Alcott’s Little Women: Historic New England

Wouldn’t you just love to see the homes in Louisa May Alcott’s classic Little Women come to life? No? Well, I would!

In this article, we’ll get some historical background, as well as present-day inspiration, to do a 3D model of the Laurence home.

Historic New England

Little Women was published in 1868 and 1869, and the plot was set during the American Civil War (1861?1865). To model the interiors of the various houses mentioned in the book, we need to do research on historic homes in New England in the 19th century. Thankfully, there’s a fabulous site, Historic New England, with galleries of the beautiful period houses (now house museums) found in the region. Here is a selection of period rooms. Their interior styles range from Federal to Gothic Revival.

The Foyer and Hallway

Hallways in historic New England homes. All photos courtesy of historicnewengland.org

Hallways in historic New England homes. All photos courtesy of historicnewengland.org

(1) Hall of the Barrett House (c. 1800) in New Ipswich, New Hampshire
(2)(6) Foyer and upstairs hallway of the Nickels-Sortwell House (1807) in Wiscasset, Maine
(3) Hall of the Roseland Cottage (1846) in Woodstock, Connecticut
(4) Foyer of the Gov. John Langdon House (1784) in Portsmouth, New Hampshire
(5) Foyer of the Hamilton House (c. 1785) in South Berwick, Maine

The Parlor and Drawing Room

Drawing rooms and parlors in historic New England homes. All photos courtesy of historicnewengland.org

Drawing rooms and parlors in historic New England homes. All photos courtesy of historicnewengland.org

(1)(2) Drawing room and Parlor of the Otis House (1796) in Boston, Massachusetts
(3) Parlor of the Merwin House (c. 1825) in Stockbridge, Massachusetts
(4) Parlor of the Rundlet-May House (1807) in Portsmouth, New Hampshire
(5) Drawing room of the Codman Estate (c. 1740) in Lincoln, Mass.
(6) Parlor of the Sayward-Wheeler House (c. 1718) in York Harbor, Maine
(7) Parlor of the Barrett House (c. 1800) in New Ipswich, New Hampshire
(8) South parlor of the Roseland Cottage (1846) in Woodstock, Connecticut

The Dining Room

Dining rooms  in historic New England homes. All photos courtesy of historicnewengland.org

Dining rooms in historic New England homes. All photos courtesy of historicnewengland.org

(1) Codman Estate (c. 1740) in Lincoln, Massachusetts
(2) Roseland Cottage (1846) in Woodstock, Connecticut
(3) Phillips House (1821) in Salem, Massachusetts
(4) Merwin House (c. 1825) in Stockbridge, Massachusetts
(5) Gov. John Langdon House (1784) in Portsmouth, New Hampshire
(6) Otis House (1796) in Boston, Massachusetts

Historical Styles for the Laurence Home

Early 18th century was empire expansion for European countries, and the aristocracy used architecture and design to emphasize their wealth and power. The latter half of the 18th century was impacted by great revolutionary change (the Enlightenment), and a revival of Classical architecture and design. Philosophers and designers looked back to the Classical world for inspiration.

The British Georgian style was current between 1720 to 1840. Georgian design was greatly influenced by the Classical (ancient Rome or Greece) orders of architecture. The American version (vernacular) was known as the Federal style, aka Colonial Georgian.

By the turn of the 19th century violent rebellion (the French Revolution) brought about even greater social change and a new world order. Industrial progress benefited an emerging middle class keen on fashionable homes. Gothic, Rococo, and Neoclassical styles all enjoyed a revival at this time.

Mr. Laurence was a wealthy shipping merchant, apparently involved with trade in India. He also had friends in Europe, and thus was likely influenced by Georgian and other classically-inspired styles popular at that time. Unlike the Moffats, the Laurences did not seem to entertain lavishly. They did, however, allow the March girls to visit their well-appointed house whenever they pleased, mentioning a conservatory for Meg, a piano for Beth probably in the drawing room, and a library for Jo. Amy also liked the art objects there, so we can assume that along with paintings there were sculptures perhaps with classical themes as was common with the Federal style.

In 19th-century America, the French Empire style was in fashion, but with the influx of European craftsmen, Rococo and Gothic revivals came about. I’m imagining that the Laurence home was a Georgian mansion, as shown in the photos in the previous post. The interiors, however, would have had touches of the trends of the times, such as a Rococo-inspired rug and Neoclassical fauteuil (French open-arm chair).

The Georgian Style
Color Schemes: Burgundy, sage green, blue grey but became paler in the later stages (pea green, Wedgwood blue).
Floors, Walls, Moldings, Openings: Marble, parquet, or floorboards with Oriental rugs. Wall paneling up to dado height, trefoil wallpaper. Intricate plaster moldings, classical figures & urns. Doors with fanlights, canopy, pediments. Sash windows & shutters.
Soft Furnishings: Floral prints, pelmets. Swag-and-tail, drapes.
Lighting: Paraffin, glass/metal/wooden chandeliers with curved arms.
Furniture: Chippendale, Hepplewhite. Walnut, mahogany, maple. Claw-and-ball feet, cabriole legs, solid or pierced splats, shield-back, scrolled or winged arms. Inlays, marquetry, gilding, ormulo mounts.
Others: Fireplaces with urns, swags, medallions and classical columns. Trompe l’oeil.

Classically-Inspired Homes in America Today

And now for inspiration from present-day top interior designers. When looking for A-listers the luxe magazine Architectural Digest never fails to deliver. Here are some ravishing, classically- inspired interiors, in the homes of today.

Gorgeous Classically-Inspired Spaces in Europe

The Laurences loved Europe. They had friends visit from there (the Vaughns). Mr. Laurence and Laurie also toured Europe for a lengthy period. To say that classic European interiors are inspiring is an understatement. Wealthy Americans in the 19th century would go to Europe for months on a shopping trip and bring home the best the region had to offer. Here are some classically-inspired, to-die-for rooms.

After oohing and aahing over these fabulous rooms, all we have to do now is put together our own interpretation and model away. 🙂 The results next post!

Related Links

Alcott’s Little Women: The Laurence Home – a look at the fascinating homes in the much-loved novel.

External Links to Photo Sources

House Museums in New England:
Historic New England

American Spaces Today:
Rare & Refined
Dining Rooms by the AD 100
Classical Vocabularies
Chicago Symphony
Continental Thinking
Artful Flair in Palm Beach

European Inspiration:
Reinterpreting Past Eras for the Upper Echelons of Paris Society
Alberto Pinto Interior Design: Paris Apartment
Spencer House
Syon Park
Georgian House

References

Pile, John. (2007). Interior Design, Fourth Edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Lewis, Adam. (2009). The Great Lady Decorators: The Women Who Defined Interior Design, 1870-1955. New York, NY: Rizzoli International.
Miller, Judith (Ed). (2005). Furniture: World Styles from Classical to Contemporary. Strand, London: Dorling Kindersley.
Ossman, Laurie. (2010). Great Houses of the South. New York, NY: Rizzoli International.
Clifton-Mogg, Caroline and Melanie Paine. (1995). The Curtain Book: A Sourcebook for Distinctive Curtains, Drapes, and Shades for Your Home. London: Bulfinch.



We Would Love to Hear from You!

So, what do you think? Do you like this style? Do you have similar ideas or products to recommend? Please share your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below.


2 Comments

  1. Sharon says:

    Nice to have free access to a neighbor with a house like one of those… but did such houses exist next to genteely poor ones like the March’s? Well, maybe the March’s house wasn’t too bad—I don’t quite remember.
    I just started reading “An Old-Fashioned Girl” and boy, is it preachy! LOL. I don’t recall the earlier books I read being that bad but they probably were.

    • In Part 1 I quoted a passage from the book that describes their houses: “Now, the garden separated the Marches’ house from that of Mr. Laurence. Both stood in a suburb of the city, which was still country like, with groves and lawns, large gardens, and quiet streets. A low hedge parted the two estates. On one side was an old, brown house, looking rather bare and shabby, robbed of the vines that in summer covered its walls and the flowers, which then surrounded it. On the other side was a stately stone mansion, plainly betokening every sort of comfort and luxury, from the big coach house and well-kept grounds to the conservatory and the glimpses of lovely things one caught between the rich curtains.”

      So yes, apparently the grand Laurence home stood next to the shabby March’s. If you remember, though, the March family used to be rich before the father lost his fortune helping out a friend, so even if their home was described as “shabby” it was probably not because of its architecture per se but lack of money for maintenance/upkeep.

      Little Women was quite preachy…all those annoying Marmee lectures!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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  2. Alcott’s Little Women: A Role-Playing Game? Part III | Beverly Claire Designs - [...] For the Laurence home in our imaginary RPG I envisioned a Georgian house as explained in Part I, and…
  3. Alcott’s Little Women: A Role-Playing Game? Part IV | Beverly Claire Designs - [...] Little Women: A Role Playing Game? Part I – what this is all about. Alcott’s Little Women: A Role-Playing…

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