Friday, May 7, 2010

Fonthill Interiors

The interiors of Fonthill are probably even more fascinating than the exterior; they were the driving force behind the architecture afterall! Above you see some of the remaining color in one of the bathrooms. Originally the house was filled with many bright and pastel colors (some might say garish). Mercer was a collector of many things, including prints, which are displayed everywhere he could find wallspace including over the sink!
Tiles by the Moravian Tile works are found everywhere - floors, ceilings and fireplaces. Mercer used the house as his laboratory and tile museum, bringing potential clients to see different examples and even allowing them to stay overnight. I especially love these tiles set into concrete on this chimney breast; Mercer was inspired by 16th century Italian fabric in this instance. Notice the Wedgwood Portland vase on the upper left-hand shelf.
In Mercer's private study, you can see how much the room was used. The leather on the sofa is worn OUT, which I love to see. Books line this room (as elsewhere) as do ancient pottery examples sourced from all over the world. The wood paneling was reclaimed from many sources, much of it from old doors; Mercer was nothing if not resourceful. This was one of the few rooms with wood flooring and where he would have spent much of his time; amazing views out the huge corner windows of the garden.
The Columbus room was dedicated to the discovery of the New World and the tiles are all about this event. The tiles were set into the concrete formwork as the ceiling was being poured and were not applied afterwards; an innovative technique!
The interior photographs are by Bjorn Wallander and were featured in the Sept. 2007 Martha Stewart Living magazine. Thanks to Kathy of Hearth and Hedgerow Ltd. for helping me gather some information. Check out her blog!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


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

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Woodlawn Plantation

This past weekend, I attended a wedding at the Woodlawn Plantation. While not as well-known as its neighbor, Mt. Vernon, it certainly is a more beautiful building (in my opinion!). If Federal style architecture isn't your thing, the Pope-Leighey house by Frank Lloyd Wright is also on the grounds. Something for everyone!
The 126 acres that currently make up Woodlawn were originally part of George Washington's estate, Mt. Vernon and were deeded in a 2,000 acre parcel to his nephew, Major Lawrence Lewis. Lewis had Dr. William Thornton, the architect of the U.S. Capitol design this house which was completed in 1805.
The beautiful grounds are often the site of elegant weddings and it's the perfect setting for any party.
Cocktail hour was held in this side yard which has a fountain that frogs love to visit in the evening! Rib-bit!
While I can't offer a peak inside, this look into the window at night gives you an idea of the amount of restoration that went into this 200 year + old house. The last private owner, Senator Underwood of Alabama, sold the house in 1952 to become part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Keep in mind the weather in Northern Virginia is far from hospitable much of the year and it can get HOT and MUGGY. I don't know how I survived the 93 degree heat and high humidity let alone past residents in their heavy clothing and without our modern convienences.
My favorite part of the house is the bell mounted to the side of one chimney; To call everyone in for meal times perhaps? Now thats some technology (but I'd rather have A.C.)!
Visit this lesser known cousin of Mt. Vernon if you're in the DC area rather than fight the crowds at Mt. Vernon. Better yet -visit both!