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Archive for June, 2010

Our customers Lisa and Terry’s wedding date was set. Now the question was, “Where to live?” Coincidentally, Terry’s mother was ready to sell the home where he lived for much of his childhood. A deal was made and the house was kept in the family.

The neighborhood is an ideal place to bring up a family. Four by two blocks, the area known as Merchant Plat, has the added benefit of being situated next to a lake.  For Terry, Merchant Plat represents a “classic American Neighborhood — beautiful older homes with sidewalks, plenty of mature trees, close to downtown…  It is one of the neighborhoods people love to walk and ride their bikes.”

The house was roomy and solid but was frozen in the 1960s, with few updates done since the previous owner sold to Terry’s parents. While Terry lived in the house for much of his youth, he knew little about the house architecturally and had not paid attention to the details, some obscured by siding or shag carpeting. For example, the broad front porch had been enclosed. As the project quickly grew, so did Terry’s knowledge of both architecture and building methods.  “Once my friend Patrick Smith, an Architect, told me it was an American Foursquare, I was hooked — going to the library, buying books, investigating online,” Terry told us.

The American Foursquare, a popular early 20th century floor plan, is known for its efficient layout — basically not a corner of wasted space! Terry’s home was built in 1918 when the Foursquare plan was at the height of its popularity.  1918 saw the end of of World War I and prohibition was around the corner.  It was a conservative time when being American meant owning a single family home.  As a solution to the squalor bred in immigrant tenement housing, single family dwellings were designed to bring order and rationalism to home life and therefore solidify moral character.

With the help of family, friends,  and an architect, Terry took on the project himself, serving as the  general contractor. The house was renovated in many stages, first a few interior stages, then exterior was tackled.

Sears, Roebuck Co. Foursquare

Similar Foursquare plan, circa 1916, Sears, Roebuck Co.

Like the typical Foursquare, the first floor interior is composed four main spaces; an entry hall with open staircase, a kitchen, a living room and a dining room. It is very open in feel — the only doors to close are to the kitchen. A first  floor addition in the back provides for a family room, study, laundry room and full bath.The second floor, originally had three bedrooms and one bath (one was added later). The third floor attic space has been converted to a bedroom.

First plan of attack was to remove wall paper and acoustical ceilings tiles which masked cracked plaster, and remove shag carpeting which revealed well preserved original hardwood floors.  All of the patching, sanding and painting was taken care of prior to the wedding and move-in.  The paint colors were all picked from Sherwin Williams Arts & Craft Palette, in keeping with the era of the house. Also the existing first floor addition, was given structurally integrity and brought into stylistic alignment with the house with carpentry details and locally made custom lead glass windows.

Next, Terry and his wife Lisa tackled the kitchen and dining room and bathrooms. They expanded the kitchen by stealing space from an under utilized nook in the dining room to add room for an island.  The kitchen is now “eat-in”, convenient for meals with the couples two young children.

The dining room features an unusual coffered ceiling design which appears more Prairie School or perhaps Macintosh influenced.  The couple’s interior decorating gravitates toward Art & Crafts with some Prairie Style and Mission touches. They selected Brass Light Gallery’s Prairie School inspired River Forest Chandelier and Studio Lanterns to light the dining room.  Note how the overlay pattern of the River Forest Chandelier matches the custom doors that lead to the addition. Period appropriate hardware, plumbing fixtures and hexagonal floor tiles were also chosen for the bathrooms.

Before & after image of the renovation

Dining room before & after

To provide extra space for the large family that inhabited the house prior to Terry’s parents’ purchase, the porch had been entirely enclosed. During the demolition to open it back up, a note, written on top of a Gilbey’s Gin ad from a 1966 Times Magazine, was found.  It said, ” Now hear this! George Stalle remodeled this house. He started in 1959…  This part of the ‘project’ consisted of transforming the front porch… That’s all!  And lots more! We also buried a $1,000.00 bill just for fun.  Hope you find it!” Terry recalled that “there was another map, one of the kids had drawn, to show where additional ‘treasures’ were buried. The ‘X’ on the map was under the neighbors driveway.” By reverting the porch back to its original intent (opening it back up, adding new balustrades and square tapered columns in the Arts & Crafts style) Terry created the most dramatic and significant visual impact of the project.

The last big project was removal of the aluminum siding.  Fortunately, the aluminum preserved the original wood siding which was in remarkably good  shape.  The period cedar shake found on the 2nd floor was a pleasant surprise. With little repair and lots of  sanding and painting, the exterior was returned to its original likeness.

The five year restoration process  revealed the homes original layout and Arts & Crafts disposition.Terry exposed the house’s beauty and design integrity and in the process transformed the solid structure into a warm, airy, open environment; a home, to enjoy while raising his own children with his wife Lisa.

Sources:
Antique Home. “Colonial Revival: The American Foursquare.” Web. 18 June, 2010.
Antique Home Style. “Foursquare Style — 1895 to 1930.” Web. 18 June, 2010.
Antique Home Style. “Modern Home No. 264B148, 1916 Sears Roebuck Modern Homes.” Web. 18 June, 2010.
Jennings, Jan and Herbert Gottfried. American Vernacular Interior Architecture 1870-1940. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1988.
Sears, Roebuck and Co. Small Houses of the Twenties The Sears, Roebuck 1926 House Catalog: An Unabridged Reprint. New York: Dover Publications and The Athenauem of Philadelphia, 1991.

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Milhender Electric Light Fixtures, Circa 1915

Milhender Electric Supply Catalogue, Circa 1915

In 1910 electricity was fairly new and not wide spread. Some of the fixtures sold at the time were mere adaptations of gas-light styles, absent elaborate Victorian decoration. For example, solid stems on ceiling fixtures to encase pipes running gas were incorporated in early electric lighting designs.  By the 1920s most urban and suburban homes were lit with electricity, and ceiling fixtures and sconces could now be suspended with chain, with the electrical wires woven through the chain.

Most fixtures were made of brass and held glass shades, globes or bowls. The style would — usually but not always — vary to match the style of the interior decor. Styles could range from Colonial to Mission or Arts & Crafts. Generally, the fixtures were fairly clean, matching the simple and straight forward architecture.

The light fixtures were either purchased from a lighting supplier or via mail-order catalog.  If the house was from a mail-order company like Sears & Roebuck and Co., Aladdin or Montgomery Ward, the owners would often buy the fixtures out of the same catalog.

Dining Room Light Fixtures were often “shower” fixtures with 3-6 glass shades or lanterns suspended on long chains from the ceiling. “Branched” fixtures or chandeliers, with glass shades or electric candles were also an option.

Vintage Lighting from Sears

Mission Style Shower Fixtures

Alternatively, a single large dome shade with 2-4 sockets was suspended over the table with a single chain or stem.

Galena Light Fixture

Galena Ceiling Fixture

Kitchens were most often lit with a single surface mount ceiling fixture with an enclosed glass white opal globe (round or schoolhouse). Sometimes, a pendant was suspended over the kitchen sink.  Bedroom Lights were often embossed brass surface mount pan lights with 2-4 lights.  Bathroom Lighting was often nickel-plated. Single light sconces, with plain white gloss or white frosted shades mounted on either side of the mirror were popular.  Sometimes a single surface mounted ceiling light with a glass shade or globe was mounted in the center of the bathroom to augment sconces or as the sole light fixture.

Wall Sconce Light Fixture

Evanston Wall Sconce

Porches were lit with a surface mounted light with a round glass globe or a lantern suspended from the ceiling or mounted adjacent to the front door.  Porch Lighting was either cast iron or brass.

Given the variety of styles available in the era, homeowners who are interested in architecturally appropriate lighting for their Foursquare style house have a broad range from which to choose.  Colonial, Mission, Arts & Crafts and Prairie Style light fixtures will all be equally at home in an American Foursquare.

Sources:
Jennings, Jan and Herbert Gottfried. American Vernacular Interior Architecture 1870-1940. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1988.
Maril, Nadja. American Lighting: 1840-1940. Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., 1989.
Schweitzer, Robert and Michael W.R. Davis. America ‘s Favorite Homes: Mail-Order Catalogues as a Guide to Popular Early 20th-Century Houses. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1990.
Sears, Roebuck and Co. Small Houses of the Twenties The Sears, Roebuck 1926 House Catalog: An Unabridged Reprint. New York: Dover Publications and The Athenauem of Philadelphia, 1991.
Thomas, Jo Ann. Early Twentieth Century Lighting Fixtures: Selections from an early 1900 R. Williamson & Company Lamp Catalog. Kentucky: Collector Books, 1980.

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An American Foursquare is a popular early 20th century house plan with a square or rectangular footprint, usually with 2-1/2 stories, four main rooms on the first floor, a full-width front porch and a hipped roof. American Foursquare Houses can be found nationwide & are also sometimes referred to as Prairie Boxes or Square Plans. Many were built during the post WWI housing shortage.

Sears, Roebuck Modern Home

Foursquare Plan, circa 1916 from Sears, Roebuck Co.

This practical dream house was straight forward & honest, reflecting both the values of the Arts & Crafts Movement and society’s conservative principals of the time. As a solution to the squalor of immigrant tenement housing which was thought to breed immorality, single family dwellings were designed to bring order and rationalism to home life and therefore solidify moral character.

Foursquare plans were easily adapted & customized to fit the owners style and budget. They were referred to as “Modern” because they included indoor plumbing and electricity, luxuries of modern times.  The style of  exterior and interior design elements varied greatly from Colonial to Mission or Arts & Crafts. The exterior might project a colonial style while the interior might contain Prairie details or vice versa.

Typically, the first floor plan was composed of a reception hall, living room, dining room and kitchen. The second floor plan contained either three or four bedrooms and one bathroom. Exteriors of Foursquare houses were often clad in indigenous materials and varied to include, wood, brick, stucco, stone and even cement block.

Because the plan was straight forward and easy to build, Sears, Roebuck & Co., and other companies like Aladdin and Montgomery Ward, adopted the floor plan and popularized it by selling  pre-cut or “ready-bilt” Foursquare homes through their mail order catalogs. The Chelsea, which sold from 1908-1914 for $935 – $2740, was one of many American Foursquares sold by Sears, Roebuck Co. Mail order home catalogs also included plumbing fixtures, hardware and light fixtures as part of kits to accessorize & customize your home.

Sources:
Antique Home. “Colonial Revival: The American Foursquare.” Web. 18 June, 2010.
Antique Home Style. “Foursquare Style — 1895 to 1930.” Web. 18 June, 2010.
“Modern Home No. 264B148, 1916 Sears Roebuck Modern Homes.”
Burness, Tad. The Vintage House Book: Classic American Homes 1880-1980. Lola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 2003.
Jennings, Jan and Herbert Gottfried. American Vernacular Interior Architecture 1870-1940. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1988.
Sears, Roebuck and Co. Small Houses of the Twenties The Sears, Roebuck 1926 House Catalog: An Unabridged Reprint. New York: Dover Publications and The Athenauem of Philadelphia, 1991.
Stevenson, Katherine and Ward Jandl. Houses by Mail. New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 1980.
Co.

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