In my continuing effort to study and immerse myself into the early 20th century, I recently finished reading 1000 Turn-of-the-Century Houses. The book is a collection of floor plans from the late 1890s and early 1900s.
The floor plans were all drawn by a St. Louis architect named Herbert Chivers. He compiled them into a book he published in 1910 called Artistic Homes. Throughout the book are testimonials as well as statements by Chivers stating the virtues of working with an architect.
Chivers strikes me as someone who would be difficult to work with. For example, he stated that he could not be bothered with simple inquiries because the people who ask them aren’t serious about buying his plans.
Vintage Floor Plans
I noticed immediately that homes were not sold by square footage. A few listed the widths and depths, so I was able to calculate that the houses ranged from 800 to nearly 6,000 square feet. The plans were sold for $5 to $15, and the homes cost from $500 to around $3,500 to build.
I also noticed that features we think of as being quite modern were already in present in these homes. These features include:
- Walk-in pantries
- Nine or 10 foot ceilings
- Walk-in closets or large closets
- Water closets, although by 1900 these were falling out of disfavor for a toilet located in the rest of the bathroom
- An office, den or library
- Laundry rooms
Comparing and Contrasting with 21st Century Homes
The floor plans are simultaneously modern and old fashioned when compared to homes being built today.
Some features that were different were:
- The kitchen was closed off from the rest of the house. (This is a feature I wish we still had. Who wants to see a sink full of dirty dishes or a messy kitchen when entertaining guests?)
- Servant quarters
- Music rooms
- Sewing rooms
- Storage rooms
- Trunk rooms
- Access to the basement from both inside and outside the home
- More than one staircase
Features that are similar to those found in today’s new construction:
- Having one to eight bedrooms, most were labeled “chambers” although a few were called “bedrooms”
- While many homes today have a family room and a living room, these houses had a parlor and a sitting room.
- Foyers were called “reception rooms”
Finally, Some Questions
I noticed some features for which I have no explanation.
- Many times a bedroom was located near the kitchen while the other bedrooms were upstairs. These were large rooms and, therefore, were not servants’ rooms. Could they have been guest bedrooms?
- Bathrooms were usually on the ground floor. Is this because of easy access for guests, keeping them out of the private parts of the house?
- Rooms labeled “girl’s rooms” and “boy’s rooms.” Were these segregated playrooms or perhaps bedrooms?
I would love to see some photographs of these homes once they had been completed.
Enjoy Victorian and Edwardian homes? Visit the Interior Design and Architecture section of my Pinterest board Life: 1890 to 1920.
Updated: 23 October 2020