“Reading” an Old House

“Reading” an Old House

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
Pop Quiz:  What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Pop Quiz: What’s Wrong With This Picture?

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
Salvaging a Farmhouse

Salvaging a Farmhouse

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
Exploring a Doomed 1950’s Ranch House

Exploring a Doomed 1950’s Ranch House

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
The Project House Slowly Progresses…

The Project House Slowly Progresses…

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
Door Hardware, Part Two: 1850 to 1900

Door Hardware, Part Two: 1850 to 1900

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
A Sears Maytown – Largely Intact!

A Sears Maytown – Largely Intact!

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
Auction Action – Part 3

Auction Action – Part 3

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
A Customized Sears Hawthorne

A Customized Sears Hawthorne

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
Radford Design No. 1131

Radford Design No. 1131

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
Awkward Alterations, Part Two

Awkward Alterations, Part Two

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
The Piano Nobile

The Piano Nobile

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, Part One:  1800 to 1850

Door Hardware, Part One: 1800 to 1850

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
The Johnson House by Charles Haertling

The Johnson House by Charles Haertling

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
More from the Project House

More from the Project House

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
Queen Anne Window Sash

Queen Anne Window Sash

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
Off the Beaten Path in Abilene, Kansas

Off the Beaten Path in Abilene, Kansas

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
Design No. 216 by Robert W. Shoppell

Design No. 216 by Robert W. Shoppell

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
Unconventional Window Alterations – Part 3

Unconventional Window Alterations – Part 3

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
An Update from the Project House

An Update from the Project House

There are pros and cons to just about everything in life.  Like living in the middle of nowhere, for example.  For the most part it's great; it's beautiful, one has lots of elbow room, the crime rate is low, etc.  On the other hand, there is a downside.  Isolation...

read more
Inside a 1952 Time Capsule House

Inside a 1952 Time Capsule House

Who doesn't love a good time capsule?  This one, built in 1952 in Gladewater, Texas, has been on Zillow for about 10 days and is already generating lots of interest online; I ran across it when a reader shared it on the always mesmerizing Old House Dreams.  While not...

read more
An Art Deco Facade by S. S. Voigt

An Art Deco Facade by S. S. Voigt

Dominated by large steel windows filled with green slag glass, this Masonic Temple in Oberlin, Kansas, was built in 1931.  The buff brick facade is elaborated with glazed terra cotta ornament which enhances the Art Deco styling of the building.  Although the ground...

read more
Rescuing a Leaning Barn From Future Collapse

Rescuing a Leaning Barn From Future Collapse

It had been at least seven years since Jim first told friends of ours that he would straighten up their leaning barn.  Unusual for its "T" shape, the antique barn was showing its age.  Every passing year made the already obvious lean all the more evident.  Every storm...

read more
Revealing a Hidden Bay Window

Revealing a Hidden Bay Window

It's been over two weeks since I posted about a big old abandoned farmhouse that is destined to be demolished.  Jim and I have been salvaging interior woodwork, doors and windows for use in a future project.  The first floor has been salvaged, and we're working on the...

read more
The Frank Brumback House by Louis Curtiss

The Frank Brumback House by Louis Curtiss

Admirers of the work of Louis Curtiss don't normally associate the architect with the Colonial Revival, yet this house in Kansas City is an interesting example of the style and it demonstrates the architect's versatility.  Despite the outwardly staid impression of the...

read more
Exploring a Big Old Abandoned Farmhouse

Exploring a Big Old Abandoned Farmhouse

Long abandoned, this c. 1905 Folk Victorian farmhouse has unusually nice detailing for its geographic location, even if those details aren't all stylistically consistent!  Though re-sided in the mid-twentieth century, enough of the siding has fallen off to reveal the...

read more
Update From the Project House

Update From the Project House

Lots has been going on at the project house; most of it not very photogenic or interesting.  But things are starting to get more interesting.  We'll take a look at the owner's choice of exterior paint color and peek inside the ongoing work in the kitchen...  ...

read more
A Weekend of “Treasure Hunting”

A Weekend of “Treasure Hunting”

Last weekend I had the pleasure of taking in the 12th annual Highway 36 "Treasure Hunt", a three-day flea market which stretches across the northernmost tier of Kansas counties.  While I didn't traverse the entire state, I did tackle much of the western half, and...

read more
WPA Rustic:  Let’s Go to the Park!

WPA Rustic: Let’s Go to the Park!

A product of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the city park of Hill City, Kansas, remains as a beautiful and functional example of numerous similar projects scattered around the country.   Built in the WPA Rustic style, the structures found here incorporate...

read more
Random Observations – Part 13

Random Observations – Part 13

  Just back from a road trip!  Today, a collection of miscellaneous structures and details stretching from southwest Nebraska to central Kansas.   There's no particular theme; all just have something of interest:              ...

read more
Remnants of a Sod House

Remnants of a Sod House

Houses built of sod were once plentiful across the Great Plains where trees were scarce.  Built of blocks of earth cut from the ground, the later and more refined versions also incorporated many purchased materials such as windows, doors and dimensioned lumber for the...

read more
Warehousing People – The Sequel

Warehousing People – The Sequel

Last September I posted about a senior storage facility er, "senior apartments" which I found to be disturbing for several reasons.   I recently ran across a similar project which gives the bleak and utilitarian exterior an additional synthetic twist:    ...

read more
A Look at Two House Flips

A Look at Two House Flips

House-flipping has been popular for a long while - and the trend has been made even more popular by television.  Not all flips are created equal, however!  Since I haven't been able to take any road trips lately, I decided to sift through Zillow and find some flips to...

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.