Exploring Olana – Rare Historic Preservation Inside and Out


High above the Hudson, the towering Olana overlooks panoramic views of the river valley. The house was designed and built by Frederick Church, a famous and wealthy Hudson River School artist, with advice from architect Calvert Vaux, who was well known for designing structures in Central Park, New York. Newly returned from a middle east tour, Church was inspired by Persian architecture, especially the ornate decoration of both interior and exterior surfaces. Lead architect and historic preservation specialist Ward Bucher recently visited the property for inspiration and insight.

What’s unusual about Olana is that, in addition to the well-kept landscape and building, it has 95% of the original furnishings. An excellent docent guide explained to Ward Bucher and his family how each room was used by the Churches. She noted that although the dense furnishings look exotic to modern eyes, they were typical of the late 19th century. A favorite was the painting studio addition with his easel, piano, oriental rug, and surprising collections, including Persian metal work and Mexican straw hats. The studio has a huge clear glass windowpane with a stained-glass border looking out to a wonderful curved balcony. The house also has dozens of paintings by famous artists of the period such as Church’s mentor Thomas Cole. One room is dominated by Church’s large painting of Petra over an Arabic style reddish stone fireplace he designed. Bucher was particularly impressed by the bright and varied structural polychromy of the exterior where the decoration was created by colored bricks, ceramic tiles, stones, and slates in addition to painted wood and iron. Although each element of the house is symmetrical, the parts are assembled to create a lively, asymmetrical fantasy best viewed from one of the rustic carriage roads below. To schedule your own tour search www.olana.org.

View of Olana from the carriage road
View of Olana from the carriage road
Living Room and Stair Hall at Olana
Living Room and Stair Hall
Studio window looking out to curved balcony at Olana
Studio window looking out to curved balcony
Petra painting above Arabic fireplace at Olana
Petra painting above Arabic fireplace
Olana's Structural polychromy
Structural polychromy