A PHOTO TOUR OF THE PHYSICK ESTATE
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The Physick House was designed by Frank Furness, who designed more than 600 buildings in the greater Philadelphia area in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The Physick House made news because it was different from any other house in Cape May. It was constructed in the avant-garde Stick Style, while most cottages in town were still being built in conservative Italianate, Gothic and Mansard styles.
Such trademark features as the greatly oversized corbelled (upside down) chimneys, jerkinhead dormers and porch brackets appear in many other Furness buildings of the period.
The Physick House’s entrance hall is the best place to observe the differences between the house’s original, Eastlake-style linear design features from 1879, and the more ornate Romanesque Revival wood carvings added by the Physick family during their first redecoration in 1889.
Some eight patterns of lincrusta, a very popular wall and ceiling covering of the 1880s, were added to the Physick House in 1889. Lincrusta, an early version of linoleum, was inexpensive, and it could be pressed into a limitless number of designs, then painted or gilded to match any décor.
1889 additions include an ornate machined oak screen over the staircase, supported on columns decorated with hand-carved grotesque faces. Also visible on the ceiling are panels of lincrusta in a chrysanthemum motif.
(Left) The yellow and white plaster-trimmed walls are typical of the French Revival style popular at the turn of the 20th century. The suite of gilded Louis XVI Revival furniture also reflects the light, feminine, French design that swept aside the heavy, dark Victorian styles.
(Center) The elaborate Majolica bowl and twisted leg plant stand both belonged to the Physick family.
(Right) A large fireplace dominates the south wall of the formal parlor.
(Left) Knitting, crocheting, tatting, embroidery, raising houseplants, ,making wax flowers and seashell art, creating scrapbooks and photograph albums…all were popular activities for women in the late 19th century. By the turn of the century, interior design critics challenged the concept of a formal parlor and a sitting room in the same house, and recommended houses be built with just one living room.
(Right) The 1865 Mason & Hamlin pump organ. Parlor organs were very popular Victorian instruments, as they were less expensive than pianos
Many larger Victorian houses had a specific “music room.” The study, practice and performance of music in the home was thought to elevate one’s intellect and morals. Music was also seen as a kind of social glue that would hold the family together. Victorian women and children were often expected to achieve proficiency in one or more “parlor” instruments, like the piano, organ or harp. The Physick family owned both a grand piano and a player piano, which Dr. Physick was fond of playing.
(Left) Before the middle of the 19th century, most Americans did not have a room set aside just for dining. But as rooms in the Victorian home grew more specialized, the dining room became the most distinctive one of all.
(Center) Frank Furness’ mix of Gothic columns and geometric design is evident in the dining room mantelpiece.
(Right) The social climbing Victorians never missed an opportunity to exhibit their opulence to their neighbors and guests. A dining room sideboard or curio cabinet was the perfect way to show off. The sideboard is shown laden with china and crystal finery. A family’s fine china, silver and crystal were measures of their refinement and familiarity with the complicated etiquette of dining.
SERVANTS' WING & KITCHEN
(Far left) Adjacent to the kitchen is the servants hall, where the servants ate their meals and carried out other domestic activities, like polishing silver or washing the dishes.
(Left) The kitchen was the center of domestic activity. Alice Johnson, the Physicks’ cook, worked long hours here. This is also where food preparation took place before the servants carried it into the dining room to the Physicks and their guests.
(Center) A Victorian cookstove.
(Right) Alice Johnson, the cook who worked many long hours in the Physick House kitchen, had a bedroom just upstairs from the servants hall. She was the only servant who slept overnight at the Physick House. Depending on her tasks to be done, she stayed in shifts of several days or a week at a time. She also owned a home of her own in neighboring West Cape May.
Most of the books on display date to the years 1879-1916, when Dr. Physick lived in the house. The library contains a large, glass-front bookcase, and Dr. Physick’s distinctive, roll-top desk. Separate library rooms became a staple of most larger homes of the Victorian period. Mechanized printing and cheap pulp paper made books readily available. The Victorians’ curiosity made books of all sorts desirable
Rising income levels and increased leisure time allowed Victorians to pursue many new leisure time activities. In the home, parlor games and board games were popular with both children and adults. Outside, athletic games like croquet, tennis and archery found favor. Many wealthy Victorians like the Physick family were able to set aside a room especially dedicated to games and leisure. In addition to the billiard table, this room also displays a Magic Lantern slide projector and many entertaining books.
DR. PHYSICK'S BEDROOM
(Left) Dr. Physick’s bedroom, with its Eastlake style panel bed. Charles Eastlake was an English design critic who reluctantly lent his name to a style of furniture characterized by natural wood finishes and shallow, geometric carvings.
(Center) Dr. Physick's closet reflects the lack of coat hangers, a convenience not yet invented in Victorian times.
(Right) Dr. Physick’s bathroom is adjacent to his bedroom. When the house was built in 1879, it had hot and cold running water in inside bathrooms.
MRS. RALSTON'S BEDROOM
The bedroom was the focus of many health concerns in the Victorian period, with a particular focus on fresh air. As early as 1850, Harper’s Monthly magazine encouraged fresh air in the bedroom by opening windows, avoiding bed curtains and heavy feather beds, and wearing a loose nightcap. At the turn of the century, experts also believed that tuberculosis could be prevented by means of fresh air. Mrs. Ralston’s room is certainly large and airy. As a typical Victorian, she probably slept with a window open, even in the dead of winter. In addition to sleeping, it is likely that Mrs. Ralston enjoyed needlework, reading and entertaining friends in her bedroom.