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A. F. Bullen residence, alterations
Purcell and Elmslie
Red Wing, Minnesota     1913

Text by William Gray Purcell
Parabiographies entry, Volume for 1913
Job Date (in Parabiography): 1913

A. F. Bullen Stairs and Library, Red Wing MN

[Note: This is from an early draft of the Parabiographies. These excerpts do not appear in the "formal" typescript generated in the 1950s.]

When Mr. and Mrs. Bullen couldn't think of anything else to do, they remodelled their house. It was a fine old square stone dwelling built in the 1870s - a mass of considerable dignity. Originally it had a glass windowed cupola on the roof and a jigsaw porch which we had replaced with something more ample and quiet. We may have made no especial improvement in the architecture, but our simple forms did not embarrass the old thing, and the broad new porch was a much happier place for summer living.

The lower floor of the Bullen house was finished in natural ash, golden yellow from much varnishing. The doors and casings were heavily "set off" with fillets of oak or walnut. Ash with its strongly patterned grain was a popular finish wood in the 1890s and a favorite floor was made of alternate strips of oak and ash. We had such floor in the kitchen of my boyhood home at 418 South Boulevard, although all the other rooms had clear white pine for carpet covering. The kitchen floor was hand scrubbed every Saturday afternoon and the shaky wood gradually lifted unfriendly slivers and slices. The millwrights who designed and detailed all the moldings by tradition had an instinctive feeling for the various woods and ash moldings tended to be cast in large, full forms to build gay grain patterns against the curves of staff and coves. We kept to the old moldings and selected colors and fabrics to look well with the high color of the wood. In 1908 only brown was really popular, fumed oak preferred to mahogany.

It is really unfair to refer to the post-Civil War period as "The Brown Decades" - they were far from that until 1896, when the "brown" era arrived to remain until World War I - and on through it. 1870 and 1880 were fond of color in dress and home. Many of the popular books were bound in bright greens, earthy reds, blues, gold. Ladies' cresses were very gay in color. Rooms were dramatic with variegated woods, gold, glass, and decorative draperies.

[Annotation on the draft by WGP: "Gay Nineties" not gay. It was "The Gay "80s." Above, referring to Bullen, WGP notes: "I shall not forget the Stilton cheese he imported." And "Bullen an Englishman - think of Mr. Pickwick."]

In Bullen's old north parlor we built a really beautiful library room in black walnut, with shelves to the ceiling, and then Mr. Bullen told me "he had no books - how could he get some?" I told him I would attend to that, and he seemed very much pleased - "You know what we should have." I went to Edmund Brooks, our distinguished bibliophile, and asked him to make up a list and secure prices on a thousand volumes mostly sets with rich and colorful bindings. He has hardly started when Mr. Bullen up and died. What now may stand on those shelves is a matter of interest only to current Red Wing Society, and small town society can be pretty complicated in its pattern of interlacing vertical and horizontal stratifications, as we were soon to learn.


   Collection: William Gray Purcell Papers, Northwest Architectural Archives, University of Minnesota [AR:B4d1.7]
research courtesy mark hammons