Tag Archives: New England

The Widow’s Walk

The Widow’s Walk

An iconic coastal adornment

The romantic widow’s walk is a classic adornment of many nineteenth-century coastal homes throughout New England. Historians note that widow’s walks became popular during the early 1800s when sea captains built large, private homes from the fortunes they amassed in the whaling and shipping industries. Inspired by the cupolas of Italianate architecture, the design addition soon became synonymous with New England coastal architecture and remains so today.

Home with a widow's walk
Caption: This Edgartown home has everything people love about New England architecture, including a classic widow’s walk flanked by large stone chimneys.

The widow’s walk (or “viewing platform,” as it was sometimes called) is a raised and fenced rectangular structure built on the roof of a house. These platforms became especially popular during the height of the whaling industry throughout New England ports such as Edgartown on the island of Martha’s Vineyard.

With its deep and protected harbor, Edgartown became the whaling capital of the island sending “countless sailors all over the world from its port.” These sailors were often at sea for months and years at a time. It is said the widow’s walk served as an elevated vantage point for seamen’s wives to survey the harbor for their husbands’ arrival. Sadly, many never returned, leaving their anxious wives widows.

A captain's house on the water with a widow's walk
“The faithful and dedicated wife, performing her daily circumambulations on the cold and lonely widow’s walk: The next sail to top the horizon may well carry her husband, gone to sea these many years…” – The Fisherman’s Voice (Image courtesy of Martha’s Vineyard Museum)

The widow’s walk conjures a nostalgic, poetic image where women paced, watched, and mourned their missing husbands at sea. However, some historians believe this idea may be rooted more in folklore than reality. They maintain that widow’s walks were designed with a practical and decidedly less romantic purpose in mind: firefighting. Chimney fires were a common and dangerous reality in the 1800s when homes were heated primarily by wood. Families would often store buckets of sand (and sometimes water) to pour down the chimney in case of fire – and the widow’s walk provided an access platform to the chimney openings.

The Kelley House in Edgartown
The widow’s walk on Edgartown’s iconic Kelley House was positioned adjacent to both its large chimneys. (Image courtesy of Martha’s Vineyard Museum)

There exists a third school of thought, which states there was a less practical reason these structures became so popular. The argument goes that wealthy sea captains believed the viewing platforms were an emotionally satisfying feature to have on their homes. They symbolized wealth and quietly said, “I can admire the source of my fortune (the sea) and survey my ships coming and going from the comfort of my home.”

View of South Water Street from the harbor side featuring captain's homes with widow's walks (including Captain Grafton Collins' House) around 1890.
View of South Water Street from the harbor side featuring captain’s homes with widow’s walks (including Captain Grafton Collins’ House) around 1890. (Image courtesy of Martha’s Vineyard Museum)

There likely wasn’t one single purpose for widow’s walks; it appears they served different functions and ornamentation depending on the homeowner. However, today, many of our homes continue to include this classic coastal detail, which honors the romance and history of New England’s vernacular architecture and instills a historically correct sense of nostalgia.

To Beadboard, or not to Beadboard

To Beadboard, or not to Beadboard

The beauty in its versatility

Few design elements are so versatile they feel both cottagey and elegant at once. Beadboard, a style of decorative wall paneling (wainscoting), is just that versatile. Beadboard originated in England four centuries ago with the practical purpose of keeping heat inside the house, and outside dampness at bay. It is said that early English settlers brought the design to the U.S. to remind them of the “history and architectural character” of the homes they left behind. Today, beadboard is still associated with coastal New England home design but is admired and emulated across the country.

Beadboard was originally made of evenly spaced, wooden tongue and groove planks that interlocked with ridges or “beads” between each one. In this style of wainscoting, the panels were lined up vertically on an interior wall and typically covered the lower 3 to 4 feet, the same height as most chair backs (hence nicknamed a “chair rail”). Over time, beadboard evolved into a decorative treatment used throughout the home. In the 1800s, kitchen cupboards often used beadboard as a backdrop for special china or keepsakes displayed inside.

Today, beadboard is available in varying profiles and panel widths and can be purchased in large, carefully milled sheets. Because humidity is hard on wood – causing boards to shift and paint to crack – we use medium-density fiberboard (MDF), which comes in ready-to paint sheets, generally 4 feet high by 8 feet wide. MDF takes paint very well, does not expand or contract, and is a rugged as oak.

Common beadboard profiles used today

We introduce beadboard as a design feature in many of our homes to add character and charm. However, the way in which we use it varies depending on both the overall height of the space and the tone and texture of each room. For example, if we want to reinforce a cottage, seaside vernacular, we may choose to create a room with beadboard on both the walls and the ceilings. Though the look is uninterrupted from floor to ceiling, we subtly define the space by using a 6” width plank on the ceilings and a 3” on the walls.

In a more formal living space – such as a master suite – we often include beadboard as a classic, warm accent, covering just half or three-quarters of the wall. We may also introduce it as a ceiling accent – alone or with cased or antique beams.

The traditional yet casual versatility of beadboard is rich: it can be used in lieu of plaster or sheetrock, installed at any height and be painted or stained any color. Although we typically use Ahearn White paint, there are times when a spar varnish adds just the depth and warmth the room calls for.

Beadboard is a classic wall design with rich history that will forever be associated with New England style homes. Both sophisticated and beachy, beadboard adds architectural character, grace, and charm to your home as a featured presence or a seaside accent.

The Evolution of the Cape Cod House

The Evolution of the Cape Cod House

Born from Necessity and Today a Timeless Design

Sometimes the most iconic, charming styles of architecture are born from necessity. An excellent example of this is the original Cape Cod style home. In the late 17th century, Puritan settlers brought the concept of an English cottage to Massachusetts, making necessary style adaptations for the harsh New England winters. This simple, highly functional design was later coined a “Cape Cod House” in 1800 by Yale University President Reverend Timothy Dwight IV, and its name and iterations remain decidedly recognizable today. The original Cape Cod house was a cozy, one-floor rectangular structure with low ceilings and a large central chimney, which provided warmth to all of the adjacent living spaces. Built from accessible wood such as pine and oak, the façade was highly symmetrical and covered in cedar shingles or simple clapboard. The gabled roof was designed to minimize the weight of New England snowfalls and most homes had shutters, which could be closed in the winter to help protect from the outdoor elements. The original Cape style house became popular with settlers because of its easy construction, manageable size, and heat efficiency. While some generations of settlers remained in their original, stout Cape, those with the financial wherewithal appreciated the relative ease with which they could add on to the home as their families grew.

Commonly known as the Vincent House, this home was built in 1672 and is the oldest surviving residence on Martha’s Vineyard. It was home to the Vincent Family for eight generations and is now owned and maintained by the Vineyard Trust as a museum.

The early 20th century saw a revival of the Cape Cod style, spearheaded by the influential Boston architect Royal Barry Wills who reintroduced the Cape as a modern living option. Famous for his elegant simplicity, Wills was described as someone who “wanted only to design the indigenous New England Home supremely well.” Wills appreciated the strikingly symmetrical and unadorned Cape but realized that – while his clients admired the imagery of the Colonial era – they wanted modern amenities and space in their new home. Garages were added along with second-floor dormers. These dormers not only provided necessary light, they changed what was once unused loft (attic) space into livable rooms with cozy nooks and crannies.

This book features examples of the firm’s work from its founding to the present, with an emphasis on more recent houses that have been built throughout New England.

The housing boom of Post World War II saw a second revival of the iconic, adaptable Cape in locations such as Levittown, New York, the nation’s first planned suburb designed to house returning GI’s and their families. Over the years, the original “Half Cape” grew into what is called a “Three Quarter” and “Full Cape” with added wings and additional multi-paned, double-hung windows flanking the front door.

Today, our firm works with many classic homes and the iconic Cape remains a favorite. When designing or restoring a historic home, we often talk about the storyline or script that we create for each project. As detailed in our book, Timeless, this real or imagined narrative can describe a home’s origins and how the addition of different architectural elements came about over the years. The Cape Cod house lends itself well to this storytelling given its historic, humble beginnings and adaptability throughout the centuries.

One of the most popular homes we’ve designed on Martha’s Vineyard, the HGTV Dream Home 2015, tells the imagined story of a turn of the century Cape once used as hunting and fishing camp in Edgartown’s Katama plains. When designing the house, we created a storyline inspired by the island’s history. We imagined finding the simple, clapboard Cape nestled on the plain near two similar, smaller structures once used for curing meat and storing gear. In our narrative, we attached the three original buildings using porches and breezeways to create a single, light-filled Cape with shingled wings and an open, modern floor plan. The implied history of this new design captures the romance of the Vineyard while maintaining the Cape’s original symmetry, charm, and clean lines.

Once a study of simplicity and function – born from necessity – the unadorned Cape has evolved into a classic icon whose architectural adaptability and grace continues to stand the test of time.

Congratulations Mike Tartamella

Michael Tartamella Appointed to the Board of Trustees of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art New England Chapter

 

paa-139-edit-edit_webOn the evening of October 26th, the Board of Trustees of the New England Chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art gathered together at The College Club of Boston to carefully appoint new members to the board that they felt would carry on their mission:

The Institute of Classical Architecture & Art is the leading nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the classical tradition in architecture, urbanism and their allied arts. It does so through education, publication, and advocacy…

We are proud to announce that one of our very own, Michael J. Tartamella AIA, was unanimously voted to be appointed to the Board of Trustees for a term of three years.

“I am truly flattered to be appointed and excited to be part of the Board of Trustees of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art’s New England Chapter. I look forward to working with a strong team dedicated to supporting an important mission.”

– Michael Tartamella AIA

For those who don’t know, Mike is the Senior Associate here at Patrick Ahearn Architect LLC. Prior to joining the firm over 12 years ago, Mike’s professional experience included both commercial and residential work with architectural firms in Boston, New York, and Washington D.C. Not only is Mike a member of the American Institute of Architects, he is also a member of the Boston Society of Architects and obtains a NCARB certificate from the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards. When Mike isn’t practicing architecture, you’ll most likely find him on the golf course or spending quality time with his family.

We also want to express a sincere congratulations to all of the newly appointed Trustee Members listed on their website here. We know the New England Chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art is in good hands.

If you would like to personally congratulate Mike, he can be reached on his LinkedIn page.

2016 PRISM Awards

Patrick Ahearn Architect LLC Honored With 8 Awards at the 2016 PRISM Awards Gala

 

Patrick Ahearn Architect LLC was recognized for professional excellence with 8 PRISM Awards on October 6th, 2016.

Hosted by The Builders and Remodelers Association of Greater Boston (BRAGB), the PRISM Awards recognize the finest projects and outstanding achievements of builders, developers, project owners, architects, land planners, marketing/advertising firms, interior designers, remodelers, and other professionals in the home building industry. This year’s PRISM Awards Gala presented awards in nearly 80 different categories to honor the accomplishments of those who influence the building and design industry in Greater Boston. Patrick Ahearn Architect LLC won the most awards in the following categories and was recognized as trailblazer in their field:

“Each year the PRISM Awards honors the movers and shakers of the home building industry. The ceremony is an incredible opportunity for the building industry to come together and celebrate the accomplishments of their peers and show support for one another,” said Lorraine DeVaux, Chief Executive Officer of the Builders Association of Greater Boston. “Our winners this year once again prove that New England is home to some of the most extraordinary members of the building industry.”

 

BRAGB received almost 300 entries for the PRISM Awards this year, which is the highest number of entries in the program since at least 2007. A distinguished panel representing various segments of the residential building industry from across the country performed the judging. For more information about the PRISM Awards, please visit www.prism-awards.com.

 

Images from the Award Show