Red Chair Reads: Illustrated Homes

As part of my small effort to pay more attention to other people’s dreams, I started volunteering at a tiny non-profit bookstore located inside an independent coffee shop.  The store’s inventory is even more hit-or-miss than usual because all the books are donated, but once in awhile something interesting shows up:


Be still, my architectural historian heart!

Eugene Clarence Gardner (1836 – 1915) was a 19th-century Massachusettes architect, and seemed to have had a successful career despite his questionable actions as the “only superintendent or engineer” present at the building of the Mill River Dam, which failed in 1874, killing 139 people.

This particular book is called Illustrated Homes:  A Series of Papers Describing Real Houses and Real People, and was published in 1875.  According to various contemporary reviews, the book would have cost somewhere around $1.50 to $2.00 at the time, which of course was not the price I paid for it couple of days ago.  It is a fun read, and is illustrated with floor plans and architectural renderings of presumably real houses.

My favorite plan is the tiny house Gardner designed for a gentlewoman of reduced circumstances: it is about 400 square feet, with no bathroom (other plans in the book typically included one bathroom) and no actual kitchen.  It is in fact a one-room cottage with a sleeping alcove, four closets (the lady had insisted on the four closets for storing her clothes and china), and a lean-to tacked on to house a sink.  The cost of the house?  $500.  What I find interesting is that no matter how big or small the houses, Gardner’s houses all look the same; he seemed to have really liked the Eastlake style.

And the quote of the day:

Architecture is often suggested as a suitable profession for women.  I doubt if they would succeed alone as well as men.  But a most efficient architectural partnership might be established by a man and his wife.  Her artistic taste and perceptions of the finer points would bring forth plans and designs which his matter-of-fact judgment would reduce to the requirements of actual practice and the comprehension of the builders.  

A sign of the times, indeed.

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