You speak of the concept of vernacular progression regarding this house. Could you explain how you invoked that in this project?
This house looks like a classic traditional house that has been added onto over time out of necessity. This gradual, organic evolution is known as vernacular progression. I invoked the concept for this house because it allowed me to maintain the Georgian exterior, which complemented the neighborhood’s architecture, while achieving the floor plan the clients wanted. To include a big kitchen on the back, a large master bath, and so on, you couldn’t justify any single form that was strictly traditional. So I envisioned the construction of several separate buildings, expanded and linked over time with additions. To enhance the design process, I explored the idea of a fictional narrative, creating detailed drawings for each stage in the house’s development. There are four distinct styles represented early vernacular, Georgian, Federal, and Colonial Revival. Five, if you include the modern era in which the house was actually built. What makes this house modern is that the period of vernacular progression was compressed and it happened all at once. There was nothing forced about the process. While each addition is distinct in style, it all works together. This was an empirical case to see how this technique worked.
Tell me a little about the progression of styles represented in the house.
People have traditionally added onto houses because they want something new and exciting. It’s about updating fashion. The Georgian style creates order and beauty, in contrast to the vernacular, which doesn’t get into order at all. The stone barn portion of this house has no windows at the same height, whereas on the Georgian facade, the windows are based on the Golden Mean. Each pane is the same size, so they are all proportionate. The Federal portico and dining room details appear to have been added on in the early nineteenth century, when the style was very fashionable. I imagined that the lady of the house decided to redo the dining room in the Sheraton style in 1803. The rooms at the back of the house reflect the Colonial Revival style. They break free from the more rigid, Classical floor plan to create comfortable spaces for modern living. The style also makes it possible to link the various structures with passages resembling colonnades and arcades that draw from classical prototypes, but to employ them in a modern fashion, using a lot of glass. The house is modern only because we are looking back through all these styles at once, and are able to mix them in this way.
I understand that the client requested that the design include enfilades. What role did this play in the design process?
The purpose of the enfilade is to create spatial and visual connectedness that improves circulation not only for people, but also for light and air. In the main block of the house, I created three unusually long enfilades. In the central hallway, there are four arches that mark the progression through the ceremonial entrance space. There are two more enfilades on either side of the hall. One travels from the living room through the dining room and to the kitchen. The other connects the library to the master bedroom, sitting room, and rear porch. When you open up the doors you can see all the way through the house and also through several periods of design. Two additional enfilades link the rest of the house. The longest of these has three segments that connect the stone barn, garage, and potting shed. The middle of these becomes an orangerie, with wood walls, a slate floor, and big arched windows. The clients and I were interested in creating huge circulation spaces that were like rooms and that were fun to be in. We took an unabashed pleasure in the design process. There was no shame about it, and a lot of wit.
You’ve mentioned that you had to create illusions and visual tricks in order to make all the elements of the house work together. Can you describe some of these?
The first illusion has to do with the proportions of the facade. Seen from the street it appears to be a modest Georgian house, which was intended to complement the scale of the other houses in the neighborhood. When you stand right next to the house, however, you see how big it actually is. There is a real trick going on. One way I did this was by designing only three bays, instead of the five that are more traditional. This makes the house look less wide than it really is. But the windows are actually huge. Everything on the facade is oversized. The stone barn and garage addition is also very large, but because it is set well back from the facade, its size is visually diminished, which better balances the smaller Federal addition on the other side.
The second major illusion was designed to create a seamless appearance of vernacular progression. By using appropriate materials, applied in the exact manner they would have been in each era, we created a totally believable impression that the house evolved over three centuries. There are three different roofing materials: weathered antique slate, cedar shake, and tin. The exterior walls are made of painted clapboard and native field stone. The portico and fanlight were milled in the traditional manner, and beveled wooden blocks added to the facade in classic Federal style. In the areas that were supposedly added during the Colonial Revival, exterior walls suddenly became interior surfaces, creating wonderful passages where stone, clapboard, flat board, and glass walls all come together.
View images from the Emery residence