Should you ever find yourself in historic Salem, Mass., skip
the wacko occult shops — okay, stock up on black candles
or whatever — and head over to the Peabody Essex Museum
for a walk-through tour of beautiful Yin Yu Tang, an estate
built circa 1800 to 1825 in Southeastern China.
Yin Yu Tang's formal entrance penetrates a stone and brick
masonry curtain wall.
This two-story merchant's house is essentially a post-and-beam
structure with stone and brick masonry curtain walls. Its
substantial ceramic tile roof is entirely supported by the wood
framing. Surprising details include original "prefabricated"
construction methods that use some truly mind-boggling
mortise-and-tenon joinery to connect the structure's many
timbers. Laminated beams, their layers held together by
concealed joinery and wood pegs, are also used in the house,
along with large, intricate latticework window panels carved
from solid slabs. At the center of the building is a stone
courtyard with two rectangular fish pools; the second-floor
bedrooms overlook the courtyard from a common wraparound
All rooms face the inner courtyard, the home's social
center and the only source of natural lighting. Originally,
underground springs fed the courtyard's two fish
Ornamental shutters carved from solid planks provide a
decorative privacy wall along the open second-story
The house was dismantled in China and re-erected at the
museum several years ago by a team of Chinese craftsmen skilled
in traditional Huizhou carpentry and American preservation
architects and carpenters. The project was part of a cultural
and technological exchange that continues today with the
preservation of several other distinctive traditional buildings
If travel isn't in the cards, there's a good virtual tour of
the house, including elements of its construction, on the
museum's Web site, www.pem.org.