"Attic" No More pix
Servants' quarters in a John Russell Pope mansion are now an award-winning family zone by Amestudio and Hailey Design
Vernon Mays -- Interior Design, 2/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
The central hallway's mahogany-framed frosted-glass panels, which owe their glow to a skylight above.
The 1916 facade in its suburban Baltimore setting.
An ipé deck concealed by the original brick parapet.
Leather wall tiles in the kitchenette.
Antonello Mosca's sofas, Christian Liaigre's ottoman and bench, and Paola Lenti's rug in the media lounge.
The art studio's entry, framed by 4x4s with powder-coated aluminum channels on two sides.
Sculpture backed by maple paneling.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY PAUL BURK
A hushed reverence stills the air as Benjamin Ames and Catherine Hailey scale the narrow steps to the attic of a mansion John Russell Pope built in Baltimore in 1916. Gone, now, are the partitions that once diced up the 2,500-square-foot space into a warren of servants' rooms: a sewing room, a trunk room, and nine small bedrooms, five for the black staff and four for the white. In their place, Ames and Hailey—heads, respectively, of Amestudio and Hailey Design—created a family-friendly, light-filled suite that ventures into the domain of the master architect while remaining true to themselves.
To accomplish this balancing act, which won the designers an award from the Virginia Society AIA, Ames started by sketching an interior with low floating cabinets, quiet details, and a minimum of interior walls. The owners were intrigued. "They're sophisticated enough to understand the connections between eclectic architectural languages," he says. So, rather than being paralyzed by the thought of working in Pope's shadow, Ames and Hailey stepped into the role with aplomb, producing an informal media lounge, art studio, playroom, office, galley kitchen, gym, and guest room for a busy family of four.
Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the mansion was commissioned by James Swan Frick, son of a prominent attorney and businessman. Family connections had led him to Pope, who in 1914 was just coming into his own as the primary avatar of the neoclassical tradition in the U.S. Not until 1935 would he complete the Frick Collection addition in New York and the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Six years after came the National Gallery of Art.
The Baltimore residence, set in what was then a new suburb north of the gritty downtown, stands at the back of a 2 ½-acre lot. Pope based the house on a simple rectangular form and built it primarily of brick. Fluted pilasters flank the recessed front door, while a curved bay marks the garden facade. The austere subtlety is textbook Pope.
Inside, he showed greater flair. He arranged the ground level's plan around a T-shape entry hall paved in black and white marble squares and embellished in a stylized Corinthian order. The spacious drawing room, dining room, and library incorporate flourishes such as a frieze of urns and floral sprays, acanthus-leaf ceiling molding, and bookcases with Gothic tracery.
Given the weight of such a formidable legacy, how did Ames and Hailey respond? With respect for history—and a keen awareness of their own design principles. A "desire to respect Pope's geometry," Ames says, meant that the three-part layout of the residence's two main floors exerted a direct influence. Put simply, that organization repeats itself upstairs in the arrangement of the art studio, playroom, and media lounge off a corridor that slices down the center of the attic.
Farther afield, Ames found inspiration in the National Gallery of Art's skylights, which allow sunshine to filter down through the frosted-glass laylights in the ceiling of the galleries. He adapted that idea to the central corridor of the Baltimore attic: installing a long skylight, then concealing it behind a run of frosted-glass panels.
He also studied the Baltimore Museum of Art, a Pope landmark completed in 1929. "There's an interesting blend of neoclassical architecture and modern steelwork," Ames explains. That got him thinking about articulating the attic corridor with a colonnade, which he constructed of 4x4s with gray powder-coated aluminum channels on two sides.
He and Hailey collaborated on the materials palette, selecting marble and mahogany similar to Pope's. Marble flooring adds to the brightness and reflectivity in the central hall. Mahogany frames the frosted glass overhead, then reappears in the floating cabinets, which simultaneously divide the space and provide a place to display Asian sculpture.
"We like to start with clean lines and white walls and then add layers of comfort and interest," Hailey notes. In the lounge, she responded to the ceiling height, just 8 feet 2 inches, by selecting low-slung sofas and a broad ottoman and bench. A restrained grayish chenille upholsters the sofas, while the ottoman and bench cushions' leather upholstery and a wool felt rug pop in red-orange tones.
Soon after the Frick residence was completed, H.D. Smith wrote in the Brickbuilder magazine that some of Pope's houses, including this one, derive their beauty from the careful study of mass and outline, void and solid, light and shadow. Likewise for Ames and Hailey's renovation, nearly a century later.