This is how my house looked in 1950, two years after it was built. On the right is a garage, which makes the house appear as if it has two wings. Throughout the 1950s, the house was painted white, with a deep forest green trim — a common color scheme for the time.
When I bought the house in 1989, not much had changed. Most of the porch's jalousie windows had been switched out to screens, the trim had become a lighter green, and the shrubbery had grown tall and scraggly. But I looked at the place and thought that with a bit of work, it could become a little Neoclassic temple.
My first plan of action was to replace the porch window with a pair of French doors that had come from a salvage yard. The doors are immensely thick and heavy, and in fact their hinges are designed for bank vaults. I had to import the doors' hinges from out of state.
The next step was to remove all the old shrubbery, then all the porch screens and jalousie windows. When that deconstruction was complete, I repositioned a cinder block post, so that the eventual columns would be symmetrical.
Then it was time for the fun part — to create correctly proportioned columns and an entablature. Notice that at this point, the pediment and frieze are both comprised of slatted wood.
Throughout that delicious stage of imagining and planning, I was greatly inspired by Classical Architecture: Rule and Invention, by Thomas Gordon Smith. Smith's book is beautifully illustrated, and as good and succinct a summary of Classical architecture as you will ever find.
For more than a dozen years, my house had a Greek color scheme, to accentuate the Neoclassic look that I wanted to achieve.
It had always been my intention to have an inscription across the front of the building, but the spackle that covered the frieze's two boards continually cracked with the extremes of temperature. I would eventually resolve that problem by stuccoing both the frieze and the pediment.
Likewise, there were problems with the columns because I hadn't used pressure-treated wood! When they rotted from the bottom up, I decided to tear out the squared columns completely, and replace them.
Around this time, I also decided to give the house a more Roman flavor, in part because of interior projects which I'll be sharing with you at a later time.
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This is how the house looks today. The porch has been smoothly stuccoed to allow the painting of the pediment wreath and the inscription.
The wreath (the first photo of this posting) is painted to resemble the cast iron decorative wreathes that adorned New England houses of the 1840s.
The Latin inscription (I've provided you with a translation) is set in Palatino Bold, a typeface that Hermann Zapf designed in 1948, the same year my house was built. Zapf based the font on rubbings taken from actual inscriptions on ancient Roman buildings.
The porch has been widened all around by a foot to accommodate columns that are made from resin and marble dust. I don't like anything on my house remotely plastic, and these columns have the look and feel of concrete. Each column supports 10,000 pounds.
Note that the inside of the porch is a slightly darker shade of the building. Essentially, I have painted the shadows, a conceit that adds interest to the horizontal thrust of the building, and makes the columns stand out better.
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My colors are muted. I wanted a color scheme that was fresh, but which also suggested the look of antiquity. The columns, for example, are a pretty close match to a sandstone color.
Some people have offered the unsolicited opinion that the placement of my door detracts from the rest of the building's symmetry. From the inside, the door's placement makes perfect sense, but I have to admit I'm a little bothered by the arrangement, too.
And so I plan a delightful future project which will be the construction of a three-dimensional trompe l'oeil door. When completed, the house will look very much like the image above. I will of course do a posting on that project!
My Neoclassic transformation
has been a work in progress for more than 20 years,
and I am deeply indebted to two friends in particular
for their help and talents —
Jesse E. Tucker, Jr. and Mel Schlegel.