Category Archives: Architecture

Design Vocabulary: Acanthus Leaves

Today’s Design Vocabulary term is hiding in plain sight. Once you understand what this term means, you’ll realize that you can find this motif everywhere.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

We’re looking at Acanthus leaves today (pronounced “Ah-CAN-thus”). And you can find them in all sorts of places, both inside and out. That is the flowering variety in the picture shown above, which is rather pretty. You can see the plant has very sharply edged leaves at the base of it. Those are what we are going to go looking for today. Here is a different variety of the Acanthus plant that shows a larger version of those leaves. Take a good look:

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These leaves had been popular as a design motif for centuries. I can even say that they have been popular for millennia. Let’s look at some of the roots of this plant to see why it is so popular over time. (Oops. Sorry about the pun in that last sentence. Just happened.)

Paging Molly Ringwald

The Acanthus plant is supposedly named after “Acantha”, a minor female character in Greek mythology. She was attractive enough to catch the eye of  Mt. Olympus’s original god-as-a-gift-to-women character, Apollo. Apollo rarely met a woman that he didn’t like and he also didn’t like to hear a girl say the word “No”. He’s kinda like the smart, rich, cute guy you see in all the party scenes in classic John Hughes films. He may seem fun while he’s flirting with you, but you still have that gut feeling that this is not going to end well for you if it goes any further.

DUDE! You just know that missing arm was holding out a beer, don’t you? Image courtesy of the University of Texas

Anyway, Acantha, smart girl, apparently told Apollo “No”. But, since he was a god and all, Apollo couldn’t have his reputation as playboy-deity-of-the-civilized-world diminished, so he did what most jerky gods did in those days to people who stood up for themselves. Her turned her into something else. A plant. With almost-off-putting sharp leaves. “Acantha” now roughly translates from Greek to English as “thorny”, which you can kinda see in those spiked leaves shown above. (Is this Apollo’s way of calling her an ugly name for all eternity? You be the judge.)

So, now you can see how the plant supposedly got its name and we are waaaaay back in ancient Greece.

Slap Some Decor On That Building

Now we all know that the ancient Greeks were brilliant at building. Cities, streets, civic spaces, temples. You dream it, they could build it. And it lasted pretty darn well. Pictured below is an ancient Greek column, in modern-day Athens:

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

See those leaf things growing up from around the top of the column? Those are our Acanthus leaves. The Greeks figured out that with a little sculpting those common plant leaves were actually very decorative as a natural motif on their sleek new buildings. (Take that, Apollo.)

By the way, if you are a long-time reader of this blog or have already perused the Design Vocabulary archives, you absolutely get extra credit if you can also identify the Egg-and-Dart motif on that column above! (Or you can read more about that right here.)

Leaves Going Viral

Ancient Greece was a popular marketplace for all sorts of trading. So, other cultures picked up the Acanthus leaves motif, too. You can easily find it embedded in Byzantine architecture and ALL OVER the work of the ancient world’s original copy cats…the Roman Empire. The Romans took the very best of every culture they conquered and claimed it as their own.

Greek and Roman architecture had a great revival in the 18th century. Most of the world calls this period’s architecture “Classical Revival”. In America, we also call this period “Federal”. You can find Federal style buildings all over the US in the form of government buildings and important institutions. Here is a very famous American building in the Federal style:

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See those familiar leaves, now curling, at the tops of the columns on the left? Those are our acanthus leaves, back for another round of popularity. And they weren’t just used outside, either. The 18th and 19th century loved “Classical Revival” motifs so you can find great versions of those leaves in sound a house, too. Here’s a bit of pretty reproduction architecture of that period, pretending to be structural support in a doorway…

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…and here are our leaves hung in a decorative swag on a piece of Wedgwood pottery:

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There was a famous English style-maker of the 19th century named William Morris. He loved to use botanical themes in his popular wallpapers, many of which still survive today, as does his company. Acanthus leave show up in a lot of his designs, whether they are the focus of the design…

Image courtesy of Morris & Co.

…or play more of a supporting role for other flowers and nature patterns:

Image courtesy of Morris & Co.

Today, you can still find acanthus leaves showing up in home furnishings, including everything from custom tiles…

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…to modern area rugs.

Image courtesy of Dalyn Rugs

See the curl of the acanthus leaves as it reaches out toward the flowers? This is the same curl we can find in architecture of ancient Greece and Rome. Can you see what I mean when I say these leaves are hiding in plain sight?

How many times have you looked at an American government building and never noticed the acanthus leaves? Where can you spot them in your part of the world? Leave a comment and share your sightings!

Coming tomorrow: Kitchen tools that give you more space!

Less, a lot less, can be more

I love designing small spaces. LOVE it. I think it is the combination of designing über-organization, space planning and essential style/personality that make it fun for me.

As I have shared with you before, I also love to browse house plans. Space planning is one of my favorite things to do and having a blank space like an empty floor plan is my recipe for lots of lovely daydreaming. You can readmore about some of my favorite sources for house plans right hereright here and also here.

So, it is with great delight that I show you the very tiniest house plans that I adore. All of these plans (and all of the house images in this post) are from the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company.

Come on! How cute is that tiny house?!

Tumbleweed Tiny House Company has a great variety of truly tiny and stylish homes. Some of you may recognize the model pictured below. It is called the “Beavan” and was featured in one of the final episodes of this past season of HGTV’s Design Star.

Tumbleweed offers three types of tiny homes. The first type is the “Box Bungalow”, like the “Beavan” model shown above. These very tiny homes are designed to be built on your own location. They make great getaway cabins and could also make a little hobby space or home office behind your regular home.

Did you know that George Bernard Shaw did a lot of his writing in a tiny little house behind his larger home? Here it is:

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He just needed a quiet little space away from the main house to focus and do his writing. Shaw was on of the founders of the London School of Economics and here is more proof that he recognized a great economical solution when he found one.

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This is also proof that the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company is really on to something timeless and useful.

(Did that last sentence sound like this post is a giant advertisement? Well, it isn’t. I only ever talk about products and companies I actually really like and/or use myself. I like to keep it real so I never get paid for mentioning anything. You can read all about it right here.)

The next type of Tumbleweed Tiny House is the “House To Go”, which have slightly larger floor plans and are portable houses. Like this one:

This is the “Fencl” model and, as you can see, it is designed to be moved to wherever you need it. You can see all of the detailed floor plans (yay!) and more photos for each of their tiny houses on Tumbleweed’s website, such as the “Fencl” floor plan right here:

I think this is a very flexible, creative living space. You can buy the plans and build it yourself or order it ready-made. Think of how wonderful this house could be for victims of terrible disasters like Hurricane Katrina or the huge earthquake in Japan earlier this year. Have house, will travel to safety as needed.

Okay, the last category of houses form Tumbleweed is my very favorite. They are actually “Cottages”, designed to be build on site (non-portable) as guest houses or small homes. They have some great character detailing.

My personal favorite of these cottages is the “B53” model, which is pictured below. This two bedroom home has 777 square feet on two floors.

Could you live in a house that small? Isn’t it amazing how when you hear of people downsizing to small homes that they never miss the extra “stuff” they had filling up their previous home. There is something to be said for living small and having only the things you really love filling your home. (Insider info: We live this way in a historic city neighborhood, which always surprises my clients with larger homes. It might not be for everyone, but we love it.)

Here’s the “B53”:

How great is that curb appeal?!  Don’t you love the porch?

In addition to regular floor plans, you can also see the floor plans for some of these small homes in 3D floor plans. Here is the first floor of the “B53”:

I particularly love the second floor on this plan because of the walk-closet off of the second bedroom. It has a nice window, so you could also use this room as a nursery or a well-lit home office.

What would you do with that bright walk-in closet?

The “B53” comes with a second option for its floor plans, which includes and extra bedroom at the back of the house and takes the square footage up to 874 square feet. You can see it here:

Three bedrooms is very nice for a small house. Did I mention how affordable these homes are? The “B53″model I’ve shown you is one of the largest houses that Tumbleweed Tiny Houses Company offers and its extra-bedroom floor plan has estimated building costs of only $58,000. There are a lot more to choose from in their catalog and you can see all of them on their website.

Could you see yourself in one of these tiny homes? Where would you put one as a vacation home? What is the smallest home you’ve ever lived in so far? How do you feel about the idea of “living small”? Leave a comment and share your thoughts!

The ultimate DIY house

This post started out with one, simple thing as its subject, but it has now evolved into three posts, after I organized all my thoughts. It will all make sense by the end of next week with a new giveaway. I promise!

Today, we’re looking at one of the most popular home manufacturers of the 20th century: Sears. (Before your mind goes there, I’m not giving away a house next week.)

You know I love a good house plan (you can read more about that here and here), so I had to share this great treasure trove of history and design. Isn’t it interesting to see how previous Americans chose to live? Wait until you see how they got these homes…


Sears & Roebuck Co. began selling building supplies in the 1895 edition of their famous mail-order catalog. It was a failure. Sears was considering closing down the building supplies division in 1906 when a new manager, Frank W. Kushel, decided to offer the supplies shipped directly from the factory. This eliminated all of the storage costs for Sears.

(Side note: Frank Kushel came to the building supplies division from managing the china department of Sears, proving the old adage that a good salesman can sell anything.)

In 1908, Sears issued its first kit home catalog, know as the “Book of Modern Homes and Building Plans”. The houses ranged in cost from $163 to $3,506.

This book contained 22 house plans, which the customer could choose from and order directly from Sears. These were very flexible designs that often can with several floor plan options that could be modified to suit the owner’s tastes and needs.

Most of the building materials were included in the price of the home: lumber, windows, hardware, etc. Masonry, due to weight, had to be bought near the house’s building location. Plumbing and electrical kits were sold separately, in part because some homes were often built beyond the local municipal reaches of electricity, sewage, etc. Each house also came with a detailed construction manual, which can in very handy because…you had to build the house yourself.

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What made these houses so affordable, and therefore popular, is that they eliminated the labor costs of professional builders. Your house would arrive 30,000 pieces on two railroad boxcars. You built the house yourself, on your lot, on your schedule, using the included tools and directions from the construction manual. The manual even came with a prominent fore-warning: “Do not take anyone’s advice as to how this building should be assembled.” Talk about “sweat equity”, right?

Sears also sold out buildings, such as garages, barns, out houses, etc. Due to the municipal plumbing issues I mentioned above, out houses were sold well in the ’30’s. Over the years, Sears also featured building innovations in their house plans as they came on the market, such as drywall, plumbing upgrades and asphalt roofing shingles.

While Sears didn’t invent the mail-order house, they were the largest American retailer of the concept. In the years that Sears sold home kits, between 1908 and 1940, an estimated 100,000 houses were ordered by mail. Standard Oil even built a company town in Illinois using over 190 Sears houses. Many of these homes still survive all over America today.

House Examples

Sears offered 3 grades of houses. These grades accommodated budgets and regional house uses ever further than floor plan adaptations. However, this does not mean the lower grade houses were less sturdy, just that they used different materials.

The first grade of house was known as “Simplex” or “Econo-Bilt”. These buildings were often smaller, with less daily use, like vacation cottages and hunting cabins. Here’s an example of one as it appeared in the catalog:

Notice anything missing from that house plan? You would eventually. Remember, out houses are sold separately…

The next grade of house was the “Standard Bilt” grade. This grade of house was designed primarily for warmer climates. It included floor plans with more consideration for warm breezes, such as this example:

See how the Hall and the Kitchen can be opened on two sides to allow breezes to cool the rooms? Also, the bathroom is off of the porch only, which is not ideal for a Midwestern Winter. Love the porch on this house, though.

The last and most expensive house grade was the “Honor Bilt” house. Enticing name, huh? Clever marketers at work. These houses used the highest grade lumber and ALL of its pieces arrived for construction pre-cut and pre-fitted. They tended to have much more variety in architectural style. Some of these homes had some quite large floor plan options for the day, too. Here’s an example:

These “Honor Bilt” houses were very popular. They are often identified today by their wood shingle siding, which was a very popular option in an already well established architectural style of the day.

I also wanted to give you a small sampling of the many architectural styles Sears offered in their houses. (I’ve linked the location of all the houses and their plans in paragraph that follows these images.)

See a house you love? Except where otherwise noted, all of the pictures in today’s post are courtesy of the Sears archive website about Sears houses. They have dozens of other house pictures with plans to drool over in their image section. You can explore them all right here.

I also recommend you browse this website for great personal stories and pictures of Sears homes and the families who built them. There are also a lot of nice pictures of Sears homes as they stand today. It’s fun to see original sales receipts, crates that the building supplies arrived in and family pictures of the houses being loved over generations.

Do any of you live in or near a Sears house? Do you like floor plans from older house designs or do you prefer a more modern layout? What is the largest thing you have ever bought from a catalog? Leave a comment and share your experiences!

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

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

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

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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


  • 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


  • 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

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!

People who live in glass houses…

…are very, very lucky.

Since Spring is finally showing itself this year, I though I’d share a weather-related daydream of my own. I long for a conservatory. Here in the US, we have “sun rooms”, which generally means something along the lines of this:

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These can be very nice, but I love the idea of a more old-school feel in a glassed in room. A “conservatory”, which is the original British term for  a sun room, looks like this:

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The most famous conservatory ever created was by Sir Joseph Paxton in the United Kingdom. This is him:

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Sir Joseph had started as a mere gardner at a stately home in the English countryside. He played around with glass and iron to build small structures to grow and heal ailing plants on the estate. Glass and iron were not considered serious building materials in his day, but his little buildings worked and word spread to other estates. Here are some of his original structures today:

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

That’s right! Today, we call his building a “greenhouse”. Sir Joseph then took his knowledge and entered a national architecture competition to build the grand hall of the 1851 Great Exhibition. Other competing architects scoffed at his non-existent credentials and his concept. A building out of glass?! Lunacy! This was his winning design:

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Nicknamed “The Crystal Place”,  this conservatory sat in Hyde Park, London. It was an enormous breakthrough in architecture. (Such a breakthrough, today, would be something along the lines of building an entire skyscraper out of plastic.) The building stood 1,848 feet long and 135 feet high, enclosing live, fully grown elm trees that had already been living in Hyde Park. The building’s interior was 772, 784 square feet on the just on the ground floor. Here’s a portrait of the inside, with Queen Victoria presiding over the opening ceremonies:

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Here’s another view, which shows the 27 foot tall Crystal Fountain:

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6 million people visited the 1851 Great Exhibition. (That number was equal to 1/3 of the UK’s population at the time.) People came to see the amazing building and all of the wonderful exhibits of technology inside. The biggest, most popular attraction inside? The very first installation of public restrooms. There were massive lines just to see the restrooms. No one had ever considered such a thing before! Imagine.

After the exhibition was over, Victorians began to find ways of bringing the new technology to their own homes. Umm…I mean the conservatories, not the restrooms. Conservatories were a much more pressing need in a fashionable home. Can you blame them?

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Dreamy. I know having my own conservatory is really a dream because I’d still need the perfect garden to gaze out of my conservatory upon, but I can still dream. (Did you read about my other daydream habit?) If I had one of these, I’d spend every weekend morning it, doing things like enjoying the sunshine, eating a lazy breakfast, reading a good book, listening to the sounds coming from the garden.

Then, of course, there is the dilemma of furnishings. Do you make it an airy dining room?

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Or do you make it a lovely sitting room?

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Ooh! How about a nearby pool, for early morning dips and late night floating under the stars? Yes, please!

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You could even use the conservatory in a totally different way, like making it your kitchen.

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Maybe you only need a small conservatory off the back of your house.

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Maybe you don’t want your conservatory attached to the house at all.

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Such decisions! How would use a conservatory? What kind of lazy weekend plans would you move to a new glass room? Have a great weekend!

BIG House Tour: Fallingwater

A popular post on many home and design blogs is a house tour. This can be of the blogger’s home or another reader’s home, there are many options. I am a big fan of these tours, because I’m nosey. No, because I always like to see how other people live, what their tastes are, etc. So, when I was planning this blog, I thought, “How can I improve of the house tour idea? How can I kick it up a notch?” This is what I came up with:

BIG House Tours

I thought it would be interesting to go into BIG houses, important houses, and see how people live. I want to see where people have really lived or are living. So, I’ve set my sites on some famous houses to tour. BIG houses. (Okay you get the “big” part by now, sorry.) I’ll be looking for great homes all over the US and abroad. If you know of some great houses to visit, send them along to me!

Today’s BIG House Tour is a house icon for architecture. Unfortunately, whenever people talk about it, you normally only ever see one exterior angle of the house.

This one:

Image courtesy of Western Pennsylvania Conservancy

Or, for variation, this one:

Image courtesy of Western Pennsylvania Conservancy

“Fallingwater” was designed in 1936 by Frank Lloyd Wright for the Edgar Kauffmann of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Mr. Kaufmann was the owner of the Kaufmann’s department store, so he could afford Frank’s exorbitant design fees. (Full disclosure: I have visited this house and had a fantastic tour guide that gave us the real skinny on design details about this house. I’ll add the tour guide trivia in italics.)

Anyway, the house was designed in 1936 (apparently after Mr. Kaufmann showed up at Wright’s studio and demanded to see the design he’d already paid for and which was many months late) but was not built until 1939. (Good stuff, huh?) What makes this house important to the architecture world is the way that it fits into the existing landscape. The house is cantilevered over an existing waterfall. The sandstone used for the building was quarried on the Kaufmann property and used with stacked stone pillars and reinforced concrete to form the structure. (A few years ago, the conservancy had to pay to have most of that reinforced concrete ripped out and replaced. Frank  tended to be stingy on the contractor and materials purchasing and the concrete had seriously eroded.) The house is much larger than it looks, as you can see below, and it is extensively terraced up the natural grade of the hill. Let’s go inside…

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Upon entering the living room, the first thing you notice about this space is the, well, s  p  a  c  e. I have used the guide-book photo to illustrate this point (please excuse the page fold), because my regular camera lens just wasn’t wide enough to capture it all.

Living Room Image courtesy of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy

The light coming in from the windows on three sides of the room was beautiful. See the wet-looking flagstone floor? It is waxed every six months. I would have never thought of waxing bare stone, but is was very nice to stand on and felt a bit like a cork floor. Maybe I was just getting the benefit of around 142 wax coats. Frank Lloyd Wright designed all of the furniture for this house, as he did on many of his houses. There are window seats all over this house, which I love, so I loved the (most) of the furniture. (More about that when we get there.)

Another noteworthy thing about this house was the ceiling height. It felt a little low for me, in every room. I’m 5’11” tall. Two of the other people in our group, those at 6’4″ and 6’5″ agreed with me, while the 5’6″ person in our group said it felt fine. (Frank Lloyd Wright was approximately 5’7″ tall.)

Dining Area Image courtesy of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy

This picture was taken standing in front of the living room windows, looking back into the room. You can see the dining area on the far wall is framed along the ceiling with cantilevered shelves that also run along the living room windows. (Look at the top left corner of the picture to see an example of these.) Do you see the big red ball nestled in the fireplace wall? That is a giant metal kettle on an iron arm that can be swung into the fireplace to mull wine. (The Kaufmann family tried this only once before a holiday party, but the wine took 7 hours to get just slightly warm. From then on, they mulled their wine in great big pots on the stove in the kitchen and just poured it into the fireplace kettle right before the party started to serve their guests.) Next is the kitchen…

Kitchen Image courtesy of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy

The kitchen window was dreamy. Wouldn’t you enjoy your cup of coffee each morning with that view? Everyone in our group, however, agreed that Frank Lloyd Wright was probably not much of a cook. Hence, the kettle in the living room? A conventional layout with the standard cabinets and appliances of the day framed the room, but the countertop lighting was rather dark. We all wished he had at least put an extra window over the sink.

Next, we take some stairs up to the bedrooms. Here’s a beautiful view of the private rooms all aglow from an outside terrace. Very cosy!

Terrace View Image courtesy of Western Pennsylvania Conservancy

(Yikes! Can you see those cracks along the horizontal planes of concrete? Those are examples of what had to be repaired. And you can see why!)

There several bedrooms stacked on top of each other with the exact same floor plan and furniture in each room. One of them was turned into a study, which you can see on the top floor of the previous image. I love this part of the master bedroom.


Master Bedroom Image courtesy of Western Pennsylvania Conservancy

I really find the three-legged chair intriguing. I wish we had been allowed to sit in it. This is also a great image to point out the use of more cantilevered limestone built into the structural wall, yet providing ledges for everyday household use. I don’t have any pictures of any bathrooms in the house. They are all closed to the public and the guide assured us they were rather too small for pictures anyway. I was surprised. I thought if there was ever a house built for a soaking tub, this was it. Then we went to see this…


Pool Image courtesy of Western Pennsylvania Conservancy

Did you know this house has a pool? Well, this beats a good soaking tub any day. The pool is terraced up the hillside from the main house and lives just on the front edge of the guest house terrace. There’s a guest house? I know, I had no idea, either. Half of the guest house actually contains the big 3-5 car garage and servants quarters. Ah, servants. This explains the kitchen a bit more, doesn’t it? Here are the guest apartment rooms…


Guest Living Area Image courtesy of Western Pennsylvania Conservancy

I’d be happy to stay here. Roaring fire, popcorn, a few old movies on a big screen tv…sign me up!


Guest Bedroom Image courtesy of Western Pennsylvania Conservancy

Does this bed look short to you? We all thought it did. Okay, people were a little shorter 100 years ago, but still. So we asked the guide.  (Frank was not a man to mince words. He often told clients that he thought tall people “should be cut off at the knees.” Apparently, he designed all the beds in this house with this philosophy in mind. They are all several inches short than the standards of the time.) I sure hope the Kaufmann’s weren’t tall.

I hope you’ve enjoyed our BIG House Tour of Fallingwater today. Would enjoy living at Fallingwater? What surprised you about the interior rooms? I think Frank would really appreciate us closing this post with a comment from him.


Image courtesy of Wikipedia


“No house should ever be on a hill or on anything. It should be of the hill. Belonging to it. Hill and house should live together each the happier for the other.”  ~Frank Lloyd Wright

Design Vocabulary: Chevron

Today’s Design Vocabulary is an easy one to learn. You can probably already think of a great example of a chevron.

Image courtesy of

Yep! That’s an example of a chevron. In the logo, not the fuel station part. A chevron is a “V” shape, with the point of the “V” facing down or up. It can be used individually or in a connecting line, forming a zig-zag pattern. Simple, right? In fact, you probably see more chevrons than you realize. Here’s an example of a military insignia with chevrons:

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

This is the rank insignia of a Gunnery Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps. (Semper Fi!  Thank you for your service!) Chevrons in military use are linked back through history to chevrons in heraldry.

Image courtesy of

Can you see the chevrons in the bottom left corner of the shield? In heraldry, the chevron traditionally symbolizes a builder or someone who has performed faithful service. There are also chevrons used in architecture. Here is one version, which is used decoratively.

Image courtesy of

Here is another version, used structurally.

Image courtesy of

Can you see how those ceiling ribs come to a lovely point? Those chevron ribs, or arches, help to distribute the weight of the roof. You find these in many medieval churches because they were a savvy architectural solution for their day.

As you can see, chevrons are an old shape that have been used for centuries. Recently, there has been a big surge of popularity for chevrons in home design. (For those of you who want sources for these decor items, I’ve linked all the pictures below directly to their online catalog pages. Happy shopping!)

Image courtesy of West Elm

Image courtesy of The Company Store

Image courtesy of Amazon

Image courtesy of PBTeen

So now you know how to spot a chevron pattern like an expert. You can read a home/design magazine and exclaim with authority, “These chevrons are everywhere this year!” Do you like a chevron pattern? Where would you put one in your home?

House plan heaven

The "Winona Park" Image courtesy of Southern Living

Do you like to browse house plans? I browse them anywhere I find them: online, in magazines, in big house plan catalogs at bookstores. It is my own grown-up imagination exercise. What shape table would I put in this dining room? Where would a Christmas tree go in this house? Would I continue the authentic Craftsman colors inside the house, too? I once read an article that referred to this reading habit as “house porn”. I really prefer to think of it “hypothetical design opportunites”. Toe-may-toe, toe-mah-toe.

In case you’re like me, or you just want something different to browse during some down time at work (been there!), I thought I’d share some of my favorite house plan links with you. All of my example images are linked, too, so you instant gratification fans can click right to them for more details…

I like this site because it allows you to specify your lot size, which a lot of other sites that I have seen don’t give as an option. It can make for an interesting way to sort your fantasy home owning choices. Many of the plans in this collection have exterior renderings (rather than pictures) as their images to select from in the style menus. Jump into the plans anyway. Often, the pictures are just buried farther into the individual plans. Here is a favorite of mine from this site:

The "Chevalier de Florian" Image courtesy of

It’s outlandish. But if you are going to browse their “French Collection”, I say go palatial or go home. Based on the image above, real landscaping is a big priority for finessing some curb appeal. Looking at the floor plans, do you use hardwoods floors or marble? (Come on, dream with me.) While you are at it, toss in a couple extra millions and build your own water park in the backyard.

This fantastic site has three ways of searching their house plans.

  • Architectural Style: as in “Victorian” or “Spanish”
  • Theme Collections: everything category you can think of to search, from “Best Small Houses” to “Country House plans for Texas”
  • Executive House plans: rare historic house plans, international plans  and plans by specific architects

I have to ration my time here. I have never been a video gamer, but when I hear about addicts playing games at all hours of the night, I can picture myself comparing walk-in closets on this site at 3 am. Here is a lovely plan I like, in case I ever win the lottery:

Plan #56-604 Image courtesy of

At 5,342 square feet, it is still on the large size, I’ll grant you. I prefer not to imagine the utility bills from this house, but you can see why I like it, right?The woodwork is gorgeous. The curb appeal is so welcoming. The large floor plan really flows nicely. You could have some beautiful holiday events in this house!

This house plans website is run by Better Homes & Gardens magazine. I like this site for great vacation homes. Whether your perfect vacation idea is in the desert, by a lake, in the mountains or on a beach somewhere, you can probably find a great get-away home here. Here’s one I like:

The "Springview" Image courtesy of Better Homes & Gardens

This little cabin is picture perfect and would be so cosy on Fall weekend. I like the idea of a vacation home being small and easy to maintain, so log cabins in the mountains have always intrigued me. The first thing I would do with this house is buy a lot of firewood. I love a good fireplace!

This site is run by Southern Living magazine. If you like Tudor, Colonial, Southern or Plantation style homes. This might be just the house plans site for you. When you first log on to this site, choose their “Advance Search” feature. This will allow you to choose houses based on specific styles and requirements. Here is a favorite of mine:

The "Inlet Cottage" Image courtesy of Southern Living

This little darling comes from their “Tidewater/Low country” collection. It is on the smaller side, as far as square footage goes. However, this cottage could be a real gem in the right setting on a beach or a lake. The breeze on that side porch could be heavenly!

What does your dream home look like? Do you like any of the houses I’ve posted today? Do you have any other house plans website ideas?

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