Friday, March 1, 2013

Home Decorating Ideas: Architectural Detail

My name is Elizabeth and I’m an addict.  Not an addict in the traditional sense, happily, but I am addicted to the beauty I find in old, romantic, classical architecture.  Specifically, the architectural detail that divinely decorates the grand old buildings constructed during the time of Kings and Queens, Czars and Czarinas and more recently in the United States, by myriad railroad, oil and steel tycoons who reigned here during the late 1800‘s well through the turn of the century.

Considering my addiction, which developed gradually while traveling in Russia, Turkey, France, Italy and England, I’m a lucky girl to live in Philadelphia -- an eminently walkable city with plenty of old money.  Close proximity to New York City and not that far from the famous Cliff Walk mansions of Newport, RI certainly helped as well.  In fact, when big name architects of the time weren’t busy with grand office buildings and palatial homes, they were commissioned to build magnificent mausoleums to celebrate the dead as well.  So, even our cemeteries offer amazing works of art.

One sweltering summer, not long after moving to Philadelphia, I offered to help a friend shut down her antiques store across town.  Every morning for much of the season, I’d set out on foot early to beat the heat, taking a different route every day to make it interesting.  With nobody yet out on the sidewalks racing to work, I could pay attention to the world around me rather than dodging cars and other pedestrians.  In this way, I discovered the extraordinary architectural detail and design of my new home and was almost giddy with excitement.

The architecture of Philadelphia has been well maintained and is wonderfully weathered, adding to the charm.  The newness has long since worn off and moss-green, rust and the patina of time enhances the beauty of each unique detail.  Harking back to an era when labor was cheap and ornamentation a sign of wealth and success, intricate ironwork, tile-work, mosaic and architectural detail embellish nearly every structure.  Thousands of masterpieces -- large and small -- can be found within the larger body of each building.  I marvel at the skill of the craftsmen who labored on these projects.  Where did they come from?  Why did they come?  How did they get here?  What has happened to their magnificent skills?

Beautifully carved cherubs, angels, and the expressive face of a native american settled over a doorway.  Horses, lions, bears -- all manner of mythological creature: the gryphon, winged dragons and gargoyles.  Oh and the Gods and Goddesses...they are lovely.  Once you begin to notice them, you see they are everywhere.  Museum-worthy works of art  -- outdoors, in plain sight, for all the world to see and yet, they are so common, they have vanished from our sight.  We walk past them every day and do not notice.

Actually, I notice them.  I stalk them with my camera...waiting for the light to mellow or shift, for the rain to come and deepen the hues, or the season to change.  I stalk them and capture them and print them out on museum quality paper made for watercolor artists because it enhances the texture of the stone, saturates the shadows and heightens the richness of streaking minerals and rust. 

Subject to the vagaries of time and weather, the architectural details are ever-changing and I know that what is captured today, may look very different a year from now and I am touched in a way that surprises me - a little window of awareness has opened.  So forgiving of the changes in the structures I am - finding them graceful, lovely and natural -- I am inspired to practice that same generosity on myself as I observe in my mirror the changes each year brings. 

Photography is remarkably versatile.  Float it in modern plexiglass.  Frame it in reclaimed wood for a rustic look, vintage frames for shabby chic style or classic black to blend with any decor.  So, indulge me if you would.  You’ve heard that walking is good for you -- take a walk in an old city -- or even in a small town that’s been around for awhile and was prosperous for a number of years.  Look at the office buildings, old banks, schools, libraries and government buildings.   Notice the doorways and windows and along the rooftops.  What do you see?  Snap your own photographs and pop them into frames, or stop into my shop and take a look at more of my images, which include a variety of travel photography, urban art and artisan jewelry featuring my photography as well.  I hope you find something new and interesting and beautiful on your walk -- or in my shop.

This collection of images has been pulled from Washington, DC, Charleston, SC, Philadelphia, PA, New York City and St. Augustine, FL.

E. England


  1. Another lovely story... I think that's one of the greatest things about photography. Telling a story through a photograph. You're able to observe the world around you and (hopefully) capture that vision for others to see.
    I can't wait to follow the rest of your adventures! :)
    xx Emily

  2. Very enjoyable article Elizabeth!