built for Richard Stockton Field, a descendant of a major colonial family in the town. After use and adaptation by Princeton University (as Guernsey Hall), it is currently condos. A unique feature of the plan for this Italinate house is its squarishness. When seen from above, it forms a massive cube (partly because of extensions when it was given to the university). Yet, although it was originally more rectangular, unlike the cube form of the symmetrical plan, Notman freely plays with each of the facades, forming a unique profile on each side. Each façade is distinctive enough, it's difficult to identify the house's main façade, which is more traditional in appearance than the others. As contrasted with the drawing above, the house has gone through some changes, especially the replacement of spindly iron porches by massive stone versions. The principal façade, as seen in the top two pictures, has the form of a typical irregular plan house in an L-shape, although, in line with other Notman plans, the tower is placed to the side rather than highlighted in the center of the design as we expect with the irregular plan. The ornamentation is spare and the walls are typical local stone in a variety of mottled colors with sandstone and plaster trim. The fine classical details, flared wooden awnings, and grand arched entry porch, and Renaissance balustrade are in harmony with his other designs. It seems that the iron porch, seen in the watercolor, was replaced in the early 20th century by a stone portico based on the entrance portico. The presence of a two story bay pavilion on the left hand façade gives the front a chamfered look, an appearance emphasized by the original iron porch.
Going clockwise, the façade to the left of the main façade has been drastically altered. As seen in the upper image, it originally had one projecting bay with a wrapping iron porch. Later, the house was extended to by a matching bay (though note the architects did not continue the brackets on the chimney cornices). The porch was removed and the central bay of each bay window was destroyed by chimneys. A new turn of the century sun porch was added.
The back façade of the house has likewise been altered. Originally, it was designed as pavilion plan façade with calculated asymmetry in the presence of a be-awned bay window on the right side. The porch is a particularly interesting example of a rustic post and beam Italian design; I like it much more than the pompous stone porch that currently is on the façade.
The final side, lying to the right of the main entrance is the pedestrian service façade. It is cleverly hidden by Notman by the presence of the frontal tower. It's not particularly common to have a house so picturesquely finished in the round, but Fieldwood is a fine example of an architect playing with multiple façade formations. Each façade is asymmetrical; the front has its tower and right hand pavilion. The lefthand façade had a projecting bay on the right side. The back façade, despite its symmetrical composition again emphasizes the right with its bay window. The right hand façade from the front is weighted to the left with the tower. In each section, Notman creates a series of focal points that interlock and diminish the staid symmetrical possibilities of the design.
The house's most amazing feature (at this point I really wish it were not a private residence), is the octagonal stair hall with a wrapping staircase worthy of Mannerist Italy topped by a dome and decorated with neo-Classical plaster roundels. The walls are beautifully stuccoed that is scored like stone and the landing is supported by the odd fans seen in Prospect House. Clearly, this was a Notman thing. For its period, this staircase is one of the most beautiful and sophisticated interior designs. You can see it below in more HABS images.
Sunday, April 17, 2016
|'Fern Hill' Germantown, PA. 1852 Photo: Philadelphia Suburban Homes|
|Photo: The Homes of America: Some Pennsylvania Homes|
The Henry McKean house shows Notman working in someone else's plan for once. This house was built in 1852 for a wealthy Philadelphian who had a typical Victorian love of rare plants. His house was noted for showcasing his collection of uncommon flowers and shrubs. The Victorians had so much time on their hands! Here, Notman decided to use Richard Upjohn's double tower plan which we just finished looking at. Unlike many of the examples we saw, Notman decided to alter Upjohn's detailing to a greater degree than many of those who followed his design so closely they used the same ornament. Notman has raised the tower by an extra story and added pairs of tombstone windows which are authentically Romanseque in their distribution, though he has kept the arched first floor windows and second floor balcony and wooden awning. In the central bay, he has switched out the triple arched second floor windows with tombstone windows again, providing an as yet unseen variant. The tower to the left, squatter than Upjohn's departs the most in its first floor bay window, second floor arched windows, and third floor attic windows (oddly rectangular, they look like some weird Greek Revival invasion). Notman seems to have returned here to single brackets with no strong entablature. The side porch, a bit hard to make out, looks huge and seems to feature large shallow arches, something we have not seen. Unfortunately, this house as well was torn down in the 1950s.
Friday, April 15, 2016
|'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.