Hammond Harwood House – Annapolis,MD
The Hammond-Harwood House is a masterpiece of architectural design. It has been described as “the most beautiful house in colonial America”. There are no challengers. Architect William Buckland designed the house in 1773. With his knowledge of English Palladian architecture he refined the typical Annapolis five-part plan concept and created a house of transcendent wholeness, harmony and balance.
The Hammond-Harwood House Association lovingly protects the house and curates the remarkable furniture collection. The house is open for tours Tuesday through Saturday. For more information, visit www.hammondharwoodhouse.org.
William Buckland (1734-74) was born in London where he apprenticed in woodworking and carving. His talents drew the attention of George Mason in Virginia, who provided him with indentured passage for the purpose of completing the interior of his home Gunston Hall. Buckland excelled, building a substantial business in the design and interior finishing of homes for the wealthy. Moving to Annapolis in 1772 was a deliberate decision to elevate his family’s living standards, and to expand his business into a vibrant sophisticated market. His posthumous portrait by Charles Wilson Peale depicts the architect with drafting instruments in hand and his drawings of the Hammond-Harwood House on the table.
Buckland designed the exterior and the interior of the house simultaneously, as a singular composition. Rarely in colonial America were homes designed and built in one immediate campaign. Most were built over an extended period of time, and designed jointly by the owners, builders and craftsmen. Buckland was the sole author of the Hammond-Harwood House. He designed the floor plan, the giant Tuscan pilasters on the garden elevation, and the delicate mantle carvings in the dining room. The house exhibits the same human scale and classical proportions throughout: from the street, the garden, the dining room or the stair hall. All of the building elements are arranged to stimulate the eye and arouse beauty. Buckland accomplishes what all great works of art achieve: the coexistence of unity and variety.
Take for instance Buckland’s use of the horizontal belt course between the first and second floor windows. It is expertly placed as a secondary element to unify the composition of the central block. At the central block it is made of brick that has been polished smooth to make slight variation in the brick sheen and color. It runs unencumbered around the central block. However, on the two flanking wings, the belt course is made of regular brick, only three brick high, and placed lower than the central block belt course. The placement, detailing and proportion of these three belt courses are used to heighten the importance of the central section, and define the supporting roles of the flanking hyphens. Buckland imbued the belt courses with English Palladian sensibilities of unity and variation at the same time making a reference to a familiar Annapolis building tradition. Thomas Jefferson visited the Hammond-Harwood House in 1783 prior to embarking on his major addition to Monticello. He admired the semi octagonal walls of the wings, which he incorporated into his home design, and prepared a carefully drafted drawing of the front elevation of the house. What is most interesting in Jefferson’s drawing is that his only written dimensions describe the location of Buckland’s belt courses.
Buckland transformed the grand, sometimes ungainly, five part plan Annapolis house into an elegant singular composition where every element is composed into a thoughtful coherent whole. His mastery of architectural scale, proportion and composition is exceeded by his use of architectural ornament. Look at the front door, the second floor window, and the round window in the pediment above. These are intensely carved, wildly ornamental objects. Yet they are balanced in a composition that includes severely plain brick walls of subtle delineation. This achievement of architectural ornamentation that is simultaneously restrained and exuberant is a sophistication that Buckland extended to the interior of the house. The dining room is the largest first floor room overlooking the garden and clearly the most important social room of the house. The exuberantly carved woodwork is balanced against the plain plaster wall surfaces in the same way that the exterior carvings play against the plain brick walls. The gadroon rope carving on the chair rail is a staggering carving effort, and combined with the room cornice and mantle ornamentation the entire room achieves a heightened energy with in an elegant repose.
The Hammond-Harwood House is a precious treasure that one must walk through to witness the harmonious fluid movement and the sensual grace of the building. Repeated visits are rewarded with additional discoveries of the complexity and refinement of this masterful architectural composition. That it exists today precisely as it was built is testimony to the vision, care and pride that Annapolitans have lavished on their city for generations.