“The doorbell rang,” J. Carter Brown remembered about the 1940s.. “The maid went to the front door, unlocking it with a majestically scaled key. It was Pa!” Carter’s Pa, John Nicholas Brown II, stood nearly 6 foot 7 inches. He probably felt right at home in the scale of this space, but for the rest of us, entering the front hallway immediately establishes the grand scale of the Nightingale-Brown House. If you stand with your arms out in the center of the hall, you won’t touch the sides. Why such a big hall? Indeed, why have a hall at all? Where did this type of space originate?
In medieval England, the hall was the entire house, the only room, and where the household ate, drank, and slept. The hall as multipurpose space lived on in English Georgian country houses of the 18th century, which used their grand halls for balls and dinner parties with hundreds of guests. In American middle class homes, the hall shrank, and became a place to pass through on your way to other rooms.
This house was built during the transition from halls to a hallways. It retains some of the character of the hall as party space and some as pass through space. The original Nightingales and the Browns lived on a grand scale. Little did the 18th century builders know that, a century later, a real life giant would be coming home to their hall.
Lena Bohman, Brown University, American Studies, BA 2018