The Mount: Edith Wharton and the American Renaissance


Kay Davis
University of Virginia
© 2001-2003


American Renaissance > Italian Influences > Landscape Architecture and Interior Design >
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Landscape Architecture and Interior Design

The American Renaissance extended to landscape architecture and interior design.

Classical Gardens

In the mid-nineteenth century, architects such as Andrew Jackson Downing, Frederick Law Olmsted, and Calvert Vaux laid out gardens in curving, sometimes spatially undefined patterns. (16) This corresponded with the more picturesque houses of the mid-1800s.

Later, landscape architects designed formal gardens based on symmetrical axes and classical elements. This was due, in part, to corresponding changes in the domestic architecture of the period.

After the mid-1880s, there was a formal distribution of spaces based on classical order. Architects projected the straight lines and axes of buildings out into the landscape. (17)

Ordered Interiors
The field of interior decoration emerged during the American Renaissance.

Until the late nineteenth century, American architects played a minor role in interior design. Architects designed homes in collaboration with their clients, but clients typically selected their own interiors after the homes were completed.

Some architects, such as Richard Morris Hunt, designed interiors for the homes they created, contracting out the interior work to firms like Jules Allard et Fils. However, interior design followed no uniform standards.

Different firms were often hired to design different rooms in the house. In addition, styles were often selected without consideration for the exterior design.

Beginning in the 1870s, architects worked closely with artists to create a more unified effect. Art periodicals in the 1870s and 1880s published articles on carpet design, tapestry painting, and various decorative styles. The Associated Artists, Herter Brothers, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, John La Farge, and Stanford White designed furniture and interiors for homes.

A concern for historical accuracy led to the import of European furnishings for home décor. Tapestries, both originals and copies, became popular at the end of the nineteenth century. Mural painting and stained glass developed a following.

John La Farge received a patent in 1880 for opalescent glass, a unique type of stained glass. Architects and decorators used stained glass in churches, homes, and public buildings. Ceramic tiles were also popular.

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