Thursday, May 13, 2010

Fonthill's garage

For the last installment on Henry Chapman Mercer's masterpieces, I've saved my favorite project of his which most articles don't even recognize: the garage of his home, Fonthill. Thats not Rapunzel's tower above, it's Mercer's garage!
This small building contains just as many details and even more surprises than any of his other buildings. The rough stone walls you see above (below the arched windows) are actually leftover from an old farm building. As mentioned, Mercer was very frugal and used everything he could as efficiently as possible. Why waste concrete when walls were already standing: Just build directly on top of them!
The downstairs houses a garage while upstairs is a large open room for entertaining called the 'Summer Parlor' with an adjoining terrace. The parlor has a blue ceiling with tiles that show the seasons of harvest and also the four winds. Of course the winds are directionally correct and ever a true Harvard scholar, the names are in Latin. Access to the parlor and terrace is via a charming outdoor staircase. I think this most closely resembles his German castle inspirations.
The building has a square fire pit about 28” high and 6’ square which Mercer put 8” square holes around the sides to experiment with a different way of firing tiles. He was always experimenting for his business, even in his garage!
Today the parlor and terrace are used for cocktail parties, weddings, birthday parties or business meetings; Rentals are the mainstay of many house museums anymore. Blogger convention anyone?
The garage itself now houses bathrooms, a kitchenette and a craft room for children’s programs. This downstairs is very plain and unornamented as a garage should be. Curiously, Mercer never actually owned a car or even buggy but still built this garage which he ended up using for storage. This window into the garage shows a typical wood sash window, painted red, with an arched transom of poured concrete above. Who thinks of these things? So unique!The punched openings in the exterior stairwalls are an unexpected place for a bit of color: Moravian tiles of course!
In addition to preserving antique tools and artifacts, Mercer was also interested in preserving natural history. Concrete bird houses were constructed on the roof of the garage, seen above, that he hoped would become a bird sanctuary. He planted 80 different species of trees native to Pennsylvania throughout the grounds and encouraged people to visit and explore: even creating tags for the trees at his tile factory (which are still available for purchase).
Again I encourage everyone to visit Doylestown, Pennsylvania: Fonthill, the Mercer Museum and the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works; You won't be disappointed. What I've shown in this series of posts is only the tip of the iceberg; they're a national treasure!
Thanks again to Kelly who also helped me gather much of the information for this post.


Blue said...

Stefan, I thought of you yesterday when I found an article in WoI about Mercer's house - well illustrated, as you might imagine, but only coming a near second to your series. I looked to see if there was anything more I could see that I had not seen in your posts - maybe a few tiles, but that is all. Well done, and thank you. I'm really enjoying this series and it makes we me which we had time to go here when we are in Pennsylvania. Our friend from London is not quite the architectural buffs that we are.

Reggie Darling said...

Great series Stefan, thanks for posting it. You have really done an excellent job on this one! Reggie

ArchitectDesign™ said...

Thank you so much, both of you guys! I guess my passion for this place has shone through!
Blue - what issue of WOI was fonthill in? I have (spotty) backissues going back to the magazine's founding.

Terry said...

Love this place and I'm fascinated my Mr. Mercer, a can-do dynamo. Thanks for introducing us. Concrete window? Why not?

ArchitectDesign™ said...

Concrete EVERYTHING, Terry! i'm still fascinated that it works; it goes against everything we learned in architecture school! Pennsylvania with it's freeze thaw should be awful for concrete roofs, windows, etc. -but the house still stands and is in good shape (albeit with renovations). Who knew!
I've seen some concrete houses from the 30s in northern virginia, but the milder winters seem friendlier to concrete. And even they dont' have concrete roofs or windows!

24 Corners said...

I'll take this "garage" as my house any ol' day!

Thanks for being such a fabulous tour guide!

ArchitectDesign™ said...

You're welcome, 24! Yes, I think I liked this better than the house -maybe because of the size actually. It would be a perfect house for me!

Reynolds Still said...

Incredible space and architectural detail. I too would love to make that a living space, Reynolds Still style! As always Stefan, incredible post, great visuals and informative commentary! Thanks for sharing something new for me.

Best regards,

tru dillon said...

WOWEE! Makes we want to hang up all my prints and photos without delay.
thanks for sharing this lovely world.

Cote de Texas said...

this is unreal!!!!!!! so beautiful. truly.

Donald's Garden said...

Great Blog!!! I stumbled upon it doing a search for San Souci Gardens.