Purcell and Elmslie, Architects
Firm active: 1907-1921
Minneapolis, Minnesota :: Chicago,
Job Date (in Parabiographies
entry): April 22, 1908
Study for Cottage (Ladies' Home Journal)
In working out the Jones Barn-to-House alterations [#23] only a few weeks after doing the Bird competition plans [#15], we came to see that in this utterly inconsequential job there lay a basic ideal solution for a type of two-story dwelling much in demand in that time. The majority of American housewives were then living in houses which had been built before the gay nineties and which were gay enough if you could afford a cook at the $3.50 per week top wages paid, and a second girl at, say, $2.75, to take the curse off these houses that began to be referred to as "wife killers." These houses had very large rooms, eleven to twelve foot ceiling, big attics, and the main floor was four or five feet (eight or ten steps) above the lawn. There were too many steps to climb. Kitchen work was a tour from each remote utility to some less useful place. There was a swelling chorus of demand for some small compact houses, conveniently arranged, and with no dust-catchers. We saw the Jones Barn becoming such a home. Julia Jones was happy. Her suffering mother lived next door in the "white elephant" which this barn had served. The fact that the old folks wanted to get rid of the barn was significant enough as we see it now, although most people at the that time didn't want horseless carriages."
Inspired by the possibility of getting some national publicity for our idea, we studied the format of the Home Journal's pages and began a drawing that should be a function of the entire page, like a sort of glorified advertisement. The customary arrangement of pages in all magazines was to just scatter the pictures here and there between the columns of type wherever the makeup man could find the best place. We design[ed] a three-column panel and left a decorative space for the descriptive text.
This interest in typography and book design was a natural sequence of the deluxe edition of my grandfather's story "Keweenaw," on the hand printing of which Frederick Folger Thomas and I had two years before spent our summer evenings in Berkeley. Design of the printed page was also a part of the atmosphere of printing and publishing and bookmaking in which I [had] grown up with my grandfather editor, and prophetically it was tied with my most interesting and exciting years, 1916-1920. During this period I became Advertising Manager of Alexander Brothers, and, with team work between the printer, an architect, such artists as John Norton and others, and Charley Alexander himself, we beat all the old line advertising agents with our Direct Mail campaign of 1918. We captured first prize in the New York Business and Advertising Show of 1919. Whether or not we actually sent this Ladies Home Journal House to the Curtis Publishing Company, I can't say.
It seems a pity this plan was not built. Five well-planned practical bedrooms in a two-story and attic house 22 x 30 is an accomplishment. The monitor roof which had been worked out a few weeks before (Kahler) came in handy and was given an honored place -- I am still intrigued by the thought of those nice, orderly, well lighted, well ventilated monitor type bedrooms in attics. Rooms open on two sides, replacing all the old stuffy, head-bumping, unfurnishable, conventional attic bedrooms. When we finally built our only one for Stevens in Eau Claire [#47], it met all the hopes I had for it, and I'm still wondering why the opportunity to do another one didn't come to us. Perhaps any rooms at all on the third floor were going out. American women were already on their way downstairs to bungalow life. The four flues and two separate chimneys for such a simple project go back to pre-automatic-gas-water-heater days. The coal-tank-heater smoke pipe ruined good draft control in the house heating furnace and the coil for domestic hot water in the house heating firepot formed clinkers, so we tried to give people final economy in this department, even at the risk of running up the cost, by providing separate flues.
One good bet we missed - no one had yet thought of it - the purlin-type floors, "mill construction," with very long span flooring so that the 8'-0" required for legal ceiling height could be measured to underside of actual flooring instead of underside of joists.
[* Footnote on this page by WGP:
Walter Burley Griffin had this idea first in 1910. It was then largely
forgotten, except for my use of it in the Bell house, Portland, Oregon in 1927,
until given national publicity by the lumber manufacturers in the
constructionist days of 1937.] This would have reduced the total height of this
house by a foot and a half - and given it breadth. Placing the first floor only
three steps above grade instead of five would also have helped. I was too
much absorbed in the social, economic, structural, mechanical functions, and so
the essential grace of my project had to tag along as best it could.]
A year later we would not have thought of designing this house without a sun-parlor, and within another year an open sleeping porch, with no sash, would have been as necessary a requirement as the roof. By 1912 the sleeping porch must have been glassed in, and from that it was only a step to radiators for heat, and so the circle back to the old bedroom was complete - a bedroom, to be sure, with more windows. If it had not been for the pressure in popular designing which demanded small square windows in the fashionable "Colonial" architecture, bedrooms with many windows would have been as universal then as they are in "modern" architecture today.
We were pleased with the cantilever porch roof, a planned-beforehand place for the inevitable kitchen cabinet, an unusually good bathroom arrangement, "plenty of closets," and a house that would go on a 50 foot lot and have ample free air and sunshine on each side. You will find no auto drive, and in the parking is a cement strip extending to each hitching post to keep the horses from pawing holes in the lawn!-really up-to-the-minute details - we weren't forgetting anything.