Built in 1931 and designed by the architectural firm of McKim, Mead and White, the Robert Hull Fleming Museum is a Colonial Revival style, brick building with white marble architectural features, such as the belt course, watertable, pilasters, and lintels. Built in a t-shape plan, the building has a high Georgian basement with windows set in window wells partially above and below grade. The brickwork of the basement is Flemish bond in contrast to the rest of the building, which is English bond. The building rests on a single granite course at grade and has a concrete foundation.
The continuous plane of the north facade is symmetrically arranged into three sections with a three story, three bay, gable front central section flanked by two story wings. The wings themselves are each visually divided by a single, two story pilaster. The outer sections of each wing are one bay wide with the inner sections of three bay configuration. The architectural masses of the building are all gracefully divided by a marble belt course between the stories and two story pilasters between the sections.
Granite steps lead the visitor to the first floor of the central section that contains a central entryway with double, six panel, wood doors topped by a fanlight and surrounded by a marble architrave with a keystone. On the sides of the entryway are projecting two black, lantern-like electric lights. Symmetrically flanking the entryway are two ten over ten windows with semi-circular arched tops. Directly below the windows and above the watertable is a brick spandrel with a horizontally oriented marble diamond fixed in its center. Like the entryway, these windows have a marble architrave surround with keystone that rests on the watertable. The second floor of this section contains three evenly spaced windows of like description with a small wood railing in front of the center window. The arches of these windows meet the bottom of the wood entablature that runs unbroken under the roofline and is highlighted by carved Adamesque swags. The third story contains a central eight over eight window with a lintel. On each side of the window are four evenly spaced pilasters. The entire elevation is anchored with corner pilasters and its span is crowned with a shallow triangular pediment, which holds a central, elliptical window with traced glass in a sunburst pattern. This section has a copper, standing seam roof.
The wings flanking the central section are mirror images of each other. Each wing is anchored by two story corner pilasters and is crowned with a wood roof-edge balustrade with bulbous turned balusters. The outer sections of each wing have a 14 foot by 3 foot, latitudinal oriented, marble block on the second floor. Each block is inscribed with a quote. On the right it reads, "All are but parts of one stupendous whole whose body nature is and God the soul", and, on the left, it reads, "Let us search more and more into the past. Let all men explore it as the true fountain of knowledge." Below each block is a recessed niche with a scallop-shell top on the first floor. The inner sections each contain three windows on their first and second floors. On each floor, the middle window is identical to the ten over ten semi-circular arched windows in the central section. To the right and left of this window are two six over six windows with lintels. On the second floor, directly above the lintels, are two marble medallions. The roofing material of the wings is an asphalt membrane.
Each floor of the end walls of the wings contains three evenly spaced ten over ten semi-circular arched windows, identical in detail and placement to those on the front. With the exception of three basement windows on the east facade, these sides mirror each other. The eight over eight, double sash basement windows on the right and center are identical to those on the north facade. The bottom of the single sash, eight paned window on the left is at grade.
The massing of the broken plane, back facade, which is the tail of the "T" in the t-shape plan, resembles that of the front facade with a three story center section flanked by two story wings. It includes a non-historic, one story addition, completed in 1985. This addition reoriented the main entrance from the north facade and wraps around the three sides of the two story tail of the "T".
Both outer sections of each wing mirror the inner sections of the front facade wings minus the marble medallions. The inner sections also lack the marble medallions. The six over six windows on the first story closest to the central section have been obscured by the 1985 addition, which abuts the marble architrave window surrounds.
The third story of the center section lacks the decorative architectural features of the front facade. The pediment contains horizontal plank boards and two small circular windows, one of which has had its glass replaced with a vent. A brick chimney vent capped by white marble sits on top of the third story. The second story lacks fenestration. On each of the three sides of the second story is a decorative motif of two vertically oriented marble diamonds placed approximately 25 feet apart in a circle of bricks exposing the long, thin side of the brick.
The one story addition attempts to be sympathetic in materials and form to the historic building. Brick and marble are used in construction, and, visually, the water table of the addition adheres to the same plane as the water table of the historic building. Stylistically, classical forms are referenced with the use of three arched top windows that break through the plane of the roof on each of the three sides. Although sympathetic, this addition is clearly distinguishable. The addition lacks the decorative elements seen in the historic building. The recessed entrance is made of eight panes of modern plate glass that surround two modern metal framed, chrome handled, double doors. There are also two plate glass windows on the sides of the addition.
On the interior, there are eight exhibition areas in the Fleming Museum. Two of these spaces are two-story rooms - the Wilbur Room and the Marble Court, located in the three-story center section and the focal point of the museum. From its courtyard and gallery, access is provided to both floors of the two-story wings that house a total of four exhibition spaces. The remaining two exhibition areas are the two corridors that are part of the recent addition, which lead one from the new entrance to the Marble Court.
The entrance to the museum was reoriented from the front to the rear of the building with an addition designed by Crissman and Solomon Associates, Inc., of Watertown, Massachusetts. The addition created a new front entrance lobby, reception desk and museum shop. As you enter the building, the reception desk is located to the left of the glass-paned entrance and the museum shop is to the right. This area has a marble tile floor that is surrounded by gray carpet. What was formerly the exterior, English bond brick rear wall of the "T" is now the interior wall of this addition.
Access to the exhibition areas can be made in three ways. Opposite the entrance are three, gray carpeted steps leading to a landing and two red metal doors that access the Wilbur Room in the historic building. Each door has chrome handles and two panes of safety glass. Around this entryway is a white marble surround identical to those on the exterior. To the left of the reception desk and right of the museum shop are parallel, ramped corridors, part of the addition, which lead to the Marble Court. Each corridor includes exhibit space. Approximately one half the distance down each modern corridor is a large historic 8/8, double sash window with 4/4 side lights topped with a semi-circular arched window that looks into the Wilbur Room. The semi-circular window is in a sunburst pattern and contains 21 panes.
The Wilbur Room, located in the tail of the "T", is finished on its east and west sides with walnut paneling comprised of a series of four to six panel sections in between pilasters, set on a baseboard and topped with an entablature. The uniformity of the paneling is intermittently broken by plain metal grates, behind which are radiators. The paneling covers one-third the vertical wall surface and is approximately 8 feet in height. Walnut bookcases cover the north and south sides of the room. The doors of the bookcases contain circular and diamond shaped panes of glass, decoratively set in rectangular panes, which are held together with lead cames. They are the same height as the paneling. Walnut is also used for the sash, trim, and surrounds of the two windows set in the west and east walls that separate the Wilbur Room and corridors. The walls above the paneling and bookcases are finished with plaster and painted in two colors. A pale mauve-beige color is used as a background for pale yellow-beige framed panels centered at the top of the walls. On each side of the panels is white, decoratively scrolled, molded plaster. The east, south, and west walls contain the names of individuals who influenced the history of Vermont: Stephen R. Bradley, Ira Allen, and Thomas Chittenden, respectively. The lettering of these names is done in bronze paint with a black border. The room is capped with a groin-vaulted, white plaster ceiling. It has light colored hardwood floors made from 2 inch wide floorboards. The Wilbur Room is sparsely furnished with objects that are not original to the room. Hanging from the ceiling is a brass chandelier. This room originally contained a collection of letters and documents pertaining to the history of Vermont, including the papers of Ethan Allen. The collection was given to the museum by James Wilbur of Manchester, Vermont, and it has since been removed to the Bailey-Howe Library at the University of Vermont. The room is now used as a utilitarian space with the bookcases containing books on art and ethnography, and the display cases containing changing exhibits.
North of the Wilbur Room is a stairwell leading to the basement level and an elevator. This space separates the Wilbur Room and Marble Court, which are on axis with each other. Historically, the museum's main entrance brought visitors into the Marble Court. This room is currently accessed through single-pane, metal frame, chrome-handled, double doors located at the end of the modern corridor.
As the original entrance to the museum, the Marble Court was lavishly constructed on a grand scale. It contains an open court and a second floor gallery balcony. The floor, baseboards, columns, and stairs are constructed of Italian, French, and Vermont marbles. On the north wall are two, six panel, wooden doors topped by a fanlight - the original entrance. Opposite these doors is the grand staircase that rises thirteen steps to a landing that contains a marble statue of St. George set in a niche with a marble surround. From the landing, the stairs ascend on the right and left for another thirteen steps to the gallery balcony. A wood balustrade with bulbous turned balusters runs up the stairs and around the gallery and is painted white. This gallery is supported by a series of marble columns. Two parallel rows of four columns are oriented north-south and one row of six columns is oriented east-west. The columns are spaced approximately 5 feet from each other and the walls of the room. The two parallel rows are set 34 feet apart to create the open court. The white marble columns sit on black marble bases and have plaster capitals painted a bronze color. The courtyard floor is made of white and gray marble set in a checkerboard pattern. The floor in between the columns and wall is designed in a repeating pattern with a gray marble diamond set in a larger white marble square that is bordered by gray marble. The first floor walls are painted white and are made of plaster that has been shaped to imitate stone block construction. The second floor walls are also made of plaster with beige colored panels separated by pilasters. Paintings are hung on the panels, and modern, unpainted, stainless steel, hooded lights project two feet from the wall to illuminate the artwork.
A door in the south wall accesses a set of stairs leading to the third floor, which is inaccessible to the public. This floor originally was home to the art gallery and now serves as collections storage. The floor of the gallery is made of a synthetic, rubber composition and is dark brown. The room contains a white, plaster coved ceiling. Hanging from the ceiling is a bronze lantern-shaped light with six, large, vertically oriented, panes of glass set in a hexagon pattern.
The wings of the museum are accessed through openings in the east and west walls of the gallery and courtyard. All entrances contain double, five panel, painted doors with brass doorknobs that are recessed into the entryway. Above the doors on the first floor is a semi-circular panel, and the entire opening is contained within a molded arch surround with a scrolled keystone. The original floor plans of the side galleries were altered in the modern renovation when permanent walls were removed and temporary walls and dividers were created in order to allow for more flexibility with the use of exhibit space. These temporary walls are made of sheetrock that is nailed onto a wood frame. The renovation also introduced other modern materials, such as carpeting, track lighting, and drop ceilings, into the rooms in the wings.
The ground floor of the west wing originally contained the Fleming Room (tapestries and other art objects), and an ornithology room that contain cases of stuffed birds. It is now the European painting gallery and has been evenly divided into two rooms by a wall that runs north-south. On the each side of the entrance are two storage spaces that project into the room. Set next to the storage spaces on the north and south walls are two metal doors. The door on the south wall is an emergency exit, and the door on the north wall leads to the mechanical systems of the building. The walls are painted gray, and the floor is covered with a gray carpet that is ubiquitous to all floors in the wings. The room has a drop ceiling and track lighting, which is also prevalent in all the rooms in the wings. The wall that divides the ground floor does not meet and lacks a door. Passing through this opening brings one into a room that is partitioned with a squared-off, horseshoe-shaped divider, which is pointed toward the entrance. Paintings are hung on all wall spaces.
The second floor of the west wing originally held the Children's Room and a room with zoological exhibits. The room currently has little spatial definition with wall dividers being constructed or moved.
The ground floor of the east wing originally contained the Cannon Room (Oriental, Middle Eastern, and European art and exotica), the Perkins Room (archaeological collection), and the office of the curator. It is presently used for changing exhibits and has been left an open space. There are currently three, partitions in the room. A single window on the right side of the east wall brings in natural light. The north wall contains a pair of niches on its far end.
The second floor of the east wing was originally divided into four rooms and contained a fish and reptile exhibit, an early Vermont room, an industrial exhibit room, and a workroom. This floor is currently divided into three rooms with only one used for exhibition space. A north-south oriented wall separates the exhibition room from two rooms on the extreme east side of the floor. One of these rooms is used for collections storage and is inaccessible to the public. The other room is used for meetings and seminars. The exhibition room contains polygonal-shaped cases that display African and Egyptian artifacts.
An auditorium, museum offices, and restrooms are on the basement level, which can be accessed by the staircase in between the Wilbur Room and Marble Court. This staircase has marble steps, cast-iron balusters, and a wood railing - all are lacking ornamentation. The auditorium is original to the building, however, it has been significantly altered in the renovation and now consists of a smaller space with modern seats, lighting, and walls.