Lott House Visit: Notes on Dutch Colonial Architecture

Here’s a condensed summary of my notes from our visit to the Hendrick I. Lott house:

Hendrick Lott combined Dutch and English architecture in building his 1800 addition to the original 1720 house (the original house became the kitchen wing). The gambrel roof with spring eves (meaning eaves that stick out) and chimneys is typical of Dutch Colonial architecture. Roofs could be hipped. So the Dutch form is like…a box with this distinctive roof, and I’ve read that the treatment of the gambrel comes from the Dutch’s maritime power at the time of their colonizing efforts—they built their roofs the way the built their ships: to shed water.

People who settled Dutch colonies brought their own styles with them so there isn’t much continuity before the roof style became popular and kind of unified the form, after 1700. The gambrel roof makes the attic space taller and thus, habitable. It’s a cost-effective way to add space without building a second story (tax code dictated that a two-story building was subject to higher taxes than a one-story). Also, twin chimneys are common. Speaking of chimneys, one thing found in Dutch colonial homes is the chimney cloth. This is a piece of linen that hangs around the fireplace. You can see this in the smaller of the two Dutch Colonials in the Brooklyn Museum (Schenk house). Also visible at the BK museum is a Dutch style “box bed”, which is built into a corner. Additionally, you can see a “kas” here—this piece of furniture was essentially a very large, bulky storage chest that seemed like it would dominate a room. These were manufactured starting around 1600. If you have seen the interior of this installation, you already know how small and “cozy” these homes were. Initially they were usually just two or three rooms in a row, like a railroad or shotgun (common in New Orleans and Brooklyn). This isn’t actually a socioeconomic thing as much as it is a lifestyle thing. The Dutch were really home oriented and lived pretty simply.

The preferred building material in the colonies is brick starting around 1628—bricks were manufactured in red, pink, yellow, orange, and purple. Because brick was expensive, a mixture of brick and other materials was common. In the Hudson Valley and NJ, irregular masonry using local stone was common. Because the Dutch West India company had fostered a lumber market to provide its home market with lumber, is was also common to find timber frame houses with heavy timber beams (H beams are common) and a plaster and fiber filling (fiber meaning horsehair or hay) but few of these houses survive.

When we think of “Dutch Colonial architecture” we are often thinking about Dutch Colonial Revival. This revival was most popular starting in the 1880s, up through the 1950s. Of course, we still see it everywhere today. Again, the gambrel roof is the main defining characteristic of this style, or often if the roof is gabled we see it flared. There are so many different variations on this style—chimney placement, dormer style, a “parapet gambrel,” which is when the end wall terminates above the gable…there is an original Dutch Colonial in Schenectady that is essentially a saltbox with a gambrel and flared eave.

We really think of this style as being very quaint, homey, and rather pastoral. In the 1920s, when people were settling in the space between urban areas and rural areas, Sears Roebuck was selling house kits for under $5000, and some of the more popular offerings were the Dutch Colonial revival style kits. “The Amsterdam” is the one from the 1923 Sears Roebuck catalog. I have posted pictures of similar kits on our blog. Sears sold this kit for $4680. If you go off of the 2.88% inflation rate, that translates to over $65k in 2016 dollars. Around this time FDR commissioned a book about Dutch Colonial architecture—he was really into it and was aware of his Dutch roots. He always stressed how important it was to look to these Dutch homes and their simple mode of life (they most often had no more than four rooms) and he actually argued with an architect from McKim Mead and White because his wife and the architect tried to put a curve on the top of a window, and Roosevelt said NO Italianate details diluting the Dutchness of this cottage, unless the architect (Toombs) could find local precedent, which of course he could not. Upstate he actually “suggested” to the architects of a number of post offices (Saugerties? Dutchess County?) that they use Dutch architecture or at least local materials. He was really concerned that the style would disappear and take NY’s history with it.

Roosevelt had a point. According to the parks dept website there are only fourteen original Dutch Colonials in Kings County.

 

 

 

Bloomingdales’ History

A little cast iron goodness featuring John Kellum. Found this while out shopping on this freezing Sunday. I hope the image gets big enough to read because it’s far too much to type out while I stand here and block the Nars counter!
I absolutely adore soho’s cast iron buildings–my first job in NY was in this neighborhood and those buildings helped define Manhattan for me. They are as iconic as it gets for the SoHo worker–in the summer, lunch is usually a salad sitting on one of their loading docks, watching photographers and stylists and tourists milling around in the oppressive heat.

  

Miss Manhattan

This link will take you to the 99% Invisible episode about Audrey Munson, the woman who posed for so many of the sculptures we see around Manhattan. Munson’s figure is so ubiquitous that after looking at photographs of her, I recognized her as the face of the Trask Memorial, which is located in my hometown of Saratoga Springs, NY. The episode is under twenty minutes long and well worth a listen.

Bushwick Ave

This is the view out of my living room window on Bushwick Ave. The beautiful old building partially hidden by that tree is awesome–the tenants on the second floor have fixed their apartment up and it is charming and in great condition. The exterior needs work but is still nice to look at. It’s disturbing that right next door is one of what I call Fedders houses (because of the AC unit covers). I lived in one for a year and it was just a white box with no design. They are made to be as cheap to build and efficient to clean, paint, and maintain as possible. There is no concern for aesthetic or lifestyle or comfort. This one isn’t even the worst–the ones with the flat roofs are much uglier. Bushwick Ave is a total mishmash of these building concepts and various states of newness and decay. Most of the newer buildings don’t integrate well with the old, they just look kind of vacant and depressing. At least this one doesn’t have a bunch of trash outside like some of the others.

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Ornament

Maybe the side of BAM but I had to jump in a cab before I could check the front of the building. Anyone know for sure? Whatever the building, I love love love the ornament. It has so much more personality than the basic botanicals we see on so many building. Please excuse the poorly cropped images!