Historic Places

The Isaac Bell House (My Newport Adventures)

The Isaac Bell House
The Isaac Bell House

The Isaac Bell House is very different from anything else I saw in Newport. While the Vanderbilts, Berwinds, and other prominent Newport families looked to the past to imitate Renaissance, Gothic, and Baroque architecture, Isaac Bell looked forward instead. Thanks to his architect Stanford White, his house (completed in 1883) began a new style that’s now called Shingle Style. It was a precursor to the work of Frank Lloyd Wright and may have inspired him. The Isaac Bell House is the Preservation Society’s newest acquisition, and it needed a lot of restoration work when they got it in 1997. They are still researching and piecing together what the original furniture and decoration looked like, so visitors mainly see just bare architecture. Fortunately, that’s the interesting part of this house, anyway. It has all sorts of subtle and masterful woodwork and detailing. The shingles on the exterior form three different patterns on different features, and the interior moldings and carvings are just sublime. Thanks to bits of old wallpaper found under light fixtures and such, the society has been able to commission reproductions. They are all spectacular, often with flecks of gold or silver imbedded to catch the light. I also loved the stained glass and built-ins, one of which was taken from antique northern European beds. Stanford White was clearly a genius. This house is easy to imagine yourself living in, even though you see it without furniture.

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