Tug of the fa­mil­iar

Old House Journal - - From the Editor -

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).

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