Passing on Palladian Style

by 7:05 AM
Do not get me wrong; I can certainly appreciate Palladian architecture, as I do other classical styles. But I was certainly amused at Colin McDowell's column in The Times Online regarding the inappropriateness of the style in the English Countryside. This is especially the case in comparison to the country's indigenous styles, such as Tudor and Elizabethan. However, as McDowell points out, the infatuation that the 18th century had for the classic style overlooked the fact that
"what looks right on the banks of the Brenta in the Veneto, where the interplay of sun and light give animation to the architecture, merely looks sterile and repetitive under our leaden skies."
McDowell goes on to note that the popularity of classicism held out for perhaps longer than it deserved, until the "unschooled" Victorians and Edwardians happily resurrected historical English styles 200 years after Inigo Jones. When all is said and done, he asserts that the Palladian style is an alien one.
"Much worse was the havoc it played with our own architectural aesthetic, which - chaotic, crazy, rude and even vulgar - perfectly reflects the British personality."
You can read the whole article here. Well said.

Oh--There's an English House. Not.

by 7:20 AM
Occasionally, I am irked by HGTV and their approach to "helping" homeowners. Recently there have been a few critics who hold the cable channel at least partially responsible for the current housing bust--after years of promoting the notion that "you must have a bigger, better house," and parading hundreds of young, modest income couples onto TV, "home-hunting" for houses that were probably well beyond their means.

In today's episode of Curb Appeal, "Importing British Style" a couple seek to make their love of England evident in their 1960's home. It sounds like they would like something English and perhaps a little Victorian, but what the "designer" gives them is a mediocre colonial update, with some "English style" plantings and some Victorian garden furniture on the porch. While they did manage to get a very nice Edwardian-style front door with stained glass, the car port (seen at right in the photo) is an abomination. The designer--who clearly doesn't understand anything about real English style--convinces them that the new house is inspired by "English Country." You be the judge.

The couple seems happy enough at the conclusion of the show. But the result is as if all they needed was a front porch to sit on so they could enjoy tea and crumpets to convince themselves that their home had an English flair. The existing house even had a second story that appeared to be jettied out over the first--a perfect candidate for a Tudor makeover. Some well-conceived half-timbering and an appropriate porch would have given this couple what they were really after, and probably for a little less than they spent to get this poor result. If people want a fantasy, why not give it to them?

Holiday Success Keeps Icon Rolling Along, But...

by 9:20 AM
It was good to hear via Proactive Investors and The Telegraph that venerable London retailer Liberty managed to have a very good holiday season at their landmark London store behind Regent Street. Their retail success, which almost matched the levels of last year, also allowed them to clear out a good deal of stock--which in turn made planned January store renovations much easier. However, the sad note is that reportedly the renovation will will result in that two-thirds of its famous mock-Tudor fronted London store being redesigned. A sad blow to those of us who love the ancient style; yet I have not read of any protest. By the way - I hate the term Mock Tudor.

Into the Past -Through the Peeper's Looking Glass

by 6:59 AM
One of the most entertaining sites I've found on the web is The Victorian Peeper, which focuses on a wide-range of miscellanea covering nineteenth century Britain. Not only does the blog offer a wealth of original and entertaining insights, but it probably offers the most comprehensive list of Victorian related links to be found anywhere on the Internet. These include news articles, book reviews, exhibitions and events, festivals...just about every relevant item for which you could ask.

The Victorian Age is always of interest to me, especially in terms of the architectural revivals that came about during this time. The scholarly study, interpretation and re-interpretation of historic building styles was perhaps unsurpassed, and the period's architects--Shaw, Devey, Webb, Butterfield, Pugin and many others--produced much of the century's most memorable work.Though famous for not being easily amused, I doubt that even Queen Victoria herself could fail to be amused by The Victorian Peeper.

Belated Happy Holidays...

by 7:11 AM
Just came across this cleaning up my iPhone camera roll. It's a poor shot, but playing with Photoshop made it a little better. Next time I'll use a real camera.

Books on The Wall

by 6:12 PM
Books are great for a lot of things besides reading. I can't find the book from which I copied these illustrations from King Arthur; they are not from the original edition, but the artist is Louis Rhead. They're also typical of some of my favorite illustrated fiction; I just love the style of late-19th and early 20th century books, often inspired by Pre-Raphaelite art & design, and usually they look great in an olde english home.

This example, and another depicting Arthur and Mordred, have been gracing my dining room wall for about 15 years now. However, they are not simply scans of the book illustrations, which are originally black and white. The process used for this (long before I even owned a computer) was to zoom the image on an office copier to about 10 x 14 inches, insert some high, quality, acid-free 11 x 17 paper into the copier and print. Subsequently, I hand-colored the output with colored pencils, then matted and framed them.

The frames are indeed very plain, but the images are so detailed and the wallpaper behind them is rather busy, so I thought it would be a nice contrast. I really think a more ornate frame would be a distraction; then again, I couldn't afford a more ornate frame at the time, and that may have been a factor.

I've used similar techniques in the past, and you could certainly do this all using today's illustration software, but I like the hand-rendered quality of the colored pencil. In a similar vein, I've scanned some B&W images from old architecture books and hand-tinted them in Photoshop, usually to match a special single color in a room--like a particular wall paint, for example. Of course, I also know some people also cut books apart to use the illustrations as art, but normally I would consider this a high crime, unless the book is damaged beyond repair / incomplete...or still in print, and therefore easily replaceable.

Now THIS is a book...

by 11:57 AM
I'll post this over here before I show it over on my book publishing blog, but here is Volume One in the pride of my book collection, a two-volume set from Thomas Garner and Arthur Stratton, entitled The Domestic Architecture of England During the Tudor Period. I think I picked these up about twelve years ago from Zubal in Cleveland; if you love this style of architecture, then having one of these books in your lap is an indescribable experience. And they are definitely lap 12" x 16" inches, these big folios books weigh in at about 6-7 lbs each, I would estimate.

This was a Second Edition, published in 1929. The two volumes are a superb reference, featuring excellent written descriptions as well as a number of beautiful measured drawings of some of England's best known Tudor houses. There are a lot of excellent photographs as well; though they are, of course, in black and white and not in color, they are gorgeous to look at. In many cases, I actually prefer looking at these old B&W photos, since they seem to convey the appropriate feeling of "Olde England." The production is wonderful as well, and the graphic richness these books display--even with two-color printing--is quite remarkable.

Books like these are one of the reasons you see so many "stockbroker" tudors on the streets of our older neighborhoods. Nostalgia was a big draw early in the last century, and a host of revival style homes were being built all over America, with builders and architects inspired by books such as these. So was I, when I built my own home. Sadly, most builders today will try to ape these historical styles in a very clumsy manner, with unfortunate results.

It's also interesting to note that these books were published in 1929. While they were being prepared for print, I doubt that anyone would have seen the Great Depression coming, and that the period of building these great, expensive and majestic piles was pretty much over. During the 30's, the moderne age gradually took over. Not only was there less money to build, but let's face it--the smooth, spare styles of the new age, with it's comparable lack of detail--was cheaper to build. In today's economy, the effect on design will be interesting to contemplate.

By the way, I believe Zubal has another set of these.

The Glory of Old Books and Images

by 7:38 AM
Being a lover of old books as it is, there are few things I enjoy more than paging through some ancient editions--particularly of architecture books, especially those printed from the late-19th century through the 1930's. Over the years, I have accumulated a fair collection of such titles, my prize possessions being a large two-volume folio-sized set published by Scribner's (via Batsford) around 1929.

But even the more humble examples can be enjoyable, since they so often include evocative photographs and drawings of houses found throughout the English countryside, in small towns and along quiet farm lanes. From leaning half-timbered hall houses and pargetted town homes to stately Jacobean mansions, one of the charms of these old books is that they portray a world which--in many ways--no longer exists. Over the months, I will try to share some of them with you.
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