Some 30 or 40 attended Sunday’s tour, in Middletown, R.I., of the St. Columba chapel, seemingly transported bodily from the English countryside of the 1880s, or even the 1680s, and Boothden, the “cottage” designed by Calvert Vaux (of Central Park fame, alongside landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted). It was built for Edwin Booth, the actor of worldwide fame who sought refuge in Li’l Rhody from the worldwide infamy of his brother.
The tour was sponsored by the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art. The chapel’s rough-hewn exterior and interior hark back to the Arts & Crafts movement, when the designers of buildings, furniture, lamps, wallpaper, curtains, candlesticks and the like embraced the personal workmanship of craft in reaction to the gathering impulse to design everything as if it were a machine. Notwithstanding that, many architectural historians seek to tar much Arts & Crafts work, including St. Columba, as a “precursor” to modern architecture. It is not. It is, like everything explicitly human and humane, the precise opposite of modern architecture.
It is difficult to resist rising to the defense of a tiny chapel that needs no defenders. So enough of that.
Boothden was designed in the Shingle Style, with many wrinkles harking backward – and forward. Little of the house that Booth built remains in the house that Andreozzi built. Architect David Andreozzi, that is, whose firm, in Barrington, R.I., redesigned a structure that had been added to and added to little by little for decades, even as time took its toll on its oldest portions, in the decades after 1903, when it was sold by Booth’s heirs.
Using grainy old black-and-whites to get a feel for the original, Andreozzi, the ICAA chapter’s president, worked with landscape designers Le Blanc Jones and builders Kirby-Perkins to achieve a truly enchanting result that was not quite a restoration, more a reconstruction with a twist, a lot of twists, call it a revival, a revivification. That’s what architectural historian John Tschurch has called it. Tschirch joined Andreozzi as guides for the tour. But guides for this blog post will be photographic, below, with apologies for my iPod camera, whose secrets I am still struggling to unravel. (In fact, my juice ran out before the end of the tour. The shot below that includes the swimming pool at Boothden was taken by Dana Warren, who was kind enough to send it to me.)