Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Last Chance: The Colonial Revival Show at the Museum of the City of New York

Dear Readers, if you haven't had the chance to make it to the Museum of the City of New York to see its landmark exhibition "The American Style: Colonial Revival and the Modern Metropolis," then you have just a few short days—until Sunday, October 30th—to do so.

The Museum of the City of New York, ca. 1932
A prime example of Colonial Revival architecture
Image courtesy of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art

Reggie urges you to throw off any and all excuses and get yourself up to the Museum and take in the show, and he urges you to also buy the exhibit's accompanying beautifully written and profusely illustrated catalogue.  This is an important exhibition, and one that people will be talking about, and writing about, for years to come.  Don't miss it!

"The American Style: Colonial Revival and the Modern Metropolis"
exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York
Image courtesy of Donald Albrecht

Thoughtfully and creatively curated by Donald Albrecht and Thomas Mellins, and beautifully designed by Peter Pennoyer Architects, the exhibit is an absolute gem, and one of the first to explore in depth the quintessentially American style of architecture and decorative arts popular in the first half of the twentieth century that was inspired by the Colonial and Federal eras.

A Colonial Revival inspired door surround
designed for the exhibition by Peter Pennoyer Architects
Image courtesy of the New York Times

The Colonial Revival movement first gained popularity during the Centennial celebration of our nation's independence, and remained extremely (and deservedly) popular on these shores through well after WWII.  It is still admired, practiced and appreciated in certain traditional, classically-inspired circles here in America, notably by the members of the most worthy Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which co-sponsored the show.

The cover of the exhibition's catalogue
written by the curators Donald Albrecht and Thomas Mellins
co-published by the Museum of the City of New York
and Monacelli Press

The American Colonial Revival is one of Reggie's favorite periods and styles, and was, in fact, the subject of one of his very first forays into the blogosphere, when he was graciously asked by the inestimable Emily Evans Eerdmans to do a guest post on her eponymously-named blog about rooms that have most inspired his own, personal decorating.  I selected as my subject two Colonial Revival rooms in houses owned by Historic New England (formerly—and more elegantly—known as The Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities).  You can read that post on EEE's blog here.

A vintage postcard of the Colonial Revival "Town of Tomorrow"
at the New York World's Fair, ca. 1939
Image courtesy of Richard Layman

The show at the Museum of the City of New York is jam-packed with photographs, objects, and examples of the decorative arts from the Colonial Revival's heyday, and is an absolute treat for those of us who appreciate such things.  The exhibit features numerous reproductions made during the period, some completely accurate and others, well, "inspired" by the originals.  There were several reproductions of Duncan Phyfe seating furniture in the show that were so perfectly done (and so perfectly patinated) that Boy and I initially assumed they were original, made in the first quarter of the nineteenth century, and not made one hundred years later, as they were, by W. & J. Sloane.  Examining them gave us pause to wonder whether some of the furniture in our own collection at Darlington House attributed to Duncan Phyfe (or one of his competitors) could quite possibly actually be later, very good reproductions.

A Colonial Revival style Howard Johnson's restaurant
in Queens, New York, ca. 1930s
Image courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York

Despite the admittedly uneasy feeling such considerations gave us, we still loved the show and I urge you to go see it for yourself, Dear Reader, before it closes this Sunday.

The Museum of the City of New York
1220 Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street
New York, New York 10029
(212) 534-1672


  1. Hello Reggie:
    Eheu! How sad it is that, casting all excuses aside, we shall not be able to cross the Atlantic to see this exhibition which you describe here in such enticing detail before its close at the end of this month.

    From what you write, and illustrate, this surely will, as you suggest, prove to be in the future, if not already, an iconic exhibition and one which we should most certainly have loved to have seen.

    We imagine that there are no plans for a European tour?!

  2. I hate I didn't know about this exhibit the last few times I've been in the city... and I'm going to miss it by a week when I return for good. So unfortunate... I'll have to at least get the catalogue- it looks fantastic!

  3. Dear Mr. Darling,

    Alas, it is my great misfortune to miss attending this most wonderful and in-depth exhibition. Living on the west coast does have its disadvantages I'm afraid. I do hope there are plans to bring the show to one of San Francisco's art museums in the future. Welcome back to the blogosphere - you were greatly missed.

  4. Oh I wish I could see this; it looks wonderful.

    Since you bring up the subject of reproductions, I have a related question & suspect you know the answer. My husband and I have been lucky enough to inherit some (150 year) old, hand-made, family pieces which are not particularly fine but are of great sentimental value. We also inherited some very good reproductions made 40-60 years ago.

    Will reproductions be considered "antique" after a certain period of time?

  5. Although I am sad that I will miss this show at the Museum of the City of New York, I am so happy to have gotten this second chance to read your wonderful guest post on E.E.E.'s blog!

  6. In spite of the Scylla and Charybdis pitfalls of museum-like stage sets and the "phony colonial", good Colonial Revival is both attractive and comfortable, in addition to the psychological boost of reflecting the American heritage. Sometimes, as you illustrate in your EEE post, the best of both worlds is attained, combining genuine old architecture with Revival interiors.

    Still, there is much to be said for the Colonial Revival as a distinct architectural form. It is interesting to see what genuine features were retained and which discarded as each generation tried to return to its Colonial roots.
    --Road to Parnassus

  7. Oh, I do wish I could see this exhibit! I once lived in a suburb that had lots of Colonial Revival houses, having been built in the early twentieth century (Oakwood, Ohio, not too far from The Pine Club, Reggie). We don't see much Colonial Revival in the new suburbs of San Diego, I'm afraid. Growing up, I always wanted to live in a "center hall colonial." It looks as if that will be an unfilled wish of mine, alas.

  8. So badly I wanted to see this show, but the arc of my professional life is such that I cannot visit NY in months named May, June, July, August, September, and October. Pooh.

  9. Totally agree!! Elle Decor asked me to contribute to their what we are obsessed with this month column and I mentioned this show!! Looking forward to the Cecil Beaton show next!!


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