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December 27, 2022

H. H. Richardson: The Design of the William Watts Sherman House

Ochsner, J. K. (1992). H. H. Richardson: The Design of the William Watts Sherman House. Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, 51(2), 121-145.

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Henry Hobson Richardson's design for the William Watts Sherman house, in Newport, Rhode Island, has long been considered an anomaly among his projects. While its living hall plan has always been credited to Richardson, the exterior has often been thought to have been the work of Richardson's assistant, Stanford White, drawing on the published work of Richard Norman Shaw. Study of surviving sketches, drawings, and other records, along with an examination of the house itself, shows that this explanation of the Sherman house is inadequate. Not only did Richardson control both plan and massing, but he must also be credited with the design of critical front gable, which did not derive from Shaw's work. Analysis of Richardson's sketches also offers clues to Richardson's typical architectural design method and compositional approach, as well as to his specific blending of English, Continental, and especially American colonial vernacular influences in the Sherman design. These influences also provide a basis for understanding why the house became such an important source for the development of multiple themes in American domestic architecture in succeeding decades, especially the Shingle Style.