Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Impress Your Friends. Call It The Stick Style

[Editor's Note: We've been talking about American House Styles, if you just came in. We ran out of gas at the Second Empire about two weeks ago. We're going to press on like a fake nail]
(Author's Note: There is no editor. Raise your hand when you're tired of that joke.)

Look disparagingly at your companion. Affect a haughty tone. Rear up to your full height and drone the following through your nose:

My dear sir or madam. A Queen Anne? I think not. Anyone can see that is a Stick Style manse. Please refrain from offering your defective architectural surmises until you have educated yourself amongst the tribes of the Eastlakes. Harrumph.

The problem is that things are getting subtle. Queen Anne covers a lot of ground. To many, anything plainer than Second Empire after the Civil War is a Queen Anne. Not exactly.
We're still wallowing in the gothic, more or less, and in the picturesque. From about 1860 'til the turn of the 20th century, you could find the Stick Style from New England to San Francisco. Actually, mostly in New England and San Francisco. The first picture is the Westerfield House in San Francisco, for instance. There's a lot more like that there to this very day.

The Stick Style is like a bridge between the affectation of medieval gothic picturesque styles and the Queen Anne style which would blanket the United States from the 1880s until WW I. They're all mixed up together sometimes, and they share a lot of millwork styles, too. And there was a lot of millwork. Eastlake decoration is common. He was another bridge between the medieval and the modern.
The idea was to achieve a riot of surface patterns. They'd apply "stickwork" to the wall surfaces in all sorts of directions and widths and depths and patterns, some mimicking the timberwork of medieval facades, some just going with geometric intricacies. They all generally show a big, steeply pitched gable to the street, with decorative trusses in the peaks; or my favorite version has a great big tower. There's brackets and exposed rafter ends and Eastlake trim and polychrome painted surfaces going in every direction enough to make any prospective housepainter call his yacht broker.
And therein lies the problem. They could build them, but they couldn't keep after them. Little by little, or sometimes all at once, the detailing was stripped away and simplified because it was too labor intensive to keep up. You mostly have to recognize the style on the remaining examples by a sort of detective work -- a decorative timber truss on the steep gable; maybe some brackets at the front door. Here's a picture of one in Newport, Rhode Island I snapped while out walking this spring:
They were very exuberant, and the polychrome possibilities made them very picturesque, but eventually they became associated with a kind of dustcatcher broken-down haunted house vibe. You know, sorta like this:
The Victorians had all the fun. Did you speak French, bubbele?

2 comments:

Ruth Anne Adams said...

"Raise your hand when you're tired of that joke."


My hands remain at my sides. I love that joke. Like the wiffle ball to the crotch, it's always funny.

SippicanCottage said...

Around here, with two small boys, we get the wiffle bat to the crotch.