Text and photos from a article written by John Taylor Boyd Jr.(New York critic) in 1919.
Personality is an essential quality in the architecture of houses. There is some basis for the claim of those who decry originality in the monumental architecture of public buildings on the argument that its character has been crystallized by the experience of ages. But surely our homes should not all be alike. We cannot, in their case, make a fetish of standardization or of current fashions and, at the same time, hope to attain any real atmosphere of art, which is the aim of every good designer.
It is the declared purpose of modern housework to avoid both stereotyped arrangements and ephemeral fashions. But the performance too often fails. Formula and unreasoned imitation are everywhere too apparent. As good design spreads out more and more through the people, which it has been doing for a generation, quality will tend to lower unless it is stimulated by good example.
The development of the American home is now well defined; we understand high standards and seek them in building houses and in furnishing them, and we have an ample technique at command. What we need to fight now is mediocrity.
The artistic progress that I have alluded to is the work of people of character and personality among both designers and their clientele. Now, however, that the world as a whole becomes interested and takes part in the procession, the highway is crowded more and more with good faithful workers, the solid, the imitative, the technically skillful who follow the crowd rather than lead it. The danger increases that design may become more of a business and less of an art.
This encroachment of the humdrum is evident in house architecture today, particularly in regard to interiors. Yet interiors are the most personal of the architectural surroundings of our lives; in fact, they are nothing less than the world-old lore and art of the hearthstone, that is common to all mankind. While such household art should be community art in order to attain its highest purpose, it should also express our individual selves. In other words, while our homes should follow a certain accepted taste and excellence, they need not be exactly like every other man's house from New York to Los Angeles, except for a different hanging or the turn of a molding.
We are in danger of making the American home a business product. To mention merely the words "living room," "dining room," hallway," "bedroom," "library," is to cause most designers to think of an established formula for each, rather than to inspire them to imagine a picture. Usually nowadays the dining room means light paint, strip panels, formality, furniture just so, placed just so, with a bit of tapestry; silverware and plate ware and glassware no longer show-windowed behind glass doors, but most discreetly indicated by a candlestick or two en axe, as on a chapel altar; a forbidding portrait or two overlooking the scene. Entrance hallways are cold formal things, adequate frames for the ceremony of receiving the visitors' cards; no wonder the host no longer appears there, as he did in times of less sophisticated manners. A library is usually a paneled or bookcased room, light or dark, according to some half a dozen schemes concerning different arrangements of cupboards, shelves or cornices, all meaning about the same thing. Living rooms are more informal, but can you not recall examples where the pictures are exactly spotted, balanced carefully examples that universal formula of the contemporary decorator - with the current magazines carefully flattened out on the table like a hand at cards, the best sellers piled about geometrically? How one longs for a bold designer who will dare get a roaring fireplace in the dining room and introduce a gleam of rich carving and color and gold and dark wood; who will take the wicker furniture out of the glassed lounging room, put color into the living room, get along without chintzes; even make the entrance hall hospitable. He would be a true adventurer.
Of course, there are designers aplenty who are able to think for themselves and for their clients. Architects have done the highest work in interiors - White, McKim, Platt, Hastings, Eyre, Bigelow, Pope, to mention only a few men long ago well known.
Among young leaders Walker & Gillette have accomplished fine results in houses in work noted for its personality. Characteristic indeed is the result gained by Mr. A. Stewart Walker of this firm in his own home in New York City, illustrated in these pages. It is a refreshing contrast to the average house design. This house of Mr. Walker's is an alteration, but nevertheless he has treated the plan more freely than does many a designer on a new project where there are no walls or floors existing to hamper him. Like most good schemes, it is extremely simple. The lot is a twenty-foot width, on the southeast corner of a principal street. The maximum of light and air was desired; hence the stairway was placed on the inside against the party wall, and consists of one straight flight up from the basement entrance hall to the living quarters, and a winding stair hall thence up to the bedroom floors. This attractive, compact arrangement eliminates the usual too-prominent stair hall, eating up priceless space, destroying the charm of a city house with its dreary stairwell.
|MAIN ENTRANCE, ON REAR GARDEN|
|PLAN OF FIRST FLOOR|
The floors above are given over to bedrooms. One could hardly find a more practical plan. It makes the greatest possible use of space and light, while affording those unexpected contrasts of light, arrangement and little vistas that so inspire the designer to do his best.
The separate rooms hold their part in this fine plan admirably. The entrance hall gives a most interesting impression to the visitor, simple, roomy, yet small in scale, and much more homelike than most New York entrances. Proportions are low, but not too low, the furniture is well chosen and placed, rather delicate, in scale with the room, not too stiff and showing well against the yellowish plaster wall. The lighting fixtures are exquisitely designed, as they are throughout the house.
|ENTRANCE HALLWAY(THE WARDROBE DOORS ARE THE ENTRANCE TO THE CLOAK ROOM AND SERVICE PART OF HOUSE)|
|MAIN STAIR FROM ENTRANCE HALL|
And let me add, it is a living room in the true sense of the word—a room where people live at ease. This atmosphere of livableness of the room is permeating and hardly has it made itself felt than another impression of it is formed—one feels its quiet, but rich and beautiful colors. Here again the color is in harmony with the character of the room. It is comfortable, so to say, there is no insistent "keynote"; in fact, it is almost difficult to determine what the colors of the room are.
|LIVING ROOM LOOKING EAST|
|DETAIL OF LIVING ROOM|
|DETAIL OF LIVING ROOM|
|LIVING ROOM LOOKING WEST|
|DETAIL OF LIVING ROOM|
|DINING ROOM, WITH VISTA INTO LIVING ROOM|
|STAIRWAY UP FROM MAIN FLOOR|
All this design of Mr. Walker's house results in a rare combination of comfort and charm, of colorful decoration, of wit, personality. On the exterior there has been no attempt to modernize the plain front of gray painted brick and brownstone, and the not unpleasing oldfashioned look has been maintained. On the cross-street on either side are a number of unconventional house fronts, very simple, of stuccoed walls and gay painted details that, if developed further, will make this block one of the most interesting in New York City, where, as in most cities, blocks of houses, even if well designed individually, are usually uninspiring as a whole.
The townhouse stood at 823 Lexington Avenue at East 63rd Street, south-east corner.
The Barbizon Hotel for Women replaced townhouse. Click HERE to see building on Bing. Wikipedia article.
Walker & Gillette bought 128 East 37th Street in
1911, and maintained offices there until selling the building in 1923.
They had a office at 168 East 51st Street(demolished) that had been designed by McKim, Mead & White.
|168 EAST 51st STREET, 1942|