One of the elements I am most fascinated with lately is the back sides of vernacular Greek Revival’s – The fronts have fairly predictable variations on the standard layouts – either the classic Temple, The more restrained ‘simple’ Midwestern layout – or the ‘Hen and Chicks layout – (where temple front is flanked by smaller wings on either side).
While most farmhouse retain the strictness of their facade (save for a enclosed porch or two) – It is the back view that reveals the age and ‘accumulation’ that happens on old houses. – The House Pictured below is a New Build which is artfully designed by Architect Kristine Sprague to look original. It features a back (or more correctly side?) facade that was made to look as if it naturally and ‘organically’ created over time . What I find most interesting is that the windows on the top floor do not line up symmetrically with those below – which actually minimizes and relaxes the symmetrical tension of the back view.
Kristine Prague Architect’s Cliffwood Greek Revival Residence
I found this renovation of a 1840’s Greek Revival in Salt Point, New York interesting – They added a series of flat roofed additions to the north side of the house – copying flat roofed additions in the area.
“We looked at examples of the Greek Revival style throughout the area to get ideas on how to approach the design of the new additions. Flat roofs were common on Greek Revival structures, often appearing in the front of the building,” notes Murray. via oldhouseonline.com
Greek revival’s are very very common in our neck of the woods – heck this cabin is just the next town over. But I have had a hard time finding any houses that are the same combo of the 1830’s rural Greek Revival New England house and the 1840’s ‘Midwestern Greek Revival farmhouse’. When I saw this house on a drive to Cooperstown – I noted its approximate location and on a lazy summer day we drove back to grab some photos. The house in reality is a mirror image of ours – (photoshop magic!), the windows are taller on the top floor (not pocket windows) and the enclosed porch is a different shape – but this house gives me an idea of how ours will look without the dreaded vinyl and perhaps with a few shutters? Its cute and classic and it kind of reminds me of this .
So earlier in the summer I bought the above book and devoured it cover to cover. One of the reasons that I initially bought it is that her house is similar to ours (I know that ours is MUCH more modest). But what really drew me was how she talked about her journey of turning a house into a home and a life – It was a delicious read and really inspirational. It made me happy to read about another persons devotion to a house and place – and the joy that it has brought her and her loved ones. I too am always planning on how to turn not just the house – but the land into a usable and enjoyable PLACE. Right now I am obsessed with antique barns (being that we don’t actually have any kind of out buildings left on the property) – and with trees (remind me to tell you about the row of sugar maples) and driveways (read below).
So another surprise here is that today we got our permit from the county to put in a new driveway entrance! – so this poor washed- out driveway will soon be replaced with lawn and graceful curving sweep of gravel. Basically our parcel is smallest where it hits the road because we are situated on the outside of a curve (giving us a slight pie slice of land – the pointed tip being our road frontage).
Our plan is to extend the driveways to the far corners of the property and connect them in front of the house – thus removing the current turn-around /parking area behind the house – Which will help to restore the front lawn / back lawn privacy that I crave in the country. Right now the house is completely surrounded by car paths – the highway in the front – the driveways looping up the sides and the parking area in the back. This layout made sense when it was apartments but it makes for a hostile barrier between the house and the lawns that I can’t wait to be rid of! Our new plan will be better for safety (better sight lines on the edges of our highway curve ), better drainage (we are gonna do some extensive ditch/culvert work), better during the winter – (we will be approaching the house from the side at the same elevation level instead of driving uphill which can get SCARY with ice) and privacy (we will be using the left over dirt to fill in the old driveway so that the resulting berm will hide traffic a bit). – So wish us luck!
p.sFor a great post on Bunny Williams’ house visit Cote de Texas.
My father bought me this book this summer when we were out looking for furniture at the local antique /used furniture shops in the area. To Grandfathers House we Go – A Roadside Tour of American Homes By Harry Devlin is a beautiful children primer on architecture and although simply written- I actually learned bits I did not know. I did know that Greek revival at the time was referred to as the ‘national style’ because it was associated with the Greek, democratic ideals of our nation. And that the movement in America was was inspired by Thomas Jefferson. But what I did not know that one of the reasons that the ‘greek look’ was so popular was that we as a nation were mad at England for the war of 1812 and were sympathetic to the Greeks who were fighting for their own independence from the Turks. Greek revival style was the first time Americans applied an aesthetic style to architecture defiantly not modeled on the English precedent. It was style of independence and of ‘modernity’. Imagine these rural new towns with log cabins and bare-wood clapboard colonial style houses being replaced by houses that were made to look like shining white stone temples. I can imagine that statuesque pride encapsulated in these new generous proportions must have been very exciting to the nations psyche.
The book also talks about how towns (esp here in New York)were NAMED in Greek revival style – for example Rome, Utica, Athens, Palmyra, Troy, Homer, Syracuse etc.
The appreciation and enthusiasm for the ‘classics’ of ancient Greek culture became viewed as pretentious and mundane as it was applied willy nilly to all aspects of life. It must have seemed silly to some as the ‘magnificence’ of Greek temple design which was first seen in grand public buildings was watered down and applied to the most rural and incongruous of architectural uses. The greek revival era is often quoted as stretching 30 years from 1820 to 1850’s – which I guess when you think that the average life span was 30-45 years in that age – the style was present for almost a life time. in 1850 Greek revival style was starting to be considered archaic, ‘costly and lavish’ especially because buildings were being designed to mimic an already designed style instead of being created to address new architectural needs.
I guess this is why I find rural Greek revival architecture (and rural architecture in general) so interesting. Rural architecture was most always designed by need. Resources of the farms being few, and houses needing to withstand the fierceness of climate led to rural architecture to be far less decorative and more of a direct, unfettered answer to the use and environment. So I guess what some would find absurd – applying a temple design to the farmhouse vernacular, I actually find the most interesting – farm houses demand that they be designed for use above decoration – and the resultant style is a unique and valid group of venacutlar architecture. Around the time of Greek Revival farmhouses was also the Progressive Farmhouse movement – which I plan to discuss in another post.
For further reading on American Architecture : Architecture in the United States, 1800-1850 By William Barksdale Maynard.