woodwork, millwork, stairs

Inspired Woodwork

A new home in Fort Worth, TX, features Georgian and Federal style woodwork by Hull Historical.

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Inspired by Readbourne, a 1733 Georgian home in Centreville, MD, this new home in Fort Worth, TX, was designed by John Milner Architects and built by Hull Historical. The interior incorporates traditional millwork throughout. All photos: courtesy of Hull Historical

By Martha McDonald
First there was Readbourne, a 1733 home in Centreville, MD. Then came Winterthur, a 12-room country estate in Wilmington, DE, originally built by the Du Pont family in 1837. Henry Francis du Pont took over management of the estate in 1903 and inherited the property when his father died in 1926. In 1928, he began what would turn into 40 years of collecting American antiques and architectural artifacts that would eventually turn his home into the 175-room Winterthur Museum and Country Estate. He collected items dating from 1640 to 1860 from 12 of the 13 original colonies, including moldings, doors, windows and mantels. The property was donated to the public and became a museum in 1951.

Then came Brent Hull, who founded Hull Historical in Fort Worth, TX, in 1993 after graduating from the North Bennet Street School in Boston. In 2004 he was approached by the Winterthur Museum, and today he is its exclusive provider of architectural interiors and woodwork.

Last year, Hull collaborated with Winterthur to build a period home in Fort Worth, TX. "As I was working on a new book, 'Traditional American Homes,' to be published in March of 2009, I started looking at how to adapt Classical rooms to a new house," says Hull. Using the historic rooms at Winterthur as his inspiration, he created the traditional woodwork for the new home.

John Milner Architects designed the home to look like it had developed over time, with a central massing and various additions. The traditional center hall flanked by a dining room and a study form the central mass. Plan: courtesy of John Milner Architects

The 6,500-sq.-ft., four-bedroom Georgian-style house was designed by John Milner Architects of Chadds Ford and Philadelphia, PA. "Brent came to us and asked us to design a house based on Readbourne," says Scott O'Barr, AIA, project architect. "The challenge, as is the challenge with most of our homes, is to discipline our design based on historic precedents while incorporating the needs of contemporary family life.

"The way we approached the house was to break down the massing. The main façade is the correct proportion of an 18th-century Georgian house, which is much smaller than a typical contemporary home. In the final plan, a traditional center hall is flanked by a dining room and a study, forming the central mass. The master suite and the kitchen, with casual dining area and adjacent family room, are pushed back, while the two-car garage is separated by a hyphen – the laundry and mud room. This allows the central block to be presented with a classical Georgian façade, while accommodating the remaining aspects of the design."

The overall interior design for the downstairs is Georgian, while the upstairs is Federal. One of four downstairs fireplaces is in the living room. The mantel is graced with a serpentine detail in the frieze; this is capped with an overmantel topped with a broken pediment. The cornice is lightly decorated with a bead and reel as well as tongue-and-darts elements.

Exterior details, such as the double-hung, multi-paned windows arranged in pairs around a central front door that is flanked by two fluted pilasters and topped with a scrolled pediment, reinforce the Georgian design. "Overall, these components lend an authenticity to the project," says O'Barr, "and are in keeping with the finely reproduced interiors by Hull."

"In 1760, you wouldn't have had a 6,500-sq-ft. house," Hull explains. "It would have grown over time, so it was designed with that in mind. The house has a central section and wings and porches that appear as if they had been added later.

"In the interior, we wanted to show off the greater interiors of Winterthur using these classical American interiors for inspiration. The architects gave us a great opportunity to do this, with four fireplaces to adorn. Traditional Georgian and Federal interiors are normally symmetrical and balanced off a fireplace. We ended up highlighting and matching the exact details of four of the rooms from the museum. The moldings are exact copies of the originals, but the final arrangement of elements varied from the original. For instance, the dining room is inspired by the Hampton room at Winterthur, hailing from a beautiful Georgian house in Elizabethtown, NJ. The mantel in this room is balanced by a door to the butler's pantry and kitchen on the left, with a false door on the right side."

The family room was inspired by the Winterthur's Chestertown Room, which was taken from a 1780s house in Maryland. "The fireplace in this room has a beautiful overmantel with a broken pediment and an ornate cornice," says Hull. "This central room also has a beautiful chair rail with a repeating ring motif. The doors have crossetted corners and a splayed base and plinth, giving the composition a baroque twist."

The study, also downstairs, was inspired by the 1760 Bowers House in Somerset, MA. "It is a very Georgian house will full paneled walls," says Hull, noting that it was built by Daniel Bowers, who passed it on to his son. One of the changes the son made was to put a Federal mantel in the Georgian room in the 1790s, so Hull incorporated this into his design as well. This room incorporates a hidden room behind the panels that conceal contemporary office equipment.

Ornate moldings in the dining room give it a formal atmosphere. Inspired by the Hampton room at Winterthur, the dining room is balanced by mahogany doors with hand-carved egg-and-dart molding around raised panels. The headers over the doors match the mantel on the fireplace.

Upstairs, Hull matched the chair-rail molding from an 1820 house in North Carolina called Mt. Montmorenci. "It is a gouged carved chair rail," he says, "with a swag-and-flower pattern."

"Most of the rest of the molding and architectural millwork in the home are from historic pattern books or from rooms I had seen at Winterthur," says Hull. "Most of the wood from this period is paint grade, so that's what we used throughout the house, with a few exceptions. A few elements are mahogany – the mantel in the study and the doors on either side of the fireplace in the dining room – but most of the wood is paint grade."

The floors are salvaged antique wide-plank cherry supplied by Cochran's Lumber and Millwork of Berryville, VA.

Hull points out that his firm does millwork design, fabrication and installations all over the country, but this is the first time he has built a complete home. "It was an absolute joy to build," he says, noting that between 10 and 20 people from his shop were working on the house on any given day. Ian Agrell of Agrell Architectural Carving was hired to carve the complicated pieces, such as the brackets in the dining room.

Hull searched historic pattern books to find the right balusters and brackets for the stair. It is set off by the hand-painted stork wallpaper that matches the paper from the entry hall at Winterthur.

"At the North Bennet Street School we studied Georgian and Federal homes," says Hull. "Coming back to Texas, we had more call for turn-of-the-century and period revival styles. You don't see so much Colonial work down here. One reason it was so rewarding was because it allowed me to incorporate great American design with classical details that I had studied so closely in New England."

One of developments to come out of this project was that for the first time, Historic Fort Worth held its designer showcase in a new home. Held every other year, the showcase offers 15 different designers the opportunity to decorate a room in the house. "The traditional design of the home and inspiration from Winterthur brought a cohesive focus that is sometimes lacking in these types of homes," says Hull.

It took 10 months to build the house, and it sold quickly to an owner who appreciated its craftsmanship and beauty. "She said she felt like it was designed for her," says Hull.

Hull and John Milner Architects have plans to build other homes, but there is nothing specific on the drawing boards at the moment. "It was a very nice collaboration between the builder and the designer," says O'Barr. "Typically, we draw a lot of details for the millwork, but in this house, we provided preliminary designs for the rooms and Hull took it from there."

WEB EXTRA: To see more photos from this project, click here.

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