Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Regency Rescue

I'm going through all my books today, reading about Regency cottages and looking at some photos of wonderful examples of this rather elusive style. I call it elusive as Regency is a style of 'Ontario cottage' which by its very nature has disappeared over the years - unlike stalwart Georgians or simple Gothic inspired Ontario farmhouses, which are so evident across our province. Now what do I mean by elusive...I did a lot of research on the subject for an Ontario architecture course last winter and came to believe that the Regency cottage was just not practical, and lost its identity through modifications over time.
The aesthetic and the inspiration for the Regency Cottage was transplanted from sunniest parts of the Empire around the end of the Napoleonic wars: pensioned officers retired to adventure in 'the colonies' with their land grants and their sophisticated tastes. The style was inspired by the exotic tastes of the Prince Regent in England from 1811,who enjoyed a famously indulgent lifestyle while his dad George III was going spectacularly mad. The Prince Regent (who became George IV) was the fellow who redid Brighton Pavilion as his summer place - emblematic of the exhuberance and taste of the age.
The Regency cottage was romantic - it was situated on a height of land overlooking water or a picturesque landscape. The cottage was designed to allow for a flow between the indoors and the beautifully landscaped gardens. Imposing doorways of earlier styles were replaced by simpler doors and a series of French windows which opened onto verandahs with charming awning roofs and treillage. Chimneys were tall and exotic.
The typical Regency cottage profile is low to the ground, so practical features such as bedrooms were under the eaves, and kitchens and servant quarters were at basement level. The Regency cottage was simple but interior detailing was elegantly based on classical motifs.
Unfortunately, the Regency cottage was a bit of a slave to fashion, and as time went on folks tired of cramped but elegant spaces, and added wings, extra storeys and dormers which changed the look. The delicate verandahs eventually deteriorated and were unsympathetically replaced if at all. It sometimes takes a good eye to spot the Regency profile, and an informed and dedicated owner to do justice to a Regency cottage. Fortunately we have a goodly number of them in Ontario.
My prof Shannon Kyles is one of those folks. Last spring in Ancaster, she and a team of students dismantled a delightful 1840's Regency cottage slated for demolition. All of the wonderful bits that could be salvaged were carefully stored and are waiting reassembly on a new foundation on a rural property near Lake Consecon in Prince Edward County. If that house has any feelings at all they would be of eternal gratitude, like an abandoned beagle puppy adopted from the pound (though perhaps the canine metaphor would complete better with an adopted Borzoi or greyhound).
1. the archival photo of The Grove, Shannon's project is from The Governor's Road by Byers and McBurney
2. dashed Regency hopes, Hastings County


  1. I'm going to have to take a drive to Consecon with you in the spring to see the restoration project. Very interesting background on the Regency houses!

  2. I have a regency style home in Levis Qu├ębec.? Any books you know about ???

  3. Architecture of the Picturesque in Canada, by Janet Wright, a Government publication, is good. You can get it used, through Abebooks for under $20. Have you seen the website Ontario Architecture? The content is relevant no matter which province you find yourself in. I expect your house is very early, with traditional Quebecois features?

  4. I used to work in Heritage Preservation and have sat on local heritage committees. I have long been obsessed with Regency Cottages. I live an hour north west of Toronto. My dream is to one day have my own Regency Cottage. Love your blog. Thank you for mentioning Architecture of the Picturesque in Canada, I will try to get my hands on that book.