My latest architectural obsession is the cupola. Strictly defined, a cupola is a domelike structure surmounting a roof or dome, often used as a lookout or to admit light and air. You may see them on the rooftops of barns or churches, and you can certainly find elaborate versions of cupolas incorporated in the architecture of many public buildings in the United States and throughout Europe; the dome of Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, is probably the best known cupola in America.

But my interest is in the residential cupola. It was Martha’s barn at Turkey Hill that first piqued my interest in this architectural feature. When I first saw pictures of it I would imagine how amazing the gardens would look from the windows of her cupola, and I had read that you could see all the way to the ocean from that perch. In 2002 I wrote to the editors of Martha Stewart Living urging them to do a feature on that barn, including the cupola. My advice was never taken, sadly, so I never did get to see inside that little dome – and I likely never will, now that Turkey Hill has been sold.

The cupola on top of Martha's guest-house 'barn' (left) must have had an incredible view.

In house plan books, which I tend to collect, I scour the pages for plans that have cupolas. Most of them, unsurprisingly, are mansions, but some of them are elegant country homes or small Newport classics. Homes that have cupolas have a sort of neo-European flavour to them or a maritime, northeastern charm. There is a large brick home just outside of Toronto that I pass every time I visit friends there. It has an enormous square cupola, fronted on all four sides with beautiful panes of leaded glass, framed in dark wood. All around the house there are rolling fields. If it was my cupola, I’d make it my secret reading tower and furnish it with only the basics: a big, comfortable chair, a small table for my tea and a sturdy reading lamp. Don’t bug me until I turn the last page.

The Cupola House in Edenton, North Carolina.


Joseph Patz said...

Hello Andrew,
I agree with you on cupolas.I have also always found them kind of eiree but beautiful.As far as Martha's Turkey Hill cupolas I don't believe it is actually connected to a room.In the first season of Martha Stewart living when it became a daily show,the closing credits showed various areas of lily pond and turkey hill.The closing shot was one taken over the barn and you can clearly see the roof inside the cupolas.So I think it was just ornamental.But maybe not.You think after using so much of the property for shoots it would have found its way somewhere in a photograph or segment...

Andrew said...

Hi Joseph,

Thank you for the very astute observation about Turkey Hill! I haven't seen any of the really early episodes. It would be a shame if the cupola was not connected to the interior - a wasted view!


Anonymous said...

OMG, I can't believe you share my obsession for cupolas! As you mentioned, New England/Northeast has many fine examples of these, as there are so many older homes. My fave style for a cupola is on an Italianate-style home, dating it around mid-19th century. They usually had flat or hip roofs, and frequently were constructed of brick or your basic clapboard siding.

Carolyn said...

I love cupolas too. I idea of sitting up in one and reading sounds like bliss!

Andrew said...


The style of cupola you describe is exactly like the one I see on the way to Toronto - square with a flat-top. Glad to know others share my passion for these unusual but beautiful details!


Sarah said...

seaside, florida is overflowing with cupolas! definitely the northeastern/maritime charm that you mentioned.