Swan House, Atlanta, GA, was the home of the Atlanta businessman and cotton brokerage heir Edward Hamilton Inman (1881-1931) and his wife Emily Caroline McDougal Inman (1881-1965) in the 1930s. Designed by Italian-trained Georgia architect Philip Trammell Shutze (then of Hentz, Reid & Adler) in 1926-28, the house takes its name from the decorative swan motif used throughout and features a mix of primarily Classical Renaissance and English Palladian references.
The ground floor of Swan House is divided into four main quadrants—the Library, Morning Room, Dining Room, and another including Breakfast Room, Butler’s Pantry, and Service Stair—branching off of a central axis comprised of Entrance Vestibule and Hall. Two subordinate lateral wings form the Boxwood Porch and Breakfast Porch/Kitchen. Above these are located the Inman family and guest bedrooms, and, above these, a sewing room and maid’s room. (Also included are a number of bathrooms of the most up-to-date variety, perhaps the most prominent of which is Mrs. Inman’s, a combination bath and dressing room painted by Italian-born artist Athos Menaboni.)
One of the most interesting features of Swan House, and the one that is currently agitating my brain most, is its orientation. Like all great houses built between ca. 1890 and 1930, Swan House is a combination of significant historical architectural elements arranged according to modern social demands and technological constraints (ahem, capabilities). It is no surprise, then, that the Anglo-Palladian portico, the main entrance located in the east façade of the house, is really a porte-cochère. What is surprising is that this main entrance is not the street-facing entrance, in other words, it is not the traditional first-formal-view of the house for visitors.
Upon entering the gates to Swan House (located on Andrews Drive, not the contemporary visitor’s entrance via the Atlanta History Center) visitors are first impressed by a view of the garden façade, with its Georgian symmetry and œil-de-bœuf window, atop a horseshoe staircase à la Androuet du Cerceau (see: Château de Fontainebleau), cascading fountain, and terraced lawn. The drive then sweeps around to the left of the house, taking visitors to the more private east entrance. The orientation of the interior aligns with this exterior arrangement (i.e. the formal staircase faces east).
So, the house faces east: great. The interior design satisfies all the checks of sequential splendor: good. The most impressive vista is the one that visitors see first: fine. But the question remains: Why do these things not all correspond? Why are visitors brought first to the garden, and then to the ‘formal’ front, where, it might be noted, no outsiders could see them arrive?
Several possibilities present themselves to me, the first of which is that this is simply a matter of practicality—that the terraced lawn had to be incorporated into the downward gradient, and thus face the street. Also possible is that it was a matter of preference: perhaps Inman wanted this altogether more grandiose side of Shutze’s design to be the one visible to passersby. Which is correct I hope to find out in the coming months. In the meantime, I am reminded of just why I love these houses and the puzzles they present.
Above: Swan House, Atlanta, GA, Philip Trammell Shutze for Edward H. and Emily Inman, 1926-28. Left: detail of Mrs. Inman's bedroom wallpaper; center: view of the west façade from the garden; right: Entrance Hall staircase. Photos by author.