George F. Barber homes

This is a long post, but it has so many gorgeous pictures that I just couldn’t bring myself to edit them down. I’m hoping this makes for a great read for you all who browse the blog on the weekend, too.

Today’s post is about American architect George Franklin Barber, who was born in 1854 and died in 1915. I would love to show you a photo or portrait of George F. Barber himself, but I haven’t been able to find one anywhere. (Reader update at the end of this post!) We’ll have to get to know George through his beautiful work.

Image courtesy of oldhouseonline.com

Barber was born in Illinois and grew up in Kansas. He learned the trade of carpentry while working for his brother-in-law. He taught himself architecture through books and his own on-the-job study. His keen observations and natural talents soon allowed him to expand carpentry jobs into a larger market.

At the time, there was very limited quality or quantity in ready-made house plans. The order-by-mail home building giants we still know today (Montgomery Ward, Sears Roebuck, etc.) were not on the market yet for the American home builder. Barber saw a way to reach those potential customers by offering easily readable house plans that could be customized to the owners needs.

Using the new mail-order catalogs phenomenon, Barber started with a small offering of houses and grew his business and publications over his lifetime. Many houses in the catalogs came with multiple floor plans to choose. Here’s an example:

Here’s the first plan available for the rooms:

And here is the second floor plan option, for the same house:

You can probably see how attractive this customizing concept was to potential home buyers. Free customization by mail with the architect?! What a deal! Barber went on to become one of the most successful American architects of the Victorian era. When his catalogs stopped publication in 1918, Barber had sold more than 20,000 plans.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Most of his designs are in the Colonial Revival style (seen in the house shown above) or the Victorian Queen Anne style (seen in the house shown below).

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Later in his career, he included Craftsman and Bungalow homes in his collections, although these weren’t as popular. He also offered plans for additions, such as porches, verandas and various outbuildings (sheds, barns, etc.). Many of his houses are in the Midwest and the South because of his own connections to those areas. His first company home town was in DeKalb, Illinois, before relocating to Knoxville, Tennessee permanently in 1888.

Here’s and example of a classic Victorian Barber home in Iowa:

All of that house for $12, 500. That would calculate out to around $296, 000 in 2010. Amazing. Here’s the first floor inside:

And here’s the second floor:

You’ll notice the word “Chamber” used a lot in his drawings. This roughly translates to our modern use of the word “bedroom”. In today’s real estate vocabulary, for a room to be a “bedroom”, it must contain a window and a closet. This might explain the prolific use of the word “chamber” in a time where large, free-standing armoires and wardrobes were still so popular.

Barber built big homes, too. Here’s a grand example:

Here is the how-can-we-live -without-3-verandas first floor:

And here is the glad-we-have-servants second floor:

Yours for $40,000 in construction costs. That’s around $1,070,000 of 2010’s money, in case you’re doing math beyond counting all of those rooms.

I have to show you this darling house “of Swiss persuasion” for a special reason.

See if you can spot one of our previous Design Vocabulary words on the floor plan!
Did you find the Inglenook? (You can learn all about them right here.) I was so happy when I saw that on the plans. I’m a little geeky that way.

Barber never forgot his carpentry background inside the homes he designed. Pictured below are two of  Barber’s exquisite “grilles” (decorative arching wood frames made of spindles in lattice patterns) that he offered as part of his customization options.

Here is a period interior photo of one of those grilles installed:

Here’s a glimpse (in the top right of the photo) of one of those grilles today:

Image courtesy of fairfieldiowahistory.com

Barber’s house plans were constructed in 44 states of the US and many countries abroad. Many American Barber homes now function as very roomy Bed-and-Breakfast businesses. Over four dozen Barber homes are listed individually on the National Register of Historic Places, and even more as parts of historic districts. Here are few current examples:

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

While not all of these lovely old homes have fared well over the years…

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

…there is much love given to many of them in their restoration and care.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

I’ve told you before that I love to browse house floor plans, which you can read all about in this post. So, it should come as no surprise that I love imagining how you could make homes out of non-traditional home structures. Old fire houses and churches really call to me with their siren songs. (No pun intended.)

This barn is my favorite George Barber version of this daydream:

I know, I know. “If this is the barn, what does the house look like?!” This is a building for carriages, horses and the groom that tends to them (who apparently doesn’t bathe). I have no idea if any version of this building was ever built or survives. Let’s not even think about what it would cost to build today. The masonry bill alone would make us cry. Here’s the inside:

Can you see the potential for re-working this building into a fantastic house? The little L-shaped wall on the second floor keeps the hay from getting into the groom’s room and down the stairs. I would take it out right away and then get to work transforming the space.

Here, in a long and very expensive list, is what I would do:

Carriage Room:

  • Add several big windows (in the shape of the big barn door at the front of the building) across the long wall of the Carriage Room.
  • Add a fireplace and a floor-to-ceiling bookcases to the Carriage Room
  • Use the Carriage Room as a giant Living and Dining room
  • Put a giant patio with a pergola off of the back of the Carriage Room

Harness Room:

  • Change the door of this room to face the Passage (hallway)
  • Turn this room into a powder room for the first floor

Passage:

  • Open up the staircase wall by the front door to make the room bigger

Box Stall:

  • Turn it into a home office with built-in cabinetry
  • Add an etched glass pocket door

Stalls:

  • Take out all stall walling
  • Add wall to separate room from Passage
  • Add more windows to room
  • Use room as kitchen
  • Install a small kitchen garden outside a new back door

Upstairs: (a lot of this depends on the interior roof slope)

  • Add skylights on the back roof
  • Add a bathroom, a laundry room and two bedrooms
  • Add a Master suite with bath and walk-in closet
See, when I say I daydream about house plans, I mean I REALLY daydream.
Oh! Let me at the garden of this cute house! Image courtesy of oldhouseonline.com

Credit where credit is due: All of the original drawings and floor plans in this post are courtesy of this great book, which I recommend as a great read and source for many decor daydreams. If you know someone else who really loves house plans, this little book makes a great gift.

So, that’s my 1,426 words on George Barber homes. I can really yammer on about a good house plan, can’t I?! Thanks for reading along! Now I’m all talked out. (Cue my husband, laughing at the very concept.) Tell me what interests you in what we’ve looked at today!

Did you see a house plan today that you’d like to move into? Ever dreamed of making an old building with a different purpose into a new home? Do any of you live near a restored George Barber home…or (holding my breath) live in one? Dish, please!

Reader Update:

One fabulous reader found a picture of George Barber! Here it is:

Doesn’t he look dashing? A big shout out to Kate, who took the time to send in the picture while she is researching her own may-be-a-Barber home. Thanks, Kate!

Posted on June 24, 2011, in Architecture, Design Vocabulary. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Fantastic story and pictures. I’ve been seeing Barber homes all my life, especially in Virginia where I grew up, and never knew they were designs from the same person. They are real treasures.

  2. Well personally I’d love the mansion with the open balcony and servant’s chamber, but frankly I’d like to get my hands on any house for $40,000 today.

    The Barber interiors are very charming. I’ve been in a house in Iowa that had the intricate grilles over the inner doors, but I’m not sure if it was Barber house. I’ll have to go find out…

  3. Rebecca Groomes

    My husband and I recently bought a George F. Barber home built in the early 1900’s. We love it! It was interesting to see all the photos and the plans and some of the similarities to our home. Makes me love our home even more!

  4. Paula Siglock

    My husband & I live in True Victorian home built in 1898 in El Campo , Tx. It truly looks like it could be a Barber home. It has the grill work inside. All the arches, spindles, porches upstairs & down on the outside. Along with the gables & turet., a spiral staircase & back stairway. How can I verify that it is a true George F. Barber Home?

  5. We just purchased a Barber home in Mt. Pleasant Iowa. We know for sure because we have the actual floorplans used to build the house! We are only the fourth owners of the home. What is so unique is that one owner lived in it for 85 years…thus, the home is still completely original down to the ceramic light switches and keys in all the doors! We love it and will continue to polish it up as the previous owners did.

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