firm active: 1907-1921

minneapolis, minnesota :: chicago, illinois
philadelphia, pennsylvania :: portland, oregon

Navigation :: Home :: Commission List :: Parabiographies
Arthur Jones residence, alterations
Purcell and Feick
Minneapolis, Minnesota  1908

Parabiographies entry, Volume for 1908
Text by William Gray Purcell

Job Date (in Parabiographies entry): April 23, 1908


Meet Our First Home Owner

The detailed study of this very simple project had a great influence on all my later work.  It is a very small dwelling held tight by the old barn walls and roof - but it brought to a focus all the thinking I had been doing about the relations between mechanics and design, and in this little house I made my first detailed examination of the relation of a building to the size of people and the geography of their movements.  It has an open plan like #15 and was the first of this particular type of open plan to be built and tried out in use.

Up to Date in 1908

The low eaves height, from which the old barn book roof sprang, forced a plan arrangement which used the lower ceiling parts of the second floor for stairs, closets, and the like, securing height for bath with a bathroom size dormer. The disposition of parts clicked so neatly that we used the same idea over and over for small houses and larger ones.  "Craftsman" doors, four-panel, with two small panels at the top, "oatmeal" wallpaper, carefully selected "plain" electric fixtures, fumed oak "Gustav Stickley" furniture, and a sun parlor were all novelties in 1908, and the Arthur Jones barn had them all.  A bit too "brown" it was for the color taste of 1938 - but charming and livable.

"Its Never Been Done"

One of the striking features of this little house when completed was the nearly square shape of the windows.  For half a century it had been the fashion to design tall and narrow double-hung windows.  Beginning with conservative proportions in which the opening was at least twice as high as it was wide, often windows none too wide would extend from baseboard to ceiling cove in eleven or twelve foot rooms.  This provided the maximum effect for four-yard lace curtains - indeed, there is no doubt but that the "lace curtain" convention, standard window decoration everywhere until about 1896, was responsible for increasingly taller and narrower windows.

Contact with the out of doors by way of the window was practically abandoned.  The whole set-up was based on "looks" instead of convenience.  Any possibility of securing light from the window was further reduced by opaque roller shades which covered the upper half of the window, and to make matters worse, this unused half had to be heated all winter.  We lowered the windowheads to 6'8" (generally much lower on the second floor), making the windows themselves about 4'-0" high.  These were widened out to 3'-6".  These proportions made for a comfortable appearance, much better subordination of parts - and made little houses look larger.

There is no doubt but that we were unconsciously influenced by many windows we had seen.  The Winslow House by Wright in River Forest, built about 1897 (?) featured double-hung windows that were wider than they were tall.  I knew and loved this house from my High School days.

An additional reference concerning the origins and purpose of this commission can be found in another Parabiographies entry.

    Collection: William Gray Purcell Papers, Northwest Architectural Archives, University of Minnesota [AR:B4d1.2]
research courtesy mark hammons