Welcome back to Period Dramas, a weekly column that alternates between rounding up historic homes on the market and answering questions we’ve always had about older structures.
The phrase “Gilded Age mansion” generally brings about visions of the grand mansions of Newport, Rhode Island, once frequented by New York socialites and assorted high-society glitterati.
And while that vision certainly holds true, Newport was just one of the destinations-of-choice for the financially well-endowed: The cooling hills of the Berkshires offered this demographic another summertime refuge.
Stretching up the westernmost boarder of Massachusetts, the Berkshires attracted Boston’s and New York’s wealthy set from the 1860s right up through the turn of the 20th century.
Unlike Newport, the Berkshires offered a slightly less formal environment for social activity. It also played host to a crowd that skewed a bit more artistic and literary, like Edith Wharton, whose country house, The Mount, is located in the town of Lenox, Massachusetts.
Between Lenox and the neighboring town of Stockbridge, families commissioned some of the best working architects of the time—like McKim, Mead & White—to build around 75 houses, which were referred to as “cottages,” even though their size and appointment was anything but quaint.
While a number of them have been lost to fire and demolition, plenty still survive—and a few are on the market.
Stockbridge, Massachusetts (8 bedrooms, 10 bathrooms, $7.9 million)
Set on 33 acres along the Housatonic River, this 1870 home is a prime example of the Second Empire style of architecture, which was popular from the 1850s through 1880 and drew inspiration directly from the steeply sloped roofs of Parisian buildings.
A tell-tale sign of the Second Empire style is the dramatic hipped roofline—sometimes referred to as a Mansard roof—that is capped by a wrought-iron railing. If it reminds you of a haunted house, chances are the house is Second Empire.
Thankfully for us—and for whoever is going to buy this multimillion-dollar property—the 8,500-square-foot home is anything but scary. Its graciously proportioned rooms feature heavy woodwork and intricately carved mantles, but don’t feel dark and oppressive, thanks to the high ceilings and tall windows that let the sunlight stream in.
The house is just part of the package, though. Elsewhere on the grounds are manicured gardens, a pool, and guest, carriage, and greenhouses—among other outbuildings.
Lenox, Massachusetts (6 bedrooms, 8 bathrooms, $3.95 million)
Built in 1888, this rambling Colonial revival home has been sensitively maintained—and updated—for modern life. Thankfully, while the renovation touched the bathrooms and the kitchen, it did not touch the incredible woodwork and the 16 (yes, sixteen) fireplaces.
The house, while largely Colonial revival—a resurgence and romanticization of 18th-century American architecture that followed the Civil War—also has influences from a number of other styles. The paneling in the foyer is heavy and repetitive, something seen in Romanesque revivalism, and the more delicate woodwork in the living room is like something we’ve seen in Queen Anne architecture.
Then, architects were pulling inspiration from everywhere imaginable, so it’s not entirely surprising to see a variety of influences here, too.
Pittsfield, Massachusetts (6 bedrooms, 5 bathrooms, $1.1 million)
One of the more popular types of architecture in the late 19th century was the “Shingle style.” Houses in this style generally lacked excessive ornamentation on the exterior, which was clad in shingles.
One of the hallmarks of the Shingle style was a more open floorplan centered on a large hall. In this example, built in 1895, the hall has a heavily carved wooden staircase and a multi-bay, stained-glass window.
While the house’s bedrooms are stripped of impressive ornamentation, the first-floor reception rooms are especially notable: The living and billiard rooms both have dark woodwork with intricate vegetal patterns, which is also most likely a holdover from the Romanesque style.
And in the dining room, the program of woodwork breaks at an oversized fireplace, whose surround features striking glazed tile. We wouldn’t mind parking there until winter ends.