Isaac Bell House (Edna Villa), Newport Rhode Island

Date added: August 04, 2010 Categories: Rhode Island House

This large house, built as a summer cottage in 1882-1883, is an early work of the architects McKim, Mead, and White. It is a typical example of the Shingle Style, and it is distinguished by the extreme open character of its planning.

The second owner, Samuel F. Barger, Cornelius Vanderbilt's lawyer was brought to Newport by Vanderbilt. Barger named the house "Edna Villa" after his daughter. He purchased the home on September 9th 1891 for a total of $62,500. It was sold by his heir on April 19th 1952. It was sold again in 1956. The building housed a nursing home until March, 1969. It is now being used as apartments.

The following description appeared in Artistic Country Seats, volume I:
""Mr. Isaac Bell's (Jr.) House
This villa, built about four years ago, at Newport, by Messrs. McKIm, Meade, and White, is of a modernized colonial style, the principal feature on the east front being the double gables, in one of which is an old treatment of triple windows. Each gable is thirty-two feet wide and twenty feet high from the eaves, and faced with cut shingles; and between them is a very elaborate leader-box of galvanized iron. There is also an elliptic window in the north gable. Three chimneys, the highest about twenty feet above the roof, are plainly treated, though one of them has an intricately-wrought iron brace serving purposes both useful and ornamental. A glimpse of a tower on the south side also appears-- but more of this further on. The windows in the gables all have small lights of glass, and above them are ornamental arches of carved wood.

The second story is of shingles, and the first story is of brick. The piazza, extending across the whole width of the east front, is, on the north side, octagonal and two stories high, with an open balcony on the second floor and a shingled roof, and projecting eleven feet from the main piazza line, being twenty-two feet wide in all with a total depth of twenty- five feet. At the south side, a small square projection, eleven feet from the main piazza line, and sixteen feet wide, runs around the south side of the house, one story high, with a shingled gable, whose roof is supported on turned posts, having small projecting brackets at the upper portion. There is an entrance to the piazza on this east side, but the main entrance is on the south.

The extreme length of this south side is one hundred feet, the extreme length of the east side eighty feet, and the extreme height of the building, including the tower, fifty-two feet. By far the principal feature of the south side is this tower -- round, eighteen feet in diameter, of brick on the first floor and shingled above. The entire first story of the house is of brick, the angles being finished with quoin-blocks of different-colored bricks. All the second story is shingled. A two-story window, with a carved wood panel between the upper and lower part, about on a line with the eaves of the main roof, constitutes a feature of the tower. All the courses of the roof have cut shingles, and there is a wrought iron finial on the tower.

At the extreme east of the south side of the house is a small octagonal bay, with turned posts at each angle, and with small lights in all the sashes. Between the bay and the tower is an ornamental panel of diamond-shaped shingles. The piazza extends along the south side, from the tower to the east end, and one also sees the upper story of a north piazza. Instead of a railing, a brick wall receives the columns of the piazza, giving it a more substantial appearance. In the roof are two "winkers", which admit of a single pane of glass each, being more for ventilation than anything else, and accomplishing this object without introducing any hard lines, since they consist simply of a slight raising of the roof in two places. A noble chimney, twenty feet high and five feet wide, has a surface treated as a series of perpendicular ribs, projecting very slightly--just enough to get a simple shadow.

The main entrance is on the same side--an old fashioned split door, heavily paneled. There is a landing-step for the convenience of those about to leave their carriages. Directly over the entrance the porch roof projects in circular shape, being supported from the piazza-columns by ornamental brackets, in order to give projection from the rain, thus answering in part the purpose of a porte-cochere. To the west the kitchen wing is lower than the main building, and very simple in treatment, the first story of brick and the second of shingles. The roof of the house is shingled throughout.

Certain aspects of the interior of Mr. Bell's house deserve special mention. You enter a vestibule about nine feet by seven, containing an elaborate seat, and opening into the hall, thirty feet by twenty-four. At the right is a door into the reception-room, and beyond it one into the drawing-room. Directly opposite the entrance is the dining-room, and at the left of the entrance Mr. Bell's room, and between Mr. Bell's room and the dining-room, the staircase-hall. Considerable pains have been taken with the decoration of the main hall, while at the same time the effort has been to preserve simplicity. The finish is in oak, with a base eighteen inches high. Immediately around the fireplace is an extensive space of tiling, and a row of marble seats runs between the staircase and Mr. Bell's room. The mantel is of carved wood, and on either side of the fireplace is a small window of leaded glass, while in front of it stretches a hearth five feet wide, of red tile.

Opposite the staircase, eight feet wide, appears an open transom, supported on carved brackets. The cornice of the hall is richly carved and molded, and in front of the staircase a series of doors into the drawing-room can be rolled back, thus making the entrance-opening sixteen feet wide and eight feet high To the right, a smaller door leads into the reception room before mentioned. The dining-room doors are elaborately paneled and a sheathed wainscoting eight and a half feet high gives height to the hall. A beautiful and much-carved screen, with panels of wood, separates the staircase from the fireplace, while over the fireplace the ceiling is lowered somewhat, being eight feet four inches instead of ten feet and a half, as in the main hall, in order to give a comfortably cozy look to the recess.

Standing at the dining-room door, and looking toward the vestibule, the entrance to the latter appears very wide--eight feet square, with an open lattice-work transom. To the right appears the door leading into Mr. Bell's room, and also the end of the fireplace recess, which is all tiled, with a large marble panel in the center. The dimensions of the dining-room are twenty feet by twenty-eight; it is paneled six feet high in mahogany, and above this, between the top molding of the wainscot and the cornice, are panels of rattan in the wall-spaces, and in each panel of rattan is a small square panel of perforated brass ornament--old curiosities collected by Mr. Bell. Very handsome is the mahogany cornice. The ceiling is treated like the side-walls-- with a mahogany border three feet wide;separating this from the inner ceiling, which is divided into square panels, is a richly carved molding; while the inner ceiling itself is laid out in squares of rattan, two feet wide, by a very light molding. There are about sixty of these rattan squares, the central one being arranged for gas fixtures. To the right of the room, as you enter, are three windows open to the floor and out into the octagonal piazza on the east side. On the opposite side the buffet is recessed into the wall, and divided Into compartments for drawers, cupboards, shelves, and so on; the doors of the lower central part being elaborately carved, and all the hardware on them and on the drawers in antique brass of hammered and cut work. Directly above the buffet the space is finished in the form of a cove, with a shelf, supported on a small wooden bracket, running the whole width. Opposite the entrance-door, the fireplace, easily the chief feature of the room, has its lower part faced with marble, and a long low recess with a marble shelf above, while higher still the mantel proper is divided into three compartments which have glass doors, with a pattern in cathedral and square beveled plate glasses, the plan being a very flat octagonal, supported by two beautifully carved and turned posts at either side of the marble facing. Two windows at either side of the mantel open out into the yard at the north, and the upper part of their trim has a small balustrade, used for holding plates.

Mr. Bell's room shows a handsome mantel of painted pine, and a tile hearth two feet wide extending as far as the windows. A double window, opposite the entrance-door, has a seat, with drawers and lockers underneath. The entire left side of the apartment is filled with bookcases four and a half feet high, also of painted pine, the lower part being fitted up with drawers and the upper part with shelves. A simple sheathed wainscoting extends from the fireplace to the window, four and a half feet high. There is a wooden cornice, and about a foot below it a picture strip.

In the drawing-room, the facing of the fire-opening is of tiles in a brass frame; above them projects the mantel-shelf proper, and higher still a beveled mirror in a handsome frame of carved wood. Below the mirror is a small shelf, supported on a number of carved brackets; and below the shelf an ornamental frieze of festoons and ribbons. To the left of the fireplace swings the heavily-paneled door of the dining-room; to the right a window opens out into the octagonal piazza. There is a base about two feet high, with its upper portion fluted; also a wooden cornice and picture strip, between which runs a painted frieze of garlands and flowers, about a foot wide. Two windows, cut to the floor, open upon the east piazza opposite the entrance from the hall, and are five feet wide; while, opposite the fireplace, the trim of the sliding doors into the reception-room consists of a projecting cornice of about six inches, supported on light carved brackets, there being also a small balustrade on the cornice itself. The wall-spaces are in silk; the wood-work throughout is pine, painted in white and gold. It may be added that painting is more common now than three years ago, when the rage was for "wood-fillers" and natural woods. Particularly in parlors and bedrooms, light effects are desired, but rich dark tones of mahogany and oak are still considered suitable for dining-rooms and halls.

Mr. Bell's reception room has a tiled opening, with a brass rim around its fireplace, and the mantel-shelf is handsomely carved, while the mantel extends up to the height of the picture strip, and is of wood. There is a base fifteen inches high, and the space between the picture strip and cornice is a painted frieze of leaf-work. The cost of the house was about seventy-five thousand dollars."