The architectural elements of any building during any specific period provide a myriad of details about the economic, social, and political climate of the day.
The architectural elements of any building during any specific period provide a myriad of details about the economic, social, and political climate of the day. The materials used, the fenestration employed, even the profiles, curves and angles of trim and moldings are reflective of the moment in time. And just as an exterior can tell us about our world, the interior tells us about the individuals who lived within that building during a particular historical period.
Architectural features relay aspects of family life, pastimes, hobbies, and recreational activities. We learn about social mores and political beliefs. We can usually discover the ages of the people who lived there, their gender, their likes and dislikes, even their professions. The configuration of the interior spaces alone reflect daily activities, and a particular molding profile can provide information about the socioeconomic status of the family who lived there.
One of our recent projects involved the renovation and restoration of an 18th century townhouse on Locust Street in Center City. The home was laid out in the traditional floor plan within a long, narrow structure, a small entrance that led into a narrow stair hall replete with a tall winding staircase leading to the third floor. To the right of the staircase was a large opening that housed pocket doors and opened to the front parlor. Directly behind the parlor was the dining room. When this home was built, kitchens were either located in the basement, or in a separate building all together.
The new owners of this home had a challenge. During the 1950’s and ‘60’s, when lifestyles had changed and homes like this were out of favor, they were often broken down into smaller living spaces. So what was found directly behind the grand staircase was a second set of stairs now leading to a second floor apartment that encompassed what had been the original master bedroom, along with several other rooms with a newly added kitchenette.
My challenge was to restore the original floor plan and layout and turn the home back to its original use as a single family dwelling.
Before anyone can begin a project like this, much research is required. When the house was broken down into several living units, walls were removed that included all the original trims, moldings, and doors. Luckily, several fireplace mantels had been retained, but it was sad to see so many rooms stripped of the original architectural features that gave the home its character.
Researching the age and style of the building’s exterior gave clues to what may have been included on the interior as well. Using the year it was built, and the style of the many surrounding buildings, we were able to piece together a stunning interior that now incorporated the original layout with rooms resplendent in their crown moldings, decorative chair rails and deep baseboards.
The family chose to restore the first floor as it had originally been intended. The parlor was used as an entertaining space, turning one of the larger bedrooms into a den and recreational TV room. The formal dining room remained because his family loved to serve large meals to family and friends. And of course, that modern second stairway was removed to make way for a traditional, yet state of the art kitchen, that seamlessly became integrated into the rest of the historic interior.
It is so heartening to see the current interest in restoring homes like this one to their original character and purpose. To be a part of these magnificent restorations is something I, and all the people who work on them, find to be a joy, but especially an honor.
Patricia Cove is Principal of Architectural Interiors and Design in Chestnut Hill, and can be reached through her website: www.patriciacove.com.