Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Fonthill

Down an allee of ancient trees in Bucks County lies a ancient looking fairytale arts and crafts castle. This is the last thing you would expect to find in rural Pennsylvania, more fitted to the English countryside perhaps.More bizarre however is the material: concrete. Much like his museum, the Mercer, Henry Chapman Mercer built his own house between 1908 and 1912 out of this versatile material. While not quite to the extent as the museum, the house still incorporates concrete in the roofs (mostly covered in clay tiles made at the adjacent factory), dormers, chimneys, floors, walls and ceilings. Light was Mercer's key concern. Over 200 windows were incorporated into the facade in all shapes and sizes: Most are operable. As a testament to the design, even on cloudy days candlelight (or electric lights) are barely needed unlike the castle's European precedents.The house is truly quirky and enchanting. As it's the brainchild of Mercer, I would expect him to be a fascinating character as well: I'd love to pick his brain over a meal!Color is greatly incorporated into the building, unlike his later museum. While most of the interior pastel colors have faded over the years (another testament to the amount of light received) the window sills and doors are still vibrant shades of red and yellow.
Mercer employed a surprisingly small number of employees in the building of his structures, whom he would personally train. He was a great employer in that he loved that they all took pride in their work and treated them well. Many are commemorated throughout the space, such as the work horse (literally) Lucy; He created a wind vane in her honor.The house is truely an amalgamation of styles and shapes - a working dictionary of forms. From one angle it may appear one way and then after turning the corner, the structure takes on an entirely different shape. Here you can see some examples of the concrete windows - inoperable of course. They were created from the moulds of operable antique wood windows, with the glass set into wet concrete. An unusual technique and one which works well obviously as the windows are original to the structure.
Mercer was lucky to have passed away at his beloved home in 1930. His housekeepers lived in the house till their deaths many years later at which point it became a museum. Of course, stories are passed around about the castle being haunted, but I had no such experience as I did at the nearby Phillips Mill!Don't miss the interiors tomorrow!
Visit Fonthills WEBSITE

9 comments:

Seattle Architects said...

You are making me homesick! It looks like it could have been plucked from an english countryside. I mean, when was the last time you saw a thatch roof in the US? Keep up the great posts!

ArchitectDesign™ said...

Seattle - no flamable materials at all -the roof is CONCRETE! Amazingly bizzare!

little augury said...

oh how I would love to have seen that one! I am so in love with the way the windows are painted-not for the faint of heart or the small of girth, but full of interest, life, energy. pgt

Dandy said...

I went there years ago. And then I ran into an old man who lived in the town. He told me that there was a dungeon of some sorts. He said, "The things they took out of that house!", only some of which made it into the museum. And of course the concrete and the metal railings are because he was cheap! Cheap and kinky? What a combination. I can say I would like to know more about the mysterious owner, but, in reality, I probably don't want to know. :) He had a great tile works, but that house is kind of creepy.

ArchitectDesign™ said...

Yes, the windows are BOLD, Gaye! I think you need that though with all the gray gray gray concrete.

Dandy, a dungeon? kinky? really?! Who knew LOL. It was sort of spooky -but in an ultra awesome kind of way.

pve design said...

I could see a wonderful weekend party there.
Costumes and all.
pve

kirstenrana said...

My first architecture professor had studied Mercer and Fonthill in depth and we got regular doses of his work in lectures. I love coming across photographs that remind me of these wonderful classes. Someday soon I will make my own visit.
Thank you!

Tai I. Rivera said...

This is beautiful,enchanting, and breathtaking. How lucky you are to have experienced it! Thank you for sharing.

Laura Casey Interiors said...

Your interior and exterior posts on Fonthill are fabulous. I have so enjoyed starting my morning reading all of this.