Sam and Livy Clemens were
married in 1870 and moved to Hartford in 1871 to be near his publisher,
the American Publishing Company. The family first rented a house on Forest
Street in the Nook Farm section of the city from Livy's friends, John and
Isabella Beecher Hooker, and later purchased land on Farmington Avenue,
where their neighbors were some of Hartford's most prominent citizens. In
1873, they engaged New York City architect Edward Tuckerman Potter to
design their house.
Mark Twain and his family
enjoyed what the author would later call the happiest and most productive
years of his life in their Hartford home. Twain wrote:
"To us, our house . . .
had a heart, and a soul, and eyes to see us with; and approvals and
solicitudes and deep sympathies; it was of us, and we were in its
confidence and lived in its grace and in the peace of it
Long celebrated for its
apparent whimsy and stylistic idiosyncrasy, the Twain House is more
accurately noted as an inspired and sophisticated expression of modernity.
In this design, the architect Edward Tuckerman Potter expanded on his
earlier Nook Farm house for George and Lilly Warner (built 1870, destroyed
c.1960). For Twain however, Potter employed a vibrant palette of painted
brick reminiscent of William Butterfield's work in England of the 1860s
and traditional chalet designs of the Alsatian region of France.
The Twain house is defined mostly by the variety and unpredictability of
its elements. No two elevations are alike; generally symmetrical gables
are, upon closer inspection, subtly different in their decorative
treatments: various chimneys and towers rise spontaneously in contrast to
the calming, broad sweep of the deep porches and porte cochere. The
painted brick diaper pattern seems to strain as it contains the shifting
surfaces of the walls and the vigorously projecting bays.
This commitment to experimentation is also revealed in the exotic and
provocative interiors designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany and his partners
in Associated Artists. Cultures and styles from around the globe are
celebrated and reinterpreted in the dense network of pattern, texture, and
color throughout the first floor of the house. Northern Africa, the Far
East and India are woven together in a bravura performance of a knowing
and elegant eclecticism that helped set a new standard for the Gilded Age.
New technologies were also employed that included a gravity flow heat
system, split flues to allow for windows over two fireplaces, and seven
bathrooms with flush toilets. In addition, Twain was both proud of, and
flummoxed by, his telephone, one of the very first installed in a private
home. When combined with his profoundly new way of writing as he advanced
his increasingly progressive social and political views, the house is more
clearly appreciated as a landmark of modern American thought in the
When the Clemens family moved
into their unique home in the Nook Farm area of Hartford, Connecticut
during September of 1874, the building was not fully finished. The walls
and ceilings were plaster on wood lathe, and the plaster had to cure for a
year or more before it could be decorated. Thus, the plaster walls and
ceilings remained bare, neither painted nor papered. Additionally, the
cost of the house apparently exceeded Sam and Livy's budget, and by the
time the initial curing process had passed, the family was unable to
afford wallpaper and other decorations.
Louis C. Tiffany & Co.,
Associated Artists would be the decorators of choice. On October 24,
Tiffany and Sam signed a letter of agreement "to decorate certain
rooms in your dwelling in Hartford, Conn." This provides the clearest
statement of the original scope of Associated Artists plans for the