Carole Owens: Lindeberg’s vision lives on at Hillhome
Hillhome was well-known as the residence of Jack and Jane Fitzpatrick. Those who visited the house on Prospect Hill found a graceful space perfect for entertaining and radiating domestic charm.
It is not surprising then that the house was designed by a premier 20th century domestic architect. The son of Swedish immigrants, his name was Harry Thomas Linde-
berg. He changed the spel-
ling to Harrie because he thought it more elegant. According to architectural historian and Lindeberg ex-
pert, Mark Alan Hewitt, Harrie Lindeberg attempted to create elegance in all aspects of his life.
Dedicated to elegance, he was neither an aesthete nor strictly cerebral. Lindeberg was a flyer during World War I, and had three wives each carefully selected to be richer than the last -- elegant living coming at a price.
Born in 1879, Lindeberg honed his skills as draftsman and architect’s apprentice in the New York offices of McKim, Mead, and White from 1900-1906. Lindeberg considered Stanford White the best of all American architects because he created "unity and integrity of design."
When White was shot and killed at Madison Square Garden in 1906, Lindeberg left the firm. He set up shop with another McKim, Mead, and White draftsman, Lewis Colt Albro. The new firm of Albro and Lindeberg was mildly successful for six to eight years, then Albro left the partnership and Linde-
berg was on his own. He discovered that other architects had sewn up the market for country houses on the East Coast. He branched out, and Lindeberg became the architect of choice for the country houses of the super rich in the South, Midwest, and on the Gulf Coast. His reputation soared.
In 1912, Albro and Linde-
berg published a slim volume titled "Domestic Architec-
ture." With just seven pages of text followed by numerous photographs of his work, Lindeberg articulated his manifesto. Five years later Lindeberg designed Hillhome and it articulates his principles in stone.
Large houses must be "dignified and stately." They should be small country cottages "magnified" -- more in the English manor house style without "affectation or pretense."
Lindeberg preferred Geor-
gian to Neoclassic; English arts and crafts to Italianate. That is, he would have preferred Naumkeag and High-
lawn to Bellefontaine or Wheatleigh.
Hillhome is stately without being in the least pretentious. For example, Hillhome has no Porte cochére because "it is not necessary and is desired only in order to say the house has a Porte cochére." In fairness, it was 1917, the age of the automobile not the age of the four-in-hand.
Lindeberg went against common practice by saying a country house need not be sited on the highest elevation. Hillhome is on a high point when moving west to east but is still below the road.
He also contradicted the Beaux Arts School wherein nature was left "wild" only at the farthest point from the house while the approach to the house featured the imposition of art on nature in the form of gardens and hardscape. Lindeberg wrote that there should be no "mutilation of nature" but instead the house should be placed among the trees because "trees are the frame to the portrait." Hillhome sits among the trees, and the prize-winning water features, hardscape, and gardens that surround the house today were a later addition.
A Lindeberg roof tended to be large, steeply pitched, and clad in cedar shake. "Courses of shingles are laid out of the horizontal in long irregular waves varying in width." Lindeberg warned that a roof designed according to his specifications could appear discordant if the overall design did not support it. "The roof must be in harmony with the walls."
At first critics called his roof "drunken shakes," but eventually the architectural community came to understand his vision, adopted the design, and named it "the Lindberg roof." Because of the position of the house below the road, the roof is at eye level, and the details of a "Lindeberg roof" are clearly visible and very pleasing.
Lindeberg wrote, "I would rather have my house comfortable and convenient inside than beautiful outside." But he added, "the gap can be bridged -- build simply, whether a cottage or a castle."
The best example of bridging the gap is the wide two-story window to the south of the front door. On the outside it draws the eye and expresses gracious living. On the inside, it sheds natural light on the curved stair and broad living room.
Architectural historians be-
lieve Lindeberg’s houses are still appreciated and do not seem out-of-date because he was "neither fantastic nor frivolous" and followed "no whimsical fashion." Instead he wanted his buildings "to rationally express the purpose for which it was designed; have honesty of expression, that is, look like what it is."
Well, Hillhome looks like a big, gracious domicile, solid and without frou-frou, and that is what it is. It has heft, and looks as if it could have been built 100 years or 100 days ago, and those are its enduring strengths.
Carole Owens is a Berkshire writer and historian.
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