An 1886 House. So, why not a 2015 House?

I collect vintage magazines regarding architecture and interior design. I like seeing how houses looked way back when, and not just decor but kitchens and baths and boilers and dumbwaiters and hardware and the whole bit.

A particular favorite is Scientific American, Architects & Builders Edition. Each edition, at least the early editions, are only nominally about architecture. Sigh. These “special” editions consist of the regular magazine but with a double-page color insert, and another insert showing details seemingly drawn on vellum. Pretty cool, but I yearn for more.

It is quite difficult finding early editions with the inserts still in situ. Inserts are, understandably, easily lost over time. And of late, people buy editions of the magazine with intact inserts, and sell the inserts on eBay. This should certainly be a crime.



A home design from the March, 1886 edition. Front view.



Side view.



Plans! I looooooooove plans! I can stare at plans all day. By today’s standards the house is small. I would have no issue with the size, but would take issue with other considerations. For example, there is but one bathroom. I am of the opinion that NO home should offer less than a full bath and a half-bath. No less. With the plan above, I would convert the small rear bedroom into a lavish master bath (and more closets) for the bedroom with the rounded bay. I would also make the “store” on the first-floor (upper left) into a powder room. Oh, and isn’t a piazza so much nicer sounding than porch?



If you stood in the dining room, and looked at the fireplace wall, this is what you would see. And how FABULOUS is this? What slays me though is that NOBODY designs like this anymore. NOBODY! Which begs the question: why not? I mean, it cannot just be me in thinking that this is STUNNING and WAY COOL. Oh, and please do not assume — you are forbidden! — that nobody does such work today because it is unaffordable or that such craftspeople no longer exist. Poppycock! Today, people spend fortunes on kitchens…all the while accepting plain sheetrock boxes for all their other rooms. In short, the issue is not affordability, but WHERE to spend? Also, there is nothing about the above design which is actually impossible to create today, or even that difficult. The above design was not intended for a mansion but for a modest home of 1886.



If you stood in the parlor, and looked at the fireplace wall, this is what you would see. While the woodworking seems impossibly extravagant, expense-wise, today this is also not true. The highly elaborate carving over the fireplace could be carved by a computer-controlled laser. Note how plain the side walls are.


I find almost all new housing in America to be ugly. Often ugly to an extreme.

Yet, I never ever ever come across a building which I find ugly before, say, WWII.

What is so curious is that, today, I type these words on a GORGEOUSLY-designed Mac computer. My calls are made on a GORGEOUSLY designed iPhone. IKEA and TARGET have for several decades offered good design combined with low prices. And I would KILL for a lusciously-designed Tesla sedan.

In short, we value beauty today as much as we valued beauty in 1886. But why do we demand beauty in our smart phones and computers and housewares and sheets…yet accept ugly housing?

This, I just don’t get. And the awareness vexes and depresses me.


  1. ken on September 22, 2015 at 8:04 pm

    You are so right Ross. Is there any information how the Cross house looked when they lived there?

    • Ross on September 22, 2015 at 8:11 pm

      Hi Ken,

      To my bitter disappointment, I have zero interior images of the Cross House during its occupation by Susan and Harrison Cross.

      Indeed, I have zero interior images until the 1970s! Quite vexing!!!!!!

  2. SandraGMcNichol on September 23, 2015 at 1:36 pm

    I totally agree with you, Ross. Cheers!

  3. Vicki F. on September 24, 2015 at 1:37 am

    Very interesting post and I am in total agreement with your views on new houses. “Open concept” drives me wild….I mean who wants to sit in the living room with guests (or not) and look at the mess that inevitably shows up in the kitchen? or the dog’s bowls? or the laundry?

  4. Sally on September 25, 2015 at 8:28 pm

    I’ve always wondered this too! Do you think this is because most houses today are built by contractors and houses in the past we’re more usually designed by architects?

  5. Devyn on August 7, 2017 at 9:09 am

    I just stumbled across this post. This house is so lovely! It feels rather modern for it’s time. The inglenook by the fireplace in the living room was way ahead of the trend.

    I do find the split front doors a bit odd. I would think guests would either think the house is a duplex or be unsure which door to knock on.

Leave a Reply Cancel Reply

Your email address will NEVER be made public or shared, and you may use a screen name if you wish.