The front entrance to Castle Hill Inn in Newport, Rhode Island.
I do hope Castle Hill Inn will not be disturbed by approaching Hurricane Sandy. It has weathered many severe storms in its 138 years and even lost its turret back in the early 1900s. An exact replica of the original turret has recently been built, and it would be a darn shame if Frankenstorm were to destroy it.
Castle Hill Inn was built as a summer residence in 1874 for the renowned scientist and explorer, Alexander Agassiz. There’s not much information about the house’s architecture history, but there’s plenty of information on Agassiz. From what I learned touring the earlier Newport mansions, I would say this building’s design is a good example of shingle style architecture with the interiors influenced by the English Aesthetic style which was very much in vogue during the mid to late 1800s. I’ve had to do some homework since I’ve returned to understand these movements. The Aesthetic Movement in the decorative arts could be considered a sub category of the Arts and Crafts movement. My explanation may be a bit over simplified, but researching and understanding all the nuances gave me a major case of tired head.
Agassiz decorated his house with the best of Chinese and Japanese art and furnishings—all of which were elements of the Aesthetic style. Today Castle Hill Inn’s interiors still adhere to this style with elements such as William Morris wallpaper and fabrics; ebonized wood with gilt highlights; far Eastern influence; a prominent use of nature, especially flowers, birds, ginkgo leaves, and peacock feathers; and blue and white porcelain and other fine china.
Update: On Thursday, November 1, Brian Young, the General Manager, left a comment saying “Hello, and thanks for your kind words and well wishes. I’m happy to report that, although we suffered some beach erosion and landscape damage from the effects of Sandy, we had no lasting damage and are open for business as always. We look forward to welcoming you back soon.”
Architectural history that is. The one essential book for anyone interested in the history and architectural fashions of American domestic architecture is A Field Guide to American Houses by Virginia and Lee McAlester. Through this book and Virginia McAlester’s website, I have learned that my home’s style is neither “distinctive” nor is it noteworthy. Nevertheless, it is an unadulterated example of what was the norm for the homes built in my neighborhood back in 1938. Ms. McAlester refers to my home’s style as “minimal traditional”. Sounds pretty boring, doesn’t it? She even gives it another term on her website, “bankers’ modern”. So what is minimal traditional? Below is how it’s described in her book:
Minimal Traditional (ca. 1935—50). With the economic Depression of the 1930s came this compromise style which reflects the form of traditional Eclectic houses, but lacks their decorative detailing. Roof pitches are low or intermediate, rather than steep as in the preceding Tudor style. Eaves and rake are close, rather than overhanging as in the succeeding Ranch style. Usually, but not always, there is a large chimney and at least one front-facing gable, both echoing Tudor features. In fact, many examples suggest Tudor cottages with the roof line lowered and detailing removed. These houses were built in great numbers in the years immediately preceding and following World War II; they commonly dominate the large tract-housing developments of the period. They were built of wood, brick, stone, or a mixture of these wall-cladding materials. Although most were relatively small one-story houses, occasional two-story examples are also seen. More commonly, two-story houses of the period have extra detailing and represent late examples of one of the traditional Eclectic styles, usually Colonial Revival or Monterey.
Click on the link below for some super interesting tidbits on the various factors that influenced the architects and builders, e.g., the Federal Housing Authority beginning its mortgage insurance programs.
Chiesa di San Remigio. This tiny ancient church is located next to the splendid gardens of Villa San Remigio (previously mentioned in a past post) on Lake Maggiore, one of the famous Northern Italian Lakes. This Romanesque oratory dates from the eleventh to twelfth centuries. Inside, the church is divided into two asymmetric naves, an unusual feature, which is probably the result of the difficulty of building on the rock of the promontory. Other interior details include a groin-vaulted ceiling and semi-capitals decorated with medieval frescoes.
Above is the original dining room light fixture. And now, that the room serves a dual purpose as a library and dining room, this fixture can’t be more perfect. When I first moved into the house in 1985, this light fixture was a three-way. See the brass knob ball at the base of the light fixture? Turning it allowed me to alternate between having just the top five on, or just the bottom bowl on, or have all six illuminated (which was way too bright). But, all good things must come to an end, and the internal stem (or whatever it’s called) finally broke. Some day I plan on taking the whole thing down and locating someone who could fix it. In the meantime, a dimmer switch has been installed and works just as well as the three way if not better. But still… It would be cool to have it working in its original condition.
The living and dining rooms’ wall texture is original to my house (built in 1938). My next door neighbor and other older homes in my neighborhood have the same finish. When I first moved into the house I thought it looked depressing and grandma-ish. But now, I’m so glad that I kept it.
What was the technique called? Did it even have a name? Even my painting contractors found it unusual and had a difficult time emulating it while repairing patches. When the 1960′s kitchen was torn out, we discovered that the original breakfast room originally had this same texture. The rest of the house (the remaining original rooms) has what looks to be the knock down texture which carries the orange peel effect one step further by semi flattening the raised bumps. The orange peel technique had also been used originally for all the ceilings in the house and is the texture we chose for all of the reconstruction’s painted surfaces.