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Dr. William Thornton (May 20, 1759 – March 28, 1828) was a British-American physician, inventor, painter and architect. As a family friend, he played his favorite role as architect and designed the house we know today. In his plans for Tudor Place, Thornton expressed Palladio’s forms in a distinctly Federal, American style, melding French-influenced romantic classicism with traditional English forms. Thornton’s drawings drew upon Neoclassical ideas of proportion and balance popularized by Andrea Palladio, whose seminal 16th-century publication, Quattro Libri dell’ Architettura (The Four Books on Architecture) strongly influenced 18th- and early 19th-century American design.
The house’s five-part structure, with two-story central block and low hyphens connecting to higher, two-story wings, followed a form immensely popular in the Chesapeake region during the Federal period. The most architecturally significant feature is the domed, marble-floored Temple Portico. Unlike the more common half-round porches attached to exterior walls of many early 19th-century houses, Thornton’s circular structure extends into the house itself, with a curved wall of floor-to-ceiling windows serving as a transition between interior spaces and the garden. It is the only known full temple portico embedded into a U.S. residence standing today. The exterior of the brick house Thornton clad in stucco scored to resemble blocks of finished stone, a common Federal Period technique. This was coated with a golden limewash, against which scored lines in the stucco were picked out with white lime to resemble stonework joints. Work began with renovation of the existing wings and construction of the hyphens, proceeding last to the center block, and finished in 1816.