As I continue my tour with you through the Hudson River Valley, it would not be complete without sharing the beauty and majesty of Olana, the home of artist Frederick Edwin Church (1826 to 1900). He and his wife, Isabel (1836 to 1899) built this villa with its combination Victorian, Persian and Moorish influences, along with the help of architect Calvert Vaux (1824 to 1895). Church was, of course, one of the leading Hudson River Valley artists, but he also designed one of the most unique and magnificent homes in that region—if not the country.
The house sits high on a hill with views of the Hudson River Valley, the Catskill Mountains and the Taconic Range. Church selected the site himself as he walked the 18-acre summit he had purchased, adding to land he already owned.
In November of 1867 through 1869, Church, his wife, son and mother-in-law embarked on a grand tour of Europe and the Middle East. Prior to his travels, Church had begun discussion with architect Richard Morris Hunt to design his home. Hunt’s initial designs had a very formal French influence. Upon return from their journey, the Churches had a different and fresh perspective regarding the design of their residence, with Church stating that “the house would be Persian, adapted to the Occident.” He also felt the need to change architects and hired Vaux.
Church understood that this style of architecture would be a trial for any trained professional when he wrote a friend saying, I hope to be in NewYork in a week or so, but a Feudal Castle, which I am building under the modest name of a dwelling house, absorbs all my time and attention. I am obliged to watch it so closely for having undertaken to get my architecture from Persia—where I have never been nor any of my friends either—I am obliged to imagine Persian architecture then embody it on paper and explain it to a lot of mechanics, whose ideal of architecture is wrapped up in felicitous recollections of a successful brick school house or meeting house or jail. Still, I enjoy this being afloat on a vast ocean paddling along in the dreamy belief that I shall reach the desired port in due time. And indeed he did.
The attention given to every single element of this home both on the exterior and the interior boggles the mind. The years of travel and research paid off in the fine details of the stencils, moldings, flooring, lighting, materials and, of course, the eclectic furnishings that reflect a broad perspective of the world in which we live. Perfection does take time.
For more information, visit olana.org.