The Forensics of Architecture and Home Design
Houses tell stories and reveal information because of the footprint as well as the materials used in their construction. Unraveling the construction details of an historic house is not an exact science but a conjectural examination of numerous details. Factoring in social norms, technology and science play equal parts of the equations.
R&R has been engaged to review an historic upcountry S.C. plantation house that has been heavily remodeled, including being brick veneered. This in itself creates major problems, in that the windows, door openings, eve brackets and so much more are often damages, covered over or removed during the process of modernization. The enthusiastic owner believes the home dates to ca. 1910. To his credit, the house does have a turn of the century staircase. But gracing the fireplaces are ca. 1840s carved mantels associated with a documented antebellum contractor. The questions raised immediately is – did the mantels originally belong in this house or were they salvaged? As we forensically examine this dwelling we will build an explanation and post it on the appropriate page later this spring.
Houses influenced by pattern books:
Historic pattern books are wonderful treasurers of information on historic culture, architecture and social history of entire communities. They too play a significant roll in exploring the history of a structure. These books were the basis for most house designs in the South and were widely available to carpenters and contractor. Clients not only relied on their contractor’s skills and eye but also in many cases their pattern books. A contractor became familiar with the designs and layout of his favorite book and tended to repeat it over and over. These books provided not only home designs but in many cases; suggestions for household furniture, gardens and other decorative features. Nineteenth century contractors frequently combined elements from several design sources, mixing house types which he was familiar with building and simply embellishing them with brackets and features that created a modern appearance; the birth of Carolina vernacular architecture.
In 1852, the two volume set, The Architect by William R. Ranlett was published and received wide acclaim. Many of his designs featured front facade towers and heavy use of Italianate eve brackets, wide halls, large casement openings, and otherwise very simple interior treatment. His designs appear to have been widely used in the Carolina upcountry. R&R has documented them in rural Fairfield and York counties. Do tell us of others you too might know of!
Pattern books were the source of design inspiration for thousands of 19th century homeowners, just as Southern Living designs have often inspired homeowners. Contractors may have been limited in their ability to vary the home’s boxy frame style but by studying the elements of design offered by numerous designers were indeed offering their clients the latest of fashion. A.J. Downing’s design books and others were also widely used to influence the construction of 19th century homes and R&R would love to hear from you as to your knowledge of pattern book used in your community.
To read more on the subject please link to R&R Pattern Books.
Wade B. Fairey, Sr. Co-Founder
From the Porch – Blog @ RootsandRecall.com – 1.12.17