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Awnings for Today
210 Fifth Avenue, New York
In the mid 19th century, when fabric became cheap enough, window awnings grew to be a common sight. Until then, wood shutters were relied on for protection. Sometimes these shutters had louvers, but more often they were just solid boards. Today we obsess about the most nuanced levels of light and how to achieve it using complex lighting systems and (especially to the delight of all decorators) dimmer switches. However, in the 19th century, awnings were a major innovation for controlling the light and heat of the sun. Imagine at one point in history a room with awnings was considered revolutionary.
Original Breakers mansion in Newport, Rhode Island
Current Breakers mansion in Newport, Rhode Island
By the turn of the 20th century, almost every important building had awnings, or as they were sometimes called in the period, window bonnets. This week I was reminded of their presence by a photograph on a historic photo website called Shorpy.com of our building at 210 Fifth Avenue and by pictures of the Breakers in Newport that I found while researching new additions to the Newport Mansions Collections line of furniture I advise on for E.J. Victor in Highpoint.
The south portico of The White House in 1922
Clearly, this cloth element of the awnings changes the character of the buildings, adding a rich dimension. Early in my career, inspired by Holly Golightly's house in Breakfast at Tiffany's where the real life owners had kept the green and white awnings from the movie, I tried to reintroduce them to a New York brownstone. Apparently, Holly Golightly got an exemption as I found myself at odds with current building codes for both Landmark and the Buildings Department and was denied. At that time, awnings were not encouraged on residential structures though given a pass on commercial buildings. Luckily, recent rules are more favorable and there is greater accommodation for them.
In this green age it seems a pity that they are not used more often. I hope we will start to re-employ them again and one day find them a regular part of our streets.
A still from Breakfast at Tiffany's showcasing awnings on townhouse