American gothic

David Scott Parker’s initial connection to Gothic Revival design arose by chance, but looking back, it seems predestined. "About a dozen years ago, I was doing a project for a museum that included an intact room by [19th-century American Romantic architect] A. J. Davis," says Parker, an architect and antiques dealer. "In the course of the project, people kept referring me to this man in New York, Lee Anderson, who was supposed to have this amazing collection of Gothic furniture. I called him and we set up a meeting, during which we discovered we are related…he is a distant great uncle of mine."

It turns out that Parker and Anderson both grew up in New Harmony, Indiana, the site of an early 19th-century utopian community "Lee has been a great influence on me. He is considered by many to have the finest private collection of Gothic Revival furniture in the United States and his passion for the style is contagious."

As he learned more about Gothic Revival style, Parker began to seek out dealers and sources for what would become an important collection of his own. In 1995, he bought a vintage Carpenter Gothic house near Fairfield, Connecticut, to accommodate not only his collection, but also his two growing businesses–David Scott Parker Architects and Associated Artists, a company that deals in museum-quality pieces made from 1850-1920. The circa 1880 main house has three rooms up and three down, and it is connected by a covered breezeway to a detached modern office that houses the architecture practice.

Originating in France during medieval times, Gothic style’s chief elements–peaked windows, elaborate tracery, and trefoil or quatrefoil motifs–were adopted as popular features of American architecture in early Colonial times. The enduring style can still be found thought the country in examples as diverse as 17th-century churches in Virginia and garden follies such as one Thomas Jefferson designed but never built. Probably the first use of Gothic design for a private home in America was Benjamin Latrobe’s 1799 Sedgeley, outside Philadelphia.

In America, the term Gothic Revival was introduced in the mid 1800s to describe application of the Gothic style from the 1700s through the early 1900s. Originally interest in Gothic was stirred up by the books of 18th-century English writers and aesthetes such as Horace Walpole, A. W. N. Pugin, and Batty Langley Its appearance in American homes can be attributed to America’s godfathers of Gothic: A.J. Downing and A.J. Davis. These two–partners at times–popularized Gothic in several books featuring "picturesque" landscapes inhabited by romanticized cottages, many of them designed by Davis. "Davis is interesting because he was an architect who was also a furniture designer," says Parker. "In the same way, my firm is interested in being involved in all aspects of design."

As a native of New Harmony, Parker likes to note the connection between his hometown and Gothic Revival. "Robert Dale Owen was the son of the founder of New Harmony, and also a congressman who helped create the Smithsonian Institution. For the plans, he turned to his brother, David Dale Owen, a geologist and draftsman. He returned a design for the building in the Gothic Revival taste, considered by the Owens to be the only style suitable for America’s institutions because it was the only truly Christian architecture." Ultimately, the project was turned over to James Renwick, who used the drawings as a basis for his final project

Parker is an inveterate collector who bought his first antique at the age of 12. He has amassed a variety of collections but admits to an affinity for Gothic Revival pieces. "I didn’t set out to have a house full of Gothic furniture," says Parker. "It was acquired through interest rather than decorating needs. It is among the most architectural of styles, and that appeals to my eye."

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