Tug of the familiar
Victorians (like the Queen Anne above) and Craftsman Bungalows have gotten oodles of preservation love in the past 40 years, while Georgians and Federals continue to be revered. Yesterday I toured Gloucester’s Captain Elias Davis house, built in 1804—where mantelpieces, beautifully proportioned and articulated, are different in each otherwise modest room. Once again I was smitten by the houses of the Colonial and Federal periods, built by housewrights and carpenters.
Colonial Revival sentiment goes back to the country’s 1876 centennial, when the early houses that remained were in danger of being lost, and architects including Charles McKim and Stanford White made studies of Colonial architecture that informed their own designs. Old houses were purchased by wealthy revivalists to be interpreted in a nostalgic “Old Colonies” style—using such still-familiar motifs as hooked rugs, paneled walls and mural paintings, dimity curtains with ball fringe, tester beds with net canopies, white-work bedspreads and pieced quilts, and “grandfather” clocks.
The popularized Early American look was degraded by the middle of the 20th century. But Colonial Revival, or the American Traditional idiom it became, can be done very well. It is the chicken soup of domestic architecture, comforting and available to the majority of American houses that don’t fall into a clear style category. Aspirational examples abound—at Winterthur and Greenfield Village, at Beauport and at other Historic New England properties in the Piscataqua region of Maine. Find inspiration in the work of Royal Barry Wills, the New England architect who adapted the Cape and the Garrison Colonial for modern living and helped spread those house types coast to coast. We visit one of his homes in this issue (p. 14).