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Jan. 25, 2020 | Saturday
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Arch-i-text: The Regency challenge
A creative Regency solution. (Brian Marshall/Niagara Now)

The Regency school of architects faced a number of challenges when designing strictly within the precepts of their style.

Certainly up until the mid-19th century, these were not “decorated” houses. In fact, the clean lines and elegant simplicity of the form combined with the requirement of direct ties to the landscape required a purity of design that was not seen again until the advent of the modernist movement in the 1920s.

And “purity of design” when developing a statement house is much more easily said than done.

So what is the designer to do when most of the traditional decorative elements are no longer in the kit bag? The answer, in part, is to use the classic rules of good architecture to the fullest extent possible.

Here we are talking about things like order, balance, proportion, scale and rhythm; principles that when used expertly can create grandeur in the absence of complexity.

Let’s consider the example of the circa 1835 Lyons-Jones house. Like many early Regency homes, the footprint is roughly square and the building form is a single cubic mass. From a square footage point-of-view, the home is relatively modest — too small, in fact, to present the normal three bay facade, hence the designer was forced to place the front entry in the right bay.

To balance this, it would be expected that a second bay containing window openings would be placed to the left, but there was the practical issue of a fireplace precisely where these windows should be.

The solution was to create a bay of “blind” windows. That is, what appear to be stacked window openings are, in truth, simply recesses with permanently closed shutters, trimmed exactly as though the windows actually existed.

This artifice preserves the symmetry and balance of the facade while respecting the practical requirement of interior livability.

Working within the tight strictures of the Regency style might, at first glance, be perceived to be limiting. However, for the truly gifted architect it was the motivation that spawned creativity. In 50 years, Regency designers produced more creative interpretative expressions than virtually any other architectural school.

Manor, villa, cottage, octagon, all conformed to the rules but, oh my, how the variety contributed to the tapestry of our built heritage!