he earliest, urban brick house in northern New England, the Warner House is considered a fine example of early-Georgian architecture with its arched-center hall and richly-paneled interiors.
In December 1715, Archibald Macpheadris purchased land on Daniel Street, a relatively new and fashionable street that led from the waterfront to the old wooden North Parish meetinghouse. Macpheadris hired John Drew (1675-1738) as the master builder. An Englishman, Drew learned his trade building houses outside London in the early 1700s and arrived in Boston soon after the Fire of 1711. The Warner House Association has retained the 1716-bill that itemized Drew's services for the brick house at the Piscataqua (Portsmouth) including the number of stairs leading up to the cupola. Wall treatments included the hall murals and the marbleized-paneling in the front setting room.
The two-and-a-half-foot wide walls are made of bricks that were made locally, and along the side of the building, there are a few bricks stamped "NH." The stamp was applied to every 1,000th brick while they were drying in a nearby brickyard. Contrary to early historical accounts, the bricks were not brought over from Holland on the ballast of ships; Holland refers to the brickwork pattern, more commonly referred to as the Flemish bond.
Originally, the Warner House had a double-pitch or M-shaped roof that worked for the rainy climate of old England; however, in New England, this design was instantly problematic with the harsh, snowy winters. Ice would build up in the valley of the roof line, and extensive leaking would have occurred. Eventually, the roof was capped with the current gambrel-styled roof, and the original M-shaped roof can still be seen in the attic crawlspace.
Over time, alterations occurred to suit the current owner such as the pediment above the entry way and possibly the stair railings. In the chamber above the best parlor, the walls received a unique treatment called smalt, a crushed cobalt blue glass strewed onto paint while still tacky. In earlier times, the bed chamber would have been considered a public space where guests were invited to dine, conduct business or play cards. (In 2004, the smalt was recreated in Jonathan Warner's bedchamber, the only known room in the world to be completely adorned with such a wall treatment.) In an attempt to recreate the first period of occupancy, the early Warner House Association also made changes to the house.
When completed by John Drew, the Warner House was considered the most impressive house in Portsmouth and influenced the next wave of architecture, but none of the newer homes could quite match the luxury of the Macpheadris interior.