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The Bellingrath Home: Colonial Revival with a dash of Art Deco

Detail of the fireplace mantel in the guest room. The mantels feature 18th century motifs made popular by Robert Adam.
Detail of the fireplace mantel in the guest room, with its Colonial Revival design.

By Tom McGehee, Museum Director of the Bellingrath Home

Architect George B. Rogers described his design of the Bellingrath Home as “a mingling of styles.”  The exterior blends Mediterranean, French and numerous English motifs to create, in the Gulf Coast vernacular, a treat for the eyes.

The architect chose two very divergent styles in the design of the interior:  Colonial Revival and Art Deco.  Americans’ love of the Colonial Revival began with the nation’s celebration of its centennial in 1876.  In 1911, Rogers borrowed heavily from the Colonial Revival when he designed what would become the Bellingraths’ home, which stood on South Ann Street in Mobile.

Back Stairs
The back staircase features a simple design.

Nearly 25 years later he returned to that style for the interior of the couple’s new home on Fowl River.  The white oak floors are pegged.  Fireplace mantels are adorned with various 18th century motifs made popular by Robert Adam.  The front staircase is over the top Georgian in style, but the simplicity of the back staircase is reminiscent of 18th century New England.

Juxtaposed against all of this Colonial Revival is the geometry and streamlining of the Art Deco, a style that rose to popularity between the world wars.  Art Deco took off after an exhibition held in Paris in 1925 that featured a new fascination with machine-like forms.  Streamlining, geometrical patterns, and strident color schemes abounded.

The chandelier in the Living Room is set into a sunburst motif.
The chandelier in the Living Room is set into a sunburst motif.

These Art Deco motifs are rather subtle to the casual visitor in the Bellingrath Home.  Surely, prior to the arrival of the home’s furnishings, they would have been much more obvious.  The ceilings in both the living and dining rooms are centered with a sunburst motif.  While this same design can be found in some notable 18th century English houses, it was rediscovered during the Art Deco period due to its geometric style.  Cut crystal ceiling fixtures in the bedrooms on the second floor repeat this design.

An Art Deco light fixture in the Purple Bathroom upstairs.
An Art Deco light fixture in the Purple Bathroom upstairs.

The bathrooms are finished with colorful tiles and ceramic fixtures patented by the Standard Plumbing Company in 1929 as the Art Deco style was reaching a mass audience thanks to Hollywood’s golden age.  Wall fixtures are opaque cylindrical tubes.  The Pompadour Pink and Ming Green fixtures in the first guest bath must have been a surprise to guests in the mid-1930’s, who would have been accustomed to all-white bathrooms at the time.  The walls and doors in the majority of the rooms are off white while all of the hardware is brushed chrome – another staple of this modernistic style.

The sink in the Butler's pantry.
The sink in the Butler’s pantry.

The Kitchen and Butler’s Pantry have counters and sinks of German silver and the streamlining of the Art Deco would have made for easy cleanup.  The control panel for the electric range is geometric with its large circular dials and control buttons.

Visitors to the Home may not notice a number of these details, but George Rogers took obvious care in their selection and the result is a functional and beautiful backdrop to Mrs. Bellingrath’s collection of decorative arts.

Dining Rm Mantel Detail
The mantels in the Dining Room feature 18th century motifs made popular by Robert Adam.