ELEGANT SMALL HOMES
One hundred years ago most newspapers had a home building department that presented house plans and refined personal taste, that provided details of design and home improvement, that recognized the central place of homebuilding in the United States: homebuilding, our single greatest wealth creator, the center of our civilization, foundation of all that we might accomplish. In 1926 The Chicago Tribune held a competition for design of five-room and six-room houses, houses that could be built for some $7,000, houses within reach of those who had acquired competence and consistency.
As you might guess, eager architects entered the competition, most from cities experiencing growth by the virtues of organization and manufacturing, Buffalo, Indianapolis, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and my native Detroit (with eight entries)*, and ten other cities, for a total of ninety-nine published designs, each design worthy of winning the cash prizes. Curious, my poll of four unbiased critics did not chose any of the prize-winning entries.
As you might expect, the Tribune offered working plans, blueprints, and specifications for the top three plans ($1.15 per plan). Then, as now, the purchased house plan was presented to a builder, estimated, submitted to the local building department for approval, built, and occasionally, the happy architect would be satisfied with a photograph of the completed house – as on occasion I have been. Publishing house plans is an old tradition that began with the Venetian Andrea Palladio, that proceeded through London’s Gibbs, et alia, continued through New Jersey’s Davis (the Italianate featured in this month’s TBH) to Los Angeles’ Paul Revere Williams, and on to The Beautiful Home.
The Chicago Tribune’s winning house plan was a five-room Regency (a style born of Britain’s Regency, circa 1795 – 1835), a style not unlike the Hollywood Regency being born in Hollywood movie sets, circa 1927 (focus of April’s TBH). Seems The Chicago Tribune was up-to-date, “the nail’s head”, you might say. I searched for houses of William O’Connor (the five-room first prize winner) and George O’Connor (the five-room second place winner) and was disappointed to find no image in the digital records, yet was pleased to find a drawing by a designer favored in my poll, Thayne J. Johnson of Portland, Oregon, eclectic architect and painter of western landscapes.
American house design has been eclectic from the start, with influences from all our parent countries, Spain, France, England, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Italy, Nigeria, et cetera and et alibi. As with Palladio, Davis, The Chicago Tribune and a thousand others, The Beautiful Home presents plans to please home-buyers, to refine taste, to provide details for design and improvement … and to recognize the central place of home building in the United States, our single greatest wealth creator, the center of our civilization, foundation of all that American families might accomplish.
*You will notice that on house designs I prominently display “Alexandria, Virginia” so that you can find me.