This article is part of a monthly series that explores historical applications of building materials and systems through the resources of the Building Technology Heritage Library (BTHL), an online collection of AEC catalogs, brochures, professional publications. , etc. The BTHL is a project of the Association for Preservation Technology, an international building preservation organization. Learn more about the archives here.
House plans have a significant presence in the building’s technological heritage library. The BTHL catalog collection showcases a range of illustration techniques used in designs, beyond the differences between the architectural styles of the houses themselves. In some ways, the house plan documents reflect advances in printing technology and, in particular, improvements in photography. This overview reveals the evolution of architectural drawing styles, particularly in the use of perspective drawings. Some of the most beautiful illustrations have been done with pen and pencil to create drawings that are both precise and artistic. Several house plan books from the 1920s were particularly striking in their composition of pages with small-scale architectural planks, which closely resemble architectural competition planks. At least one paper is a submission of entries for a national kitchen design competition, a topic still popular today. In our modern day, when computer-generated graphics have become the norm for architectural illustration, these house plan “idea books” take us back to a time when architects used their boundary skills to draw, educate and excite future owners.
Lambert’s suburban architecture, Wm. A. Lambert, New York, 1894
Lambert’s suburban architecture is typical of late 19th-century architectural publications, with delicate perspective drawings of large and small houses. The catalog also contains photographs of completed houses, but the designs are much more inspiring. The full page plates of “Cozy Homes” are particularly well composed with the plans wrapped around the title and the drawings in perspective.
The artistic bungalows of Radford, Radford Architectural Co., Chicago, 1908
The Radford Architectural Co. was a prolific publisher of house plan books and construction publications during the first two decades of the 20th century. The ink wash drawings were produced by company employees and are not as expressive as the delicate line drawings more typical of higher quality architectural publications.
Bungalows, camps and mountain houses, William T. Comstock, New York, 1915
This delightful post is a compilation of tiny homes designed by architects from across the United States. The designs vary in quality and are supplemented by photographs. Examples of bungalows range from cottages to log cabins, all with a veranda or outdoor porch.
The kitchen plan book, Hoosier Manufacturing Co., New Castle, Indiana, c. 1920
The Hoosier Manufacturing Co. was a major producer of wood kitchen cabinets. Today, the Hoosier cabinet has become a recognized type of furniture. This paper showcased the winning designs from a national kitchen design competition. Single-sheet display drawings contain plans, elevations, and perspective drawings of kitchens, often centered on the Hoosier cabinet.
Lake Shore Lumber & Coal Co., National Plan Service, Erie, Pa., C. 1925
This is an undated National Plan Service publication with 62 different models of single family homes. The plates are particularly well composed with a perspective drawing plans and details on a small scale. These house plan books could have a personalized cover with the name of the local lumber company. This house plan catalog is one of the most viewed house plan catalogs on the BTHL because these delicious drawing boards are some of the best of their kind.
For lovers of the house, National Association of Wood Manufacturers, 1927.
Building product trade associations produced materials, including house plan books, which promoted their materials. This featured house plans designed by architects and completed buildings located across the United States. The plates illustrated with colorful perspective drawings and small-scale plans are particularly well done.
Interior decoration, Sissons Brothers & Co., Hull, England, 1930s
The colorful illustrations in this painting catalog have a distinctive Art Deco look with angular and zigzag graphics and bright colors on the walls and furniture. This is a major change from the delicate line drawings found in other house plan books, but the use of color was essential for paint catalogs.
The decorator and the color guide, Sherwin-Williams Co. and Rockwell Kent, Cleveland, 1939
The Sherwin-Williams Co. made the unusual decision to hire famous artist Rockwell Kent to produce colorful renderings of domestic architecture for this painting catalog. In Kent’s brief biography, they noted that he had studied “art and architecture” at Columbia University. The color photographs in this publication are quite mediocre by today’s standards, and the colorful illustrations lack the power of Kent’s better-known black-and-white prints.
Houses for housewives, Royal Barry Wills, New York, 1945
Royal Barry Wills has been identified as “America’s Greatest Small House Architect”. The ink wash drawings often highlighted a white house against a charcoal background. The examples are mostly ‘colonial renaissance’ with a casual and striking modern design that clearly took inspiration from Corbusier.
Cheap homes for today’s women, Fawcett Books, Greenwich, Connecticut, 1954
The publication features designs and homes completed by architect Egil P. Hermonovski, who practiced in New York and Connecticut. His decidedly modernist house designs occupy the first half of the book, with more traditional designs in the second half. Bold perspective designs often highlighted the striking roof profiles of his Modernist designs.
Secondary residences for leisure life, Douglas Fir Plywood Association, Tacoma, Washington, v. 1960
This compilation of vacation homes featured modernist designs that could be built with plywood. The colorful perspective designs of the exteriors and interiors are bold in both the design and the use of brightly colored panels.