Another one bites the dust. For the second time! A Second Empire "twin" house in Philadelphia's Germantown neighborhood, built around 1880, witnessed an exhaustive makeover in the late 1960's in a semi-successful effort to transform the narrow townhouse into a...read more
Likely built in the 1870's, this surprisingly small Second Empire style house definitely thinks big as it displays details more typical of a house five times its size. Built of native stone in the Kansas vernacular, the house has languished for years, appearing to...read more
Sometimes I'm drawn to the kitschy and camp as well as the practical and refined. I'm generally not a fan of vehicles of any sort, but earlier this fall friends showed me the interior of their recent acquisition... a 1978 Delta Motorhome. I was impressed! Today, I'm...read more
Tantalizing bits of information about the house continue to surface. In addition to a few recent finds (shown below) we've learned that the house was reputed to be the scene of numerous poker parties at some point during the years of prohibition (from 1881 to 1948 --...read more
Today I finished priming the bay window. It's all white and kind of boring, but it looks better than it did before and the wood will be protected during the winter months. I still have some (a lot of) caulking to do, so don't look too carefully! The scraping,...read more
Happy Halloween, everyone! Have you ever wondered why it is that popular opinion has long viewed old houses as creepy, scary and almost certainly "haunted"? Many will be quick to blame television -- or Hollywood in general -- but movies are only partly to blame. The...read more
It's been seemingly forever since I last posted; it has been a busy time. Recently I took time off to visit the Decatur County Last Indian Raid Museum, which serves as a repository for local history, in the hopes of finding more information about the house and its...read more
Recently I attended a birthday party for a retired friend -- the location of which was his outdoor entertaining area. A multi-year construction project, the site is now nearing completion. Built entirely from scrap or otherwise salvaged items, the structures there...read more
Today the house regained more of its dignity! Jim has been rehabilitating two of the beautiful -- but very decrepit -- porch supports off-site, and they have now recovered fully. It was time to bring them back! As you last remember, the house was looking quite sad...read more
Here's a look at what the process of nurturing the bay window looks like as it continues... The cornice of the bay had been wrapped in aluminum. I've begun taking sections of it down. The wood cornice which had been hidden by the aluminum is visible at left. The piece...read more
We knew that the vinyl siding was hiding lots of problems, but didn't know just how bad the damage would be. Yesterday we found out. While not attractive, the damage is absolutely repairable. It's unfortunate, but not a death sentence for the porch. Jim has been hard...read more
A Craftsman bungalow -- built with a stucco exterior -- is in the process of being clad in vinyl siding. In a presumed effort to facilitate the installation, all of the original stucco is being removed. Amazingly, the stucco had never been painted and featured a...read more
I got an unexpected break yesterday when my chiropractor, after adjusting my back, forbade me from doing any ladder work right away. So, instead of working on the bay window, I explored the house a little bit more. The flash on my camera is working again (finally!)...read more
With the days getting shorter and the exterior trim on the house getting more weathered, we decided to tackle the most vulnerable features of the exterior before the weather changes. Jim is working primarily on the porch and I'm working primarily on the bay window. In...read more
The goal of finding a house to restore which was both architecturally and historically interesting has been simmering in the background for some time now. Life has a way of distracting us from our goals (most recently getting involved with the renovation of someone...read more
One of the most popular -- and easiest -- ways to "re-style" a house is through the use of paint. Countless Victorian-era houses, for example (formerly sporting multi-hued exteriors), were painted white beginning in the 1920's in an effort to make them appear more...read more
We've been busy at the job site and almost all of the electrical and plumbing issues have been dealt with. Almost all of them. Despite having countless receptacles, however, we're still using extension cords everywhere for power. Even though we've had air conditioning...read more
Much like porch alterations, replacement doors have the ability to change the way a house looks or is perceived. Unfortunately, most people just buy what they like and give little thought to maintaining the architectural integrity of the exterior when purchasing a new...read more
Recently while perusing area real estate listings I ran across an all-too-common offering -- the unfinished renovation of a house which had retained a good deal of originality prior to being gutted to the studs. At least it affords us the opportunity to take a...read more
Built in three stages beginning in 1885, the house at Cottonwood Ranch in Studley, Kansas, reflects not only the place and time in which it was built, but incorporates some traditions of builder John Fenton Pratt's native Yorkshire, England, as well. The center...read more
Print media, while not as influential as it was in decades past, remains a popular platform for the sale of house plans. When readers of Better Homes and Gardens magazine selected House Plan No. 3709-A as their favorite of those presented by the magazine in 1972, the...read more
Now that's something you don't see every day... especially on the High Plains of northwestern Kansas! Both the architectural style and the roof type are atypical of the region. The Jerkinhead roof, a compromise between a gabled roof and a hipped roof, is used with...read more
The ongoing war against the remnants of our historic built environment continues unabated. Our previous examination of this topic (Part 1) dealt with elementary school textbooks which propagandized children and instilled a bias against historic buildings in the...read more
...with an emphasis on the word "begin". We're still a long way away from being done, but the first floor is coming along nicely and plaster repair is progressing on the second floor. Let's drop in for a bit... Outside, the lawn needs mowing and the roses are out in...read more
Most old houses have had alterations over the years -- very few come down through time just as they were built. Unless a house was altered with an extreme attention to maintaining details, it is usually possible to get a fairly good idea as to what the house looked...read more
Each house or building in the following six photos has at least one thing wrong with it -- from the viewpoint of architectural or physical integrity, that is! Some are quite obvious while others are a bit more subtle; some will have multiple offenses while others may...read more
The 1880's farmhouse we looked at last month is scheduled for demolition this week. Jim and I got there first to save what we were able to. If you don't want to see sad images, just skip this post. I understand. We salvaged all of the doors and their surrounding...read more
It's déjà vu all over again! Remember the empty 1880's farmhouse we recently looked at? Well... this ranch house was built a stone's throw away by its former inhabitants -- quite a change of pace! Unfortunately, both houses have extensive termite damage and the new...read more
For no very good reason, I had assumed that once winter went away we would have massive amounts of time to spend, uninterupted, working on the Project House. Snow, impassable roads, melting snow, muddy roads and issues with getting subcontractors to complete the...read more
In Part One we looked at some types of door hardware which were common prior to the mid-nineteenth century -- latches and rim locks made of iron. While mortise locks were in use, they were not common. Surface-mounted rim locks remained popular in the latter half of...read more
After a century of use, many old houses have been updated, remodeled or otherwise altered to the extent that they are scarcely recognizable. Others, like this Sears Maytown in Struthers, Ohio, are able to transcend time with only slight changes. Owner Dawn Hartzell...read more
When a vernacular farmhouse on the High Plains of western Kansas was abandoned in favor of a sleek new ranch-style house in the mid 1950's, it was emptied and forgotten about. It had received minimal (if any) maintenance in the following sixty-odd years and is today...read more
This past weekend I attended an annual consignment auction hosted by the Lions Clubs. As usual, there were a few things of architectural or design interest. I didn't buy anything this year because the few things I wanted to bid on were not going to be offered until...read more
The exterior of this c. 1880 twin house in Philadelphia's Germantown neighborhood does little to suggest the surprisingly intact mid-century makeover found inside. Late 1960's aesthetic preferences popular with the masses abound: Fake masonry, fake paneling, fake...read more
Offered between 1913 and 1918, the Sears Hawthorne was a somewhat ungainly-looking Craftsman style bungalow which was not a huge seller. It was essentially the one-and-a-half story version of the Sears Avondale which was far more popular with kit house buyers and...read more
One of hundreds of house designs published by the Radford Architectural Company of Chicago in the early twentieth century, Design No. 1131 is an eclectic composition in that it combines Colonial Revival, Queen Anne and Shingle style influences. This example in...read more
Today we'll look at two different types of alterations which can negatively impact how we perceive a structure. Sadly, the following examples are fairly tame... there are countless others which are far worse. The first category, Indifference, will highlight houses...read more
Have you ever thought that some older buildings seem to be oddly proportioned -- perhaps a bit top-heavy? Often there is nothing wrong with their proportions; the problem may instead be with our modern perception of what a building's exterior should look like (and how...read more
Door hardware, like other architectural details, can often help to guestimate the age of the house when its history is unknown. However, this method is only reliable when it is known with certainty that the hardware in question is original to the house. Hardware, like...read more
One of architect Charles Haertling's many fascinating contributions to the city of Boulder, Colorado, is currently on the market allowing a peek inside this interesting house. Known for their frequent mix of modernism and organic architecture, his designs are highly...read more
As you last remember, I haven't mentioned the greenhouse project for a while. Not since the end of April! Progress has been painfully slow, which is depressing. Work at the project house, bad weather and renovation fatigue (among numerous other distractions) have...read more
I first admired this house in the late 1990's when the photo above was taken; the house seemed well-maintained and the exterior paint was crisp and sharp... the colors were perfect for a two-story Craftsman. I wondered at the time if the colors weren't like those that...read more
Winter weather has not helped one bit in getting things done at the project house. Accessed by a mile-long dirt drive which turns to impassable muck when wet, the house has been getting sporadic attention lately. Melting snow has created some ugly messes. While the...read more
The impact original window sash can have in an historic building in terms of enhancing and maintaining architectural integrity is enormous yet frequently undervalued. In addition to the shape and size of the window openings themselves,...read more
OK, I'll admit it; the house we're about to look at was never a great piece of architecture. But it did have its own character which was reflective of the mid-century suburban neighborhood in which it was built. My issue with the house is not that it was remodeled,...read more
While Abilene, Kansas, has long been noted for its many fine Victorian-era houses and colorful early cow-town history, not much (if any) attention has been given to the plan book and manufactured kit origins of some of the town's houses. The town is primarily known,...read more
Robert W. Shoppell was one of many successful plan book publishers in the late nineteenth century. Surviving houses built from the mail-order plans he sold through his New York-based Co-operative Building Plan Association can be found throughout the country. In...read more
When I was in my teens I was given a small book by my parents who understood my passion for nineteenth century buildings. Published around 1900 or so by the Red Oak Commercial Club (which I'm guessing was something akin to the Chamber of Commerce) the book, simply...read more
In addition to its popular J-6 kit house, the Harris Brothers Company of Chicago offered a slightly larger version which it called the J-16. This upgraded version was two feet wider and two feet longer. I recently ran across this example of the house on Zillow -...read more
Double Feature! Today we'll look at two structures which are recent recipients of altered fenestration... Recipient # 1 After a period of stagnation, work appears to have restarted on the second re-interpretation of a former church building in a nearby town. The...read more
The Architectural Observer rarely looks at “important” buildings; the focus is upon overlooked ones. Some will be antique survivors which have come through time surprisingly intact. Many will be old buildings which have been altered without regard to their stylistic integrity while others will be new construction which never had any stylistic integrity to begin with.
The decline of architectural integrity is just one more facet of the prolific and ongoing devolution of our culture. The Architectural Observer calls it like it is! Are there more important and pressing issues facing us now? Yes, but everyone needs a distraction from those other issues once in a while. And besides, this is relevant and much more fun!
There are four kinds of distractions here:
OBSERVATIONS highlights the lowlights of our built environment – and observes occasional architectural details which might otherwise be overlooked.
PLAN BOOK AND KIT HOUSES examines structures built from mail order plans or actual kits.
PROJECTS follows the progress on a variety of design-related endeavors.
DRAG QUEEN ARCHITECTURE showcases buildings built in one style but which are trying to pass themselves off as a different style.
Let’s face it; we built better buildings in the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries than we do now. Let’s take a cue from the past and start to remember how buildings are supposed to look and function. Thanks for joining me – please use the contact form for polite inquiry or to gripe at me.