Friday, September 3, 2010

Residence for Daniel and Julia Richardson

Silsbee received one of his more peculiar looking commissions in 1899.  It is his second known project in the Chicago suburb of Riverside and was built for grain merchant Dennis Richardson and his wife Julia.  The home is modest in size compared to other designs but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in detail and unique styling.   
The Richardsons relocated to this know home from their Classical Revival home, "The Daffodils", an early Riverside mansion.  When this home was constructed, elements like column capitols and light sconces were moved from the older structure and incorporated in the new design.  The Richardson home is a unique combination of English Gothic, Classical Revival, and Prairie Style elements.  At the time of its construction Silsbee's former employees had already completed significant homes that are commonly considered masterpieces and  precursors to their own mature Prairie Style Work.  Wright completed the Winslow Home in 1893 and design on Maher's Pleasant Home was completed in 1897.  Silsbee's foray into this modern style of architecture, even if it was not considered by him to be as such, was a departure from these antecedents.   It was absent of any stark classicism and instead composed flush red brick and stucco surfaces in a more picturesque composition.  The use of these contrasting materials, with the emphatic trim and wide overhanging roof give the home a monumental appearance and primarily horizontal character.  This composition and appearance became a common motif in later Prairie Style works by many architects.       
The home can also be seen as a continuation of Silsbee's personal development of design for the suburban home as it bears a strong resemblance to some of Silsbee's earlier work on homes in Edgewater.  There are some elements that can be seen on this home that were typical to his work yet in other homes have been lost over time.  One notable feature is the open piazza that stretches across the front of the home.  The patio was originally designed to be covered with a large retractable awning to provide shade in warmer weather.  This allowed adjacent rooms to have direct access to natural light and ventilation from the outdoors. This feature has already been remarked about on this blog in Silsbee's design for a home for his daughter and for a speculative home for developer Harvey Hurd. Another element that was likely designed by Silsbee are the urns that flank the driveway entry.  It is known that he designed details like this on many other homes but very few of them exist.     

Closer inspection of details of the home indicates the variety of stylistic influences.  Simple leaded glass traced with overlapping circular geometries are most common in the architect's Classical Revival structures.  Cushion or Byzantine style capitols top small fluted columns and layers of classical molding and dentils frame the wide eaves.   The same play of styles occurs on the interior with Tudor half-timbering and a spectacular inglenook with round-molded brick are the backdrop for the re-used classical sconces and Moorish architectural elements.  All of this occurs on the the relatively simple massing and composition of the home.   
The originality and variety of detail seen in the project are not without their aesthetic problems.  Some elements of the home, like the roof over the front entry and the resolution of brickwork at the front of the piazza appear somewhat unresolved.  Also, one of Silsbee's favorite details, the use of an accent material as quoins at the corners of the building seems a bit small in scale when compared with the monumental composition of the overall structure.  That said, the home can still be seen as a great experiment with style in architecture and an original synthesis of somewhat disparate elements.

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