Historic Structures

Commodore Edgar House, Newport Rhode Island

Date added: August 5, 2010 Categories: Rhode Island House

The following description of this house appeared in Artistic Country Seats Volume III:
"Commodore William Edgar's House
Although disclosing some affinity with the colonial style, this house can scarcely be classed as colonial. It was finished in 1885, and the architects are Messrs. McKim, Mead, and White. Built of a narrow, speckled, unpainted brick, of a buff color, somewhat like that of the Tiffany house, on Madison Avenue, New York, with shingled roof, brick chimneys, two stories and an attic. Commodore Edgar's house is one of the most recent and attractive private residences at Newport. The porch is of wood, and some of the trimmings are of light sandstone. The dimensions are: length, one hundred and seventeen feet; depth, sixty feet four inches. A grass terrace on the principal front--which is shown in our illustration--approaches the balustrade of light sandstone, and the central part of the principal facade is recessed, the main entrance being in the center of the recess, while at either side are two projections, one a round bay and the other an octagonal bay. We note also the recessed fountain, with its stone basin and canopy of stone, on the left of the octagonal bay. The situation is about two hundred feet from Beach Street, and one end of the house fronts on a lane. The grounds are principally in the rear, with trees and a highly cultivated lawn, but no view of the water from the first floor. On the end fronting the lane are the kitchen and servants' wing, with an entrance from the sidewalk, and, on the opposite end, a large circular bay of the drawing-room, and steps up to the piazza from the lawn. The piazza winds around the library, which opens upon it; immediately over the drawing-room bay is a loggia; and the rear or south side of the building has a long piazza-porch, and a small projection which forms part of the dining-room. On the roof is a deck, with a very light balustrade. Many dormers appear, and the very large drawing-room chimney, which shows its entire length. Either side of the main roof is a plank with a huge chimney-stack, each of which is perforated with an open arch. The cost of Commodore Edgar's house was about fifty thousand dollars.

By very wide, easy stone steps, we enter the porch, and the part of the terrace directly in front of the main entrance is paved with blue-stone. The porch is wide, and from it we enter the vestibule, four feet by eight, simply treated, the upper part of the door showing an arrangement of modern festoons and plate-glass. Thence we find ourselves in the main hall, twenty-seven feet by sixteen and a half, finished in oak, simply wainscoted, the walls covered with leather held by brass nails, the ceiling eleven feet high, with two large beams, supported on heavy carved brackets, dividing it into three sections filled in with smaller beams and decorated in color. The mantel is a copy of an old mediaeval design in stone, elaborately carved, having a pilaster at each side, and above It a frieze with a cornice, forming the shelf. The part of the chimney directly over the shelf projects more than the cornice-line, as so often is the case in mediaeval mantels. The wide fire-opening, lined with brick, has an ornamental cast-iron back, and is to the right of the entrance from the vestibule. Directly opposite the entrance are the windows overlooking the lawn, the center one much the largest of the three, and the right-hand one used as a door.

The first opening in the hall to the right leads to the morning-room, eighteen feet by eighteen, including a circular bay-window, thirteen feet in diameter. Immediately beyond, on the other side of the fireplace, is the entrance to the library. The morning-room, in white and gold---that is, pine, painted white, with the ornamental work picked out in gold--has walls covered with stuffs to harmonize with the general treatment, and a ceiling tinted in keeping, and is connected by a lobby, seven feet eight by nine, with the drawing-room, twenty feet by twenty eight, all treated en suite in white and gold, and forming an attractive series by themselves. One feature of the drawing-room is a bay-window, fourteen feet across its widest part, and four feet deep. We note also a painted ceiling of considerable importance, the tints being applied on the plaster, and the design being an elliptic treatment with leaves, while in the four corners appears a scheme of open lattice-work flowers and figures. The silk panels of the walls are lightly framed, and delicately carved up to about two feet below the ceiling, which is coved. The very ornate mantel consists of marble in the lower part, and in the upper part an elliptic mirror offers a treatment of festoons in wood around the ellipse, the whole inclosed in a handsomely carved and molded frame of wood.

The library, eighteen feet by sixteen, in cherry, with a bay-window four feet by eleven, has wall-surfaces occupied by book-cases which extend nine feet high, to a wooden cornice just below the cove of a ceiling painted a reddish brown, to harmonize with the cherry and the gold decoration. To the left of the entrance, the mantel, a richly carved frame around its fire-opening, shows a series of brackets, also richly carved, on which the shelf rests. The fire-opening and hearth are faced with red Verona marble, and, above the mantel-shelf, the space is entirely occupied by an arabesque carved panel, inclosed in an elaborately molded and carved frame. At either side of the fireplace proper are flat pilasters, fluted and carved, with ornamental caps, the line of the pilasters being carried up through the cornice of the room, and making a break at the coved ceiling. Immediately below the cornice a legend is inscribed. All the window-spaces have wide and roomy seats. The book-shelves are open, without doors, you feel that you are in a library. The treatment of the bay 1s entirely in wood, with a domed ceiling of painted plaster, and the entrance between the library proper and the bay is through a wide opening.

Opening from the main hall, at the left, is a staircase-hall, eighteen feet by thirteen, with a bay, octagonal on the exterior, but eniptic inside, the staircase following the line of the ellipse. The treatment is very simple, plain base, molded chair-rail, and plaster cornice, and just under the cornice is a design of festoons in papier-mache. Especial attention Is claimed by the balusters and newels, which are in brass, light and graceful, and by the rail, covered with brown plush that has a silken fringe, although the labor of keeping this brass shining is a matter of some consequence to a housekeeper. The glass ornament at the top of the principal newel has a history of its own.

Opposite the library Is the dining-room, eighteen feet by twenty-eight, finished in a dark American oak. Its entire surface covered with wood in both ceiling and wall. One end is wholly occupied by the fireplace and its adjoining cupboards, their lower parts treated with simple doors, brass hinges and doorplates, while the fireplace itself is wide, four feet six by three feet, and, immediately over it, a marble shelf is supported on marble brackets, the part of the brick-work above the shelf being recessed. All the cupboards have curved fronts, and are part of the scheme of the mantel; their doors are divided into small lights of a curious pattern. Directly opposite the fireplace Is the dining-room window, looking out on the lawn; the whole side of the room is practically a window, ten feet wide, with the ceiling lower than that of the rest of the apartment, and with cupboards on either hand similar to those opposite. The wooden ceiling, antique, and imported from Europe, has a heavily paneled and richly carved surface. The other two sides of the room are paneled to the ceiling.

All the bedrooms in Commodore Edgar's house are colonial in treatment, some of them tinted, others in natural colors."

Floor plan: The central entrance vestibule leads to a large hall through the center of the house from which open four principal areas: stairhall to the northeast, living room to the northwest, dining room to the southeast, and library to the southwest. The kitchen and service wing extend from the dining room; the ballroom or drawing room wing extends from the living room. Bedrooms, on the second and third floors, are now divided into apartments.