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Isaac Bell, Jr., House (Edna Villa)

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Edna Villa
1882–1883, McKim, Mead and White. 191 Bellevue Ave. (at Perry St.) (owned by the Preservation Society of Newport County; open to the public)
  • Isaac Bell, Jr., House (Edna Villa)
  • Isaac Bell, Jr., House (Edna Villa)
  • Isaac Bell, Jr., House (Edna Villa)
  • Turret
  • Inglenook
  • Inglenook detail
  • Porch dolphin
  • Porch dolphin
  • Porch dolphin
  • Porch dolphin
  • Porch dolphin
  • Porch dolphin
  • Porch dolphin
  • Porch dolphin

This rambling shingled house for Isaac Bell, Jr., and his wife, sister of James Gordon Bennett, was designed shortly after the completion of Bennett's nearby casino. Bell was a prominent New York cotton broker who was to become the U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands in 1885; although Bennett may have been the connection to the firm of McKim, Mead and White, according to the firm's own account, Bell himself paid for the house, contrary to Newport tradition, which recalls Bennett as funding the project. It was named Edna Villa by Samuel Barger, the Vanderbilt family lawyer, who purchased it in 1891.

Although sited differently than the firms' other local projects, the Bell House is essentially an elaboration of their smaller residential work nearby, like the Skinner and Tilton houses. The house sits far back on its corner site, with its entrance on the secondary Perry Street but its primary facade on the fashionable avenue. The main vantage point may well be from the corner itself, where the two elevations bend around the “hinge” of a multi-paned window turret. Both facades are unified by the shingled skin, the wraparound first-story porch, and the way each is terminated by a large tower volume at each extremity: a tapering three-and-one-half-story bell-capped tower near the entrance (in which some see a playful pun on the owner's name) and a more broadly proportioned two-and-one-half-story polygonal bay with open porches on both levels projecting from the far northern end of the Bellevue Avenue facade. Fauxbamboo porch posts combined with a conical roof give this bay the unexpected look of a thatched hut on a grand scale. On the primary elevation, the first story is cast in deep shadow by the porch, while the upper levels appear as flat planes articulated by typical Queen Anne motifs of intersecting gable shapes, grouped windows, and the graphic shingle patterns.

The interior is also notable. A main entry hall with inglenook fireplace opens off the entrance on the first floor, acting as a spatial hub around which the dining and drawing rooms and the stairwell create a sense of a single, continuous space, flowing out from the front door and rich with decorative details that include adaptations of Breton furniture.

Writing Credits

Author: 
William H. Jordy et al.
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Citation

William H. Jordy et al., "Isaac Bell, Jr., House (Edna Villa)", [Newport, Rhode Island], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/RI-01-NE149.

Print Source

Buildings of Rhode Island, William H. Jordy, with Ronald J. Onorato and William McKenzie Woodward. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004, 567-568.

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