Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Housetour: Cairnwood

While in Philadelphia a few weekends ago, I took a daytrip out to Bryn Athyn (about 20 minutes outside of the city) to see 3 amazing buildings. The first that I'll share is Cairnwood, built by Carrere and Hastings in 1895 for the Pitcairn family. The grounds were completed by Frederick Law Olmsted although they have been significantly altered over time. Cairnwood was the first residential project for C&H and an unusual one at that. The Pitcairn's(a wealthy industrialist family from Pittsburgh) were extremely religious and actively involved with the "New Church". Cairnwood was to be the social hub of this religous community out in the countryside. The Pitcairn's were also an unusual family in the Gilded age in that they were a close knit family and were not socially active with other industrialist families (think New York and Newport). They actually lived and operated similarly to modern families today and the house reflects this.While not a formal family they did of course have servants. These were usually local girls within their religious community instead of the more usual career servants, often imported from Europe. Above you see the service courtyard.The front entry best shows the mix of styles C&H incorporated in Beaux-Arts fashion. As well as mixing rustic stonework with industrial orange brick (which always makes me think of Pittsburgh where I'm from) they also incorporated some more refined ornamentation.Similar to large houses of today, one entered into a small vestibule with cloak and powder rooms which then opened onto a 2 story great hall, which was the main gathering space of the house. Here is focused most of the intricate detailing one is to find throughout the house. While this was the gilded age and the right architects to do so, the house is not lavishly decorated or 'gilded'.The barrel vaulted ceiling is stunning.Above the doors facing the great hall were these great laurel wreaths.The grand fireplace mantel would be at home in a French chateau. On either side of that fireplace were doors leading into the study (marked living room on the plan). Although the house had central heating, most rooms including the bedrooms included a fireplace.The house is now operated as a sort of wedding factory for the college which owns it, but weekly 'historic' tours are available. Because of this, current codes have to be obeyed such as exit signs. I thought the signs in this room were well dealt with unlike the one you can see in the background. Let me veer off topic and just talk about one of my pet peeves: cheap windows! The windows, doors and associated hardware are original to the house and nearly 120 years old and see daily heavy use. They appear to be in complete working order and are beautiful details to the house. Good windows and doors may be expensive but will last forever when properly maintained. No vinyl windows EVER! They probably won't even last YOUR lifetime in your house. But I digress...Connected to the study is the library. A number of years ago in the 90s the house sponsored a designer showhouse and the painted decorations in here date from then. While not original, I love the backs of the shelves painted blue.The woodwork is stunning. The shelves are lined with antique books all on the "New Church". The parlor was used by the family as a music room. It was recently restored to the original colors from the time of building: a dusty pink and white with the mouldings picked out in gold and white.The dining room, just down the hall, had this interesting fireplace: almost an inglenook of sorts. These are to be found throughout the house: symbolic gestures of hearth and home in a house featuring the latest technology of the day.The smoking room still has the original exhaust vents in the crown moulding.Alongside the great hall is the stairway, the grand gesture and focal point of the house.The detailing here is exquisite.The landing featured a beautiful bench seat with lion claw feet.A small stair off the landing led to the children's nursery; They were never far from their parents. Indeed, they even shared a bathroom and had adjacent bedrooms. This was a close knit family unusual to the families' status and the time period.The stairway leads to a mezzanine looking over the great hall which is lined with guest bedrooms. At the end of this open hall were the family bedrooms. Mr and Mrs. Pitcairn shared a bedroom, unusual to the time, which also features a charming inglenook of sorts.The rooms all have beautiful casing and woodwork. The transoms over the doors were probably at one time operable windows but have since been filled in.I love the blue ceilings too.One of the most interesting parts of any house tour is the 'behind the scenes' or service spaces. They are still intact and actually still in use at Cairnwood! The back stair featured this lovely internal leaded light window open to the first floor hall.As I have mentioned the family was very religious. They maintained a small chapel in the 3rd floor tower. Oddly enough this was accessed through the service spaces and up a back stair, seen above.The chapel itself is beautifully paneled and groin vaulted.In the former attic playroom is a collection of family items, such as this bust of John Pitcairn.Also in the collection are pieces of glass from the formation of PPG, of which Pitcairn was a founding partner. I urge you to visit Cairnwood to see an unusual gilded age home as well as 2 other amazing adjacent properties which I'll be featuring here shortly!