There is something sort of magical about cupolas: little hideaways at the uppermost summit of a building with tremendous 360-degree views. Strictly defined, a cupola is a dome-like structure that surmounts an existing roof or dome, often used as a lookout or to admit light and air to the room below it. You may see them on the rooftops of barns or churches, and you can certainly find elaborate versions of cupolas in the architecture of many public buildings in the United States and throughout Europe; the dome of Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, for instnace, has a cupola at its peak.
My fascination, however, is with the cupolas one finds in many examples of late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century residential architecture. It was actually the cupola atop Martha Stewart’s kitchen studio at her home in Connecticut that first piqued my interest in this unusual architectural feature. With windows on all sides and a magestic weathervane atop its summit, it brought visual interest to an otherwise rectilinear structure.
Many older maritime homes have cupolas. They served a practical purpose for sea captains by allowing the residents to survey the ocean and its sailing conditions from home. Farm owners, too, could use a cupola to survey their land from a high vantage point and from all angles.
If my home had a cupola I would probably go there simply to daydream, or to curl up with a good book and a cup of tea, occasionally glancing out at the views beyond. Below are five lovely examples of cupolas.
1. The Cupola House in Edenton, North Carolina
2. The kitchen studio at Martha Stewart’s former residence in Westport, Connecticut
3. A house with a cupola in Michigan
4. A house with a cupola in upstate New York
5. The cupola at Mt. Vernon mansion.