Great Country Houses of the Hudson River Valley with ICAA and Classical Excursions – Part One

Great Country Houses of the Hudson River Valley with ICAA and Classical Excursions – Part One

The Hudson River Valley – Federal and Greek Revival Architecture and Design

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We’re back to traveling although this time it is closer to home. But that doesn’t mean it’s any less interesting. This July, on a tour with Classical Excursions, part of the Institute for Classical Architecture and Art, we visited many late 17th and 18th century homes in the Hudson River Valley. This area of upstate New York is known for its architectural history and majestic mountain views, and we explored public and private Greek Revival and Federal style period homes there.

What motivates my interest in this subject? Federal and Greek Revival homes are scattered throughout the United States, and there is much to learn from our country’s architectural history and culture.

The Hudson Valley comprises the valley of the Hudson River and its adjacent communities in upstate New York, from the cities of Albany and Troy southward to Yonkers in Westchester County. With its rolling hills and magnificent estates as well as the Shawangunk and Catskill Moutains ranges, this region is known for its scenic and historic treasures. Our trip focused upon the area of the Hudson Valley that includes the towns of Hudson, Millbrook, Athens, Claverack, and Old Chatham.

During the Industrial Revolution the Hudson River Valley became well known for manufacturing with hundreds of factories along the river.  In the early 1800s, the Hudson River Valley became a vacation destination with its many hotels located in the romantic setting idealized by James Fennimore Cooper’s novels.  It’s the birthplace of the Hudson River School of Art, of renown landscape painter Thomas Cole, and Rip Van Winkle, the title character in Washington’s Irving’s famous 1819 short story.

Federal Style 1780-1830

Both the Federal and Greek Revival style are part of the late Neoclassical movement starting around 1790 after the American and French Revolutions.The Federal style applied to the balanced and symmetrical version of the earlier Georgian architecture that had been practiced in the American colonies. Typically, a Federal-style house is a simple square or rectangular box, two or three stories high and two rooms deep. Many Federal-style design elements are notably understated. Exterior decoration, for example, is generally confined to a porch or entry element. Compared to a Georgian house, the columns and moldings are narrow and rather simple. Federal-style decoration often showcases geometrical concepts. Elliptical, circular, and fan-shaped motifs formed by fluted radiating lines are common.  The homes were made out of clapboard or brick, depending on location – clapboard in the North and brick in the South and northern urban centers. Here are some examples:

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Plumb Bronson House, c. 1812, 1839, Hudson, NY.  Though vacant and somewhat forlorn, Historic Hudson hopes to open the house as a museum. The architectural elements are stunning. Check out the fan with radiating lines in the door above and the elliptical and sweeping staircase below.

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The curved and sweeping staircase is an architectural treasure. Think of the craftsmanship it took to design and build it!

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Federal house in Athens, NY c.1812 – Privately owned. The fan motif is over the exterior door and also inside with decorative side lights where it frames the sweeping staircase in the front hall. Beautiful Federal details inside and out.

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There’s a view of the Hudson River right out the front door.

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In the living room the fireplace mantel has an ellipse in the center -and yes, that’s an Oscar on the mantel flanked by modern art and traditional furnishings. The beautiful and timeless dining room has a mantel that displays the ellipse motif as well.

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There is a Hudson River Valley painting over the bed in a guest room. The Hudson River School was a mid-19th century American art movement influenced by Romanticism and depicted areas around the Hudson River.

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Hillstead House c. 1817, Claverack, NY – Federal architecture with Greek Revival and  Colonial Revival influences.

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This hallway is in a Federal house, but it looks more typical to a Greek Revival entrance with the narrow and high staircase. Interior design by Bruce Shostak.

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This living room at B’Ellow, a Federal farmhouse, has many architectural details with bright yellow walls. It’s a beautiful backdrop for the homeowners’ furnishings and modern art collection!

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Greek Revival Architecture-1825-1860

The Greek Revival movement (1825-1860) envisioned the United States as descendant of Greece, the birthplace of democracy.  Many government buildings were built to resemble Greek temples during that time period.

The architectural style, filtered down to homes, included a symmetrical shape, pilasters, columns, a porch entry, and a window in the pediment. Chimneys were placed as far back as possible to make the home look more like a Greek temple.

Additionally, homes in the Greek Revival style were painted white to resemble the white marble of impressive and costly public buildings. The details were bold, but with simple moldings. Heavy cornices, gables with pediments, and unadorned friezes were typical. The gable-fronted house, found throughout America, is one of the style’s enduring legacies

Here are some examples.

Staat’s Hall c.1839, Red Hook, NY

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Staat’s Hall is a Greek Revival country house built in the Doric style. Here are a few shots from inside that show both architectural and decorative features that caught my eye.

The bison mount in the entry hall dates from 1900. The staircase is typical for a Greek Revival home.

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The living room mantel is marble, surrounded by traditional furnishings and modern art.

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Enfilade. A suite of rooms with doorways in line with each other.

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Both the highly decorated frieze and the marble tub in the master bath were totally eye catching!

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Two of my design favorites-the Greek key motif and blue and white Delft tiles!

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And the view from the back of the house-the Hudson River – It would be so easy to wake up to this view everyday!

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And the view from the back of the house-the Hudson River – I wouldn’t have trouble waking up to this everyday!

Edgewater, c. 1824, Barrytown, NY.

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The house is literally this close to the Hudson River. Hence it’s name-Edgewater. More details about the house and its owners can be found in Pietre Estersohn’s book, Life Along the Hudson-The Historic Country Estates of the Livingston Family. The Livingstons were a prominent family in the Hudson River Valley, dating back to the 17th century. Three are more well known – Robert Livingston and William Livingston, cousins who were active in the Continental Congress and Philip Livingston, William’s brother,  who was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

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Clove Brook Farm, c. 1830 Millbrook, NY. Greek Revival Farm house

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Christopher Spitzmiller, the owner of Clove Brook Farm, is a well known ceramicist who produces beautiful lamps and home goods. He purchased this Greek Revival Farm House in 2005 and since then has renovated the house, expanded the lush gardens, built a pool and pool house and added a ceramic workshop on the property. You can read more about it in his recently published book, A Year at Clove Brook Farm.

A beautiful garden on the property for which Spitzmiller is well known.

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The pool house was built to resemble a Greek Temple.

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Forth House, c. 1835, Livingston, NY.

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This 1835 Greek Revival house, beautifully situated, is stunning both inside and out with large airy rooms, classical details and a beautiful kitchen space. This house is also detailed in Pietre Estersohn’s book, Life Along the Hudson-The Historic Country Estates of the Livingston Family.

Anthemion carving over the front door and Ionic columns.

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My favorite design detail in the house were the Greek inspired door surrounds and Interior ornamentation with lead paterae or rosettes.

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Ludlow Farm – Designed in the Greek Revival style by Di Biasi and Filkoff Architects

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The exterior architecture is in the Greek Revival style. But the interior is designed as an English Country house as requested by the homeowner.

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The main hall is huge. Here we see beautiful architectural details on the walls and staircase and a stunning Gothic bench.

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We had lunch in the formal dining room which was very comfortable and relaxed.

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Mudroom goals-definitely!

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After lunch, Steve and I visited the beautifully paneled library.

I always return from these excursions with new inspiration and ideas! Feel free to contact us for a design consultation!

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