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Historical Inspiration for Construction Projects

Autumn, with its vibrant colors and slower pace, tends to bring a wave of nostalgia over some folks, which can be a source of inspiration for designers, architects, and builders.

Whether for commercial or residential clients, consider the historical aesthetic of a given space—from exterior to interior. The space need not be in a designated historic district for you imbue it with historical influence, charm or prestige.

The following historic buildings can be a wellspring of ideas, perhaps leading to innovative design options that your clients will be pleasantly surprised to see. Many of these sites are open for tours, so bring out the design team and crew leaders. We chose a few of note, but there are dozens more. Connect with your local historical society for those that are in your geographic area.

Castle Ipswich (Massachusetts) is an iconic landscaped summer estate built on 2,100 acres in 1928 during the American Country Place era (1840-1930). Also known as The Great House on Castle Hill, it boasts 59 rooms filled with imported woodcarvings exquisitely designed hardwood floors, and antiques.

Beauport (Glouster, Massachusetts) was the home of one of the first male interior designers in the U.S., Henry Davis Sleeper. Also known as the Sleeper-McCAnn House, the 40-room home overlooks the harbor and was designed to pay complement to another famous home, Winterthur, the Delaware estate of Henry Francis du Pont. A lifetime of collectibles—from colored glass, folk art and china dot every nook and alcove. Each room honors a historical or literary figure or theme. Unusual and mythical nautical details, woodwork, arched cutouts, and artfully embellished panoramic windows provide vies of the gardens and harbor.

Fonthill (Doylestown, Pennsylvania) is a 44-room, poured concrete castle built by Henry Chapman Mercer between the years 1908 and 1912. If not for its 200-plus windows, it would resemble a fortress. The rooms feature built-in furniture and are decorated in Arts-and-Crafts style tiles. You’ll also find Mesopotamian influences, such as tile and ceramics embedded in the concrete. Mercer called the home “Castle for the New World” to reflect its eclectic mix of Medieval, Gothic, and Byzantine architectural styles.

Drayton Hall (Charleston, South Carolina) is one of the few National Trust homes to be kept in near-original condition. A true colonial home, it is a fine example of Palladian architecture and was likely designed by John Drayton himself. The home is most well known for the hand-molded ceiling in the “withdrawing room”, a place for contemplation. Dreyton’s library of architectural books and science texts speak to his influences and would be the envy of anyone looking to design an exquisite home.

James J. Hill House (St. Paul, Minnesota). Hill, a railroad magnate, built a five-story Romanesque showplace with 22 fireplaces, 16 glass-cut chandeliers, a 2-story art gallery and dining room with a hidden door to a walk-in safe. The exterior is a massive rugged-stone structure that stands in contrast to the fine artistic details and ingenious mechanical features to be found inside the home. Intricate oak and mahogany woodwork abounds in the home, from the carved grand staircase to the ornate ceilings, and built-in features.

Gamble House (Pasadena, California) was built in 1908 for heirs to Proctor & Gamble Company. It represents the pinnacle of American arts-and-crafts style, the “new and native” architecture invented by designers Charles and Henry Greene. A breathtaking feature of this home is the Tree of Life door, a leaded glass structure built in warm woods such as teak, mahogany, redwood and maple, which are found throughout the rooms and custom built furniture. Natural light filters through art glass windows into symmetrically organized spaces that blend seamlessly with the home’s casual mood.

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