There is no separation between art and architecture. Except for movement through space . . . visual or physical.

Biltmore Gardens in springtime

Yesterday in my art workshop, David Dunlop’s lecture and demonstration was about portals. David is an amazing artist, scholar,  purveyor of dreams. He inspired this blog.

Everyday, every time we move through a space, it is usually through a portal, a doorway, an opening, a defined path, all perhaps leading to the light. We are drawn to the light.

In Alberti’s S. Andrea edifice below, the entrance is a Romanesque portal with its typical rounded arch. All portals have a shape of some kind, relative to the era and country. The Romanesque period was from actually approximately 800 A.D. to 1100 A.D. The portal with its rounded arch was used throughout history, as you can see here. This one, in Italy, was created in the15th century.

S. Andrea in Mantua, Italy by Leon Battista Alberti 15th century. Portal arch is Romanesque

I think a portal could also be an obvious path leading somewhere. I couldn’t resist the picture of the Biltmore Gardens in springtime above. And the light . . . look at the light. The light pulls you into the garden.

Have you had any experience with portals? How many have you seen or walked through that changed you, your views, or your life?




Hiding in her room, she shivered knowing she was soon to be convicted of thievery. A crime by the government of France against the people of France.

Marie Antoinette 1783 Portrait

Is the crime one of this regime, Louis XVI and his Lass, or is it a crime of near bankruptcy through the opulence of their predecessors, Louis XIV and Louis XV? The crime of taking the taxes of the people to buy the latest fashions and furnishings for the kings and queens of France. Louis and Marie were young and foolish, he fifteen, she fourteen when they married.

Louis XVI Portrait

After donning the crown in 1774, they built monuments to themselves, imported porcelain, had fabrics woven to their specifications, cabinetry designed and created by the high paid Ebénisters (high-grade cabinet makers). The economy spiraled downward (unemployment in Paris in 1788 is estimated at 50%), crops failed, the price of bread and other food soared. The people were not happy. To top it off, Louis had the misfortune to marry a foreigner, the Austrian Marie Antoinette. The anger of the French people, fueled by xenophobia, targeted Marie as a prime source of their problems. Le Petit Trianon at Versailles was fashioned and furnished for Marie, Louis’ Lass, in the Neoclassical style.

Neoclassical - end of Rococo's curves of the past

A style eliminating the curves of the past. You can identify a Louis XVI chair easily by the typical chair leg. It is straight with fluting and rosette in a square on the top corner of the leg. Although these chairs pictured here, are dark, furniture of the period is often painted white, and upholstered in needlepoint, silk, damask, and velvet upholstery.

Occasionally chair backs have wood carvings of various motifs   like garlands and ribbons.

This furniture took the skill of many talented Ebénisters. Costs were high. The money used did not belong to royalty. Louis and his lass lost their heads for robbing the people.

If you want to buy a chair in this style, would you know what to look for? Can you identify the rosette in the square on the top of the leg?



Location: Norwalk, Connecticut
National Landmark

Lockwood exterior 1867

Over the top, Lockwood Mathews mansion is over the top, bigger, better, more complex and complete than other later similar homes. It was first, before the Newport Cottages, before Victoria Mansion in Portland, Maine, before any of the homes in this blog. Mr Lockwood was a genius. He heated his house with radiant (floor) heating with the most amazing furnace in the basement. (Looks Steampunk.) Indoor plumbing . . . with sinks in every room. And a bowling alley in the basement. In the tradition of the Second Empire, this home was built in 1867 by Legrand Lockwood.

Library as it was when the Mathews family lived there after 1873

The Connecticut estate, about an hour outside of the city, was the summer home of the prominent railroad magnet and shipping mogul. It was later home to the Mathews family for 75 years until 1938 when Florence Mathews, last member of the family died. Now known as Lockwood Mathews Mansion Museum, the estate originally had 30 acres of land overlooking the Sound. Slowly the land was sold off leaving a small parcel showing a 44,000-square-foot main house, a carriage house, a Victorian-style caretaker’s cottage. Can you imagine? You must see this one. You can get more history and information easily at: www.lockwoodmathewsmansion.com.

Library as it was when the Lockwood family lived there 1870

Lockwood Photos Courtesy of the Lockwood-Mathews Mansion Museum 

Unlike the other noteworthy homes below that are for sale, Lockwood is not, but is open with tours to the public.

Location: New York City
Listing price: $14.95 million
The last remaining detached single-family house in Manhattan.
Photo: Curbed

The cities too had their fair share of elaborate mansions built in the Gilded Age, but thanks to development in the ensuing hundred odd years since, few survive. In NYC, the Schinasi Mansion, on Riverside Drive not far from Columbia University, is the last remaining detached single-family house in Manhattan. The 12,000-square-foot mansion retains almost all of its historic detail, including amazing coffered ceilings and a Prohibition-era trap door that leads to a tunnel that once extended all the way to the river. The 35-room marble mansion was built for “Turkish tobacco baron” Morris Schinasi.

Location: Mount Kisco, N.Y.
Listing price:
$26.5 million

Devonshire, with its 101 acres, was owned by the Vanderbilts.
Photo: Curbed

In the tradition of the English country house, sprawling homes began to spring up in Westchester, north of New York City, in the mid-1800s. This Mount Kisco, N.Y. estate, about an hour outside of the city, was built in 1901 for J. Borden Harriman, of the prominent American family, and was later owned by the Vanderbilts, and then ended up in the hands of a “prominent European family.” Known as Devonshire, the estate includes 101 acres of land, a 21,000-square-foot main house, a “carriage house, a Victorian-style guest cottage, and a caretaker’s house.” The garage, which fits 10 cars, has a washing station and hydraulic lift. The main house features a grand staircase, eight bedrooms, a 10,000-bottle wine cellar, “gold-leaf moldings, wood and antique mirrored panelling, and marble floors.”

Location: Miami, Fla.
Listing price:
$4.2 million

The Helmsleys’ penthouse was converted to an Arabian palace.
Photo: Sotheby’s

America’s second Gilded Age, the 1980s, produced many lavish residences, but perhaps none are so emblematic of the spirit of the decade as this Miami penthouse, built for notorious real estate magnates Leona and Harry Helmsley. At one point the Helmsleys controlled the Empire State Building, along with a string of NYC hotels, but by 1989, Harry was very ill and Leona was doing time for tax evasion. The couple never moved into the Helmsley Penthouse, completed in 1981, and sold it off to Saudi Shiek Saoud Al-Shaalan. The sheik transformed the modern apartment into an Arabian palace over two years, with the help of 27 Moroccan artisans and craftsmen.
Old-world-style American palaces
by Rob Bear, Yahoo Real Estate, May 1, 2012
Photos above provided by: Curbed

So, what are these places all about? Those years around the industrial revolution raised Robber Barons, using everyone else to make themelves rich and show off their new found money. Those spaces that seem unusable are show-off spaces. Victoriana, an era of more is better, bigger is better, periodically carried over to the 21st century.

The pendulum swings back and forth. Everything comes and goes, especially money. Nothing much seems to have changed, has it?




The Red Baron's legacy remains at Richthofen Castle

When American businesses finally began to eclipse the success of their European counterparts, the robber barons took to real estate to show off their massive wealth, building meticulously detailed mansions as a testament to their fortunes.

Baron Walter Von Richthofen, uncle of the famed flying ace “The Red Baron,” built this Denver mansion in 1887, in homage to his ancestral home, on 335 acres. Today, the acreage has been cut down to just one gated acre, but the architectural majesty of the mansion remains. Measuring almost 15,000 square feet, the Castle (McMansion) has 35 rooms, including “drawing room, library, music alcove, servants quarters, butlers pantry, billiards room, Red Baron bar, eight bedrooms and seven bathrooms.” Listed as a National Landmark, the castle is on the market for $3.75 million.

Fairholme in Newport, RI

Perhaps no one American town benefited more from the architectural arms race of the Gilded Age than Newport, where the like of the Astors and Vanderbilts constructed lavish Summer home in the European style. This one, known as Fairholme, was built in 1875 to designs by Frank Furness and featured a ballroom by Horace Trumbauer. Fairholme was among the first of Newport’s great waterfront mansions. Later owned by the Drexel family, Count Alphonso Villa, and railroad baron Robert Young, it has been visited over the years by luminaries like the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and John F. Kennedy. The 20,000 square foot main house presides over 4.3 acres of waterfront lawn, with an enormous walled swimming pool, pool house and carriage house.

This is from an article by Rob Bear, Curbed, in Yahoo Real Estate, May1, 2012. There are more to be continued. But all of them cannot hold a candle (pardon the cliche) to our own Connecticut McMansion, Lockwood Mathews Mansion Museum in Norwalk, CT. You will have to come back next week to read the rest of the story.

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