Tuesday, September 20, 2011

SOUTHERN ARCHITECTURE: The Swan House in Atlanta (Not an Ugly Duckling)

The back side of the Swan House is visible from the street and perhaps more stunning than the front.

*Please note the following pictures were taken on my cell phone and are technically contraband, considering photography is not allowed inside the Swan House.  In my defense, I didn't use a flash!

Note Corinthian columns and ornate molding

On my recent trip to the Deep South, I had the delight of touring the Swan House at the Atlanta History Center.  Built in 1928 by architect Philip T. Shutze for the Inman family, heirs to a cotton fortune, the home is referred to as a “classical” and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  However, it’s really a stunning smattering of many decorative styles, and perhaps "Neoclassic" would be a better descriptor.  The mansion is, to be completely accurate, more Federal in style than anything else.   

The formal dining room with "Japan-ed" console table.
Custom Swan Console Table
The Federal Style was an American style that last lasted from about 1790-1830 and borrowed heavily from the Neoclassic style inspired by Robert Adam, which is actually referred to as “Georgian” in England.  It gets confusing, I know, but you have to remember that ideas and goods did not flow as quickly or freely as they do now, so centuries ago design “movements” tended to be isolated in a particular region or country for a while before they were exported and adopted elsewhere.  That is why it’s common to have similar styles in different areas identified by a different name, usually the monarch of that particular country during that era.  

The Butler's Quarters near Kitchen


Hand-crafted Girandole (even the glass candle holder has custom etched star design to match entryway) 

Classic Hepplewhite Shield-Back Chair
The many Queen Anne and Chippendale furnishings found in the Swan House, both typical of the Early Georgian period, confirm my theory.   The Late-Georgian furniture of Hepplewhite and Sheraton can also be found in the mansion, and interestingly enough both are furniture styles also shared by the subsequent American Federal style, which was of course influenced by the French Empire stylings of the Napoleon era (its contemporary European counterpart).  Are you confused yet?  Perhaps this is why the National Register refers to the Swan House as simply, “classical.”

Mrs. Inman’s Bedroom
Hepplewhite Bench

Mrs. Inman's vanity was painted with stars and curtains.
Suffice to say, the Swan House does exhibit such classical elements as Corinthian columns, Coromandel (a.k.a. lacquer) screens and chests, Chinoiserie (Chinese design), and various motifs such as rosettes, shells (originally Rococo but also seen in Queen Anne furnishings) and egg and dart ornamentation.  

Josephine's Bedroom
Federal-style Convex Mirror
The reason I believe the Federal Style reigns supreme in the Swan House is because of the fowl motif itself.  The swan was actually the symbol of Napoleon’s wife, Empress Josephine, and was used extensively in her quarters at the Chateau de Malmaison.  In addition to swans, another ornamental motif indicative of the Federal Style is the (American) eagle, found frequently atop many of the furnishings and architectural elements in the Swan House mansion.

The Morning Room (or "The Green Room")

The Boxwood Garden

FEDERAL STYLE (1790-1830)

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