Tuesday, November 13, 2007

"Edwardian Classicism" a Primer

Once purchased, we wanted to figure out WHAT style of house we had. Some said Victorian; some said Prairie; and others even suggested Arts and Crafts. Unfortunately the house had design elements from all of these styles and then some!

We then came across a descriptive term that fit better "Four Square". The Four Square house, named because the house was essentially composed of four square rooms on two levels, was extremely popular. Examples of this house style still exist throughout the United States and can be found in just about any populated area.

However, we had a feeling that there were different styles of Four Square houses as there are different styles of Victorian houses.

After countless hours, days, weeks, and months of research we have finally discovered the ‘style’ of our Four Square: Edwardian Classicism. This style roughly covers the years between 1900 – 1914, but some extend it out to include the years 1890 – 1920.

Virtually all of the information that follows has come from the works of numerous people, but the sources I have relied on the most are as follows: the English firm of ‘Bricks and Brass’ and Johanne Yakula with ‘From Times Past’.

I will HIGH-LIGHT and ITALISIZE the terms and features that apply to our house.

The Edwardian era is named after the reign of King Edward VII, and is technically between the years 1901 – 1910. Edward VII, son of Queen Victoria, reigned between 1901 and 1910. Stylistically the changes began in the early 1890’s and ended at the beginning of the WWI (some say it continued till 1920). The style is a precursor to the simplified styles of the 20th century.

Towards the end of the 19th century, people began to tire of the excess ornamentation, public display, and rigid rules of conduct both inside and outside the home that society demanded. What did not change so quickly were the Victorian ideals of home, and family. When Edward VII ascended the throne in 1901, the English-speaking world was ready for the dawning of a new century -- and a new age in interior design. It was time to jettison the dark, heavy clutter of the Victorian era for something lighter, freer, and altogether more exuberant.

Many of the classical features – colonettes, voussoirs, keystones, etc. - are part of this style, but they are applied sparingly and with guarded understatement. The underlying themes of buildings and interior design of the Edwardian era were for expensive simplicity and sunshine and air. Finials and cresting were definitely out. By 1900, most architecture was reflecting a revival of some sort from pre-Victorian style such as Colonial, Georgian, Classical, and Gothic. Edwardian Classicism provided simple, balanced designs, straight rooflines, un-complicated ornament, openings are fitted with flat arches or plain stone lintels. Colours and detailing were lighter than in the late 19th century, and looked back to the eras of a century, or more, before. These houses were generally known to have many windows as well.

Compared to the homes during the height of the Victorian era, those of the early 20th century were very different. Advances in science and technology influenced the Edwardian way of life significantly. Improvements in medicine, and hygiene cut infant mortality rates, and extended life expectancy. Home design changed to incorporate the new building technologies, heating by furnace, plumbing, and electricity, while still integrating the symbols of hearth and home. Louis Pasteur’s experiments in 1882 proved the connection between germs and contagious disease and this also affected home design.

Interior layouts of Edwardian style homes were vastly different than the preceding era. During the Victorian era, rooms were accessible through a central hallway and broken up according to specific uses: dinning room, parlor, bedroom, etc. Larger homes had even more single use rooms such as dens, libraries, poolrooms, sewing rooms, or nurseries. The Edwardian era saw more of an open plan. Dinning rooms opened into living rooms, and living rooms were accessed through open vestibules or entrances. Grills and arches created a feeling of separation yet kept the open feeling. Some homes had hidden pocket doors between the living room and dining room. The fact that these doors were rarely used and cost more to incorporate into a home caused them to fall out of favor. Central heating negated the need to "close off " rooms in order to retain warmth, however, fireplaces (wood burning stoves in our case) were still in evidence in most rooms.

Those owners of historic homes who curse the size of the kitchen must understand that this room was never meant to accommodate more than those few working in it. The efficient kitchen of the time was based on the model of a factory, and keeping it small meant the cook had to make fewer steps to get the work done. Electricity, for those who could afford it, was of additional benefit, even if this meant a bare 25 watt bulb hanging from a nine foot ceiling.

It became a status symbol to have indoor plumbing. Bathrooms, large rooms during the Victorian era, became smaller in response to the ideals of efficiency. However, the well-appointed bathroom of the era was anything but spartan with its heated towel bars, mosaic floors, shower, hipbath, bathtub and toilet in a separate closed off area.

A new hybrid to emerge during the era was the sleeping porch. Good ventilation and fresh air (we have lots of windows for cross currents) was linked to good health, thus the population was encouraged to lower the heat, wear nightcaps and heavy bedclothes and open the windows at night. A sleeping porch was ideal. In many Edwardian houses, windows were larger than those of preceding eras because large glass panes were cheaper. Stained glass was sometimes used, particularly for the upper lights in casement windows.

There are several other developments in home design that came out of this Edwardian idea of efficiency in home design that we take for granted today: the closet by the front door, the broom closet in the kitchen, the linen closet in the upstairs hall, and the medicine cabinet in the bathroom.

Just like the interior layouts, discussed above, interior decoration vastly changed as well. The understanding of the correlation between germs, diseases and dirt created an almost paranoiac response. Gone were the heavy layered window treatments of the Victorian era. These were replaced by simple lace panels, which allowed light and ventilation into the room. Gone was the wall to wall carpeting, replaced by full hardwood or linoleum floors and area rugs that could be removed and cleaned by "beating" with a special tool. Gone was the wallpaper that covered every wall, including the ceiling of every room. Painted ceilings and walls could be cleaned. If wallpaper was still desired, it was varnished to keep it washable. Gone were the dark colors associated with the late Victorian era, and hello to our love affair with white. Dark woodwork was painted white. Bathrooms and kitchens were whitewashed on a regular basis, on the premise that dirt could be seen against white, therefor would always be cleaned. Spring-cleaning became a ritual, of necessity because of the effect of gas lighting on the contents of the entire household. As electricity became more commonly available and affordable, this need was relaxed.

The desire for cleanliness continued. As gas and then electric light became more widespread, walls could be lighter as they did not get so dirty and looked better in the brighter light. Decorative patterns were less complex; both wallpaper and curtain designs were more plain. Light, air and simplicity of detail were the unifying principles of this mix-and-match revivalism. There was less clutter than in the Victorian era. Ornaments were perhaps grouped rather than everywhere. Colors were fresher than during the Victorian era: pastel blues, lilacs, leaf green, muted yellows, pearl gray. Floral fabrics and wallpaper were complemented by the liberal use of fresh flowers in informal arrangements.

Doors, skirtings, ceilings, panelling and picture rails were often painted using the new bright white enamel paint. Colours were quieter, carrying on the trends established by the Arts and Crafts movement, and helping achieve the Edwardian ideals of freshness and light. Houses in the Georgian revival style were decorated in appropriate colours, typically pale blues, greens and greys.

Although the main areas of walls and woodwork were generally painted or papered in pastel shades, ornaments and details were highlighted in strong colours, for example black woodwork might have had gold or silver gilding to emphasis details.

In the hall, typical colours were greens, blues, terracottas and dark gold.

The dining room continued to be in the richest hues of all the rooms. For example, red and gold with yellow and white ceilings, and a cream cornice.

The drawing room might have had pale blues, with stenciled or painted rush and grass designs. It was often repainted every year. Other typical colours were lavender, rose-pink, pale lime green, buttery yellow, soft cream and off-white.

Edwardian houses used wallpaper, paint and wood panelling. The Edwardian era saw extensive use of stenciling (you can still see the original stenciling above the front door), particularly on the frieze. An alternative was the pictorial wallpaper. When wall-coverings were used in most Edwardian homes they were of paper. These were often imported from Britain or France. Decorative designs were more often than not florals to match fabrics used for curtains and furniture, as well as Art Nouveau designs. Relief paper, such as Lincrusta, was still used in the hall, on the landing and on the staircase.

The Edwardian period saw a major revival of chintz. This is a printed, multi-coloured fabric with a glazed finish. The term derives from a 17th century fabric imported from India. Chintzes were teamed with matching floral papers. Other fabrics were often luxurious, for example satins, silks, and lace. Fabric designs from the late 19th century from companies such as Liberty & Co were popular. These included Japanese and Indian designs on silk, as well as fluid Art Nouveau patterns. These designs came from people such as Christopher Dresser, Walter Crane, Lindsay Butterfield, Voysey, the Silver Studio, and, after 1900, Harry Napper.

Edwardian rooms, although less crowded, were still cluttered. To go with the eclectic nature of the architecture of the time, the furniture available was an eclectic mix, and many homes will have mixed the styles too. Some furniture was mediaeval in style, heavy and in dark woods. Arts and Crafts-influenced furniture was lighter and simple in design. The organic forms from the Art Nouveau vocabulary appeared on other furniture. And then there were pieces taking their inspiration from French and English 18th century designs. Along with Sheraton, Chippendale, Queen Anne and even Baroque reproduction furniture, wicker and bamboo began to be widely used, adding further delicacy to the style. However, much of the furniture was light, elegant and delicate. The materials used included pale woods such as oak, walnut, and cherry, and also wicker, cane and bamboo. Inlays were used to add decoration. Furniture was sometimes painted in soft colours or with highlights in gilt. Armchairs and sofas were still well stuffed but with loose covers in flowery chintz. Covered furniture and curtains were further decorated with fringes and tassels.

Okay, so there you have it - THIS is what our house SHOULD be like. However, if you just can’t visualize how the interior should look, watch the James Cameron movie ‘Titanic’ and pay specific attention to the 1st class areas.

Talk to you all later!

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