Stock Plans Old and New

Building Patterns

Plan books  go way back, as the exhibit Stock Options: Houses for Everyone,

which just opened at U. C. Berkeley, vividly demonstrates. Curator Elizabeth Byrne traces the history of the western home through the profusion of pattern books and brochures published by building companies since the nineteenth century.

This is where most of the designs for the houses that shape our cities and towns come from.

The New York firm of Palliser & Palliser was one of the early plan companies. As the economy and the middle class expanded, home building grew apace, especially in the early 20th century, when

bungalows, promoted by builders and magazines alike, took the country by storm and became identified with California and the good life. Truly the model T of home design in that era, the bungalow — like the automobile — overran towns like Pasadena, California, where there’s even a neighborhood

called “Bungalow Heaven.” And by the way, garage plans suddenly became important. The pent-up demand for housing produced by the Depression and then World War II resulted in a huge building boom at mid century

when plan books flooded the market. For example,  prominent Los Angeles architect Paul Williams published two books of plans in 1945 and 1946.  Plans like “The Ulster” shown below, with its efficient central courtyard arrangement

appeared in The Book of Small Houses, also in 1946. (The books themselves are shown in a photo at the top of this post). Ranch houses became the post-war equivalent of the bungalow, only more open to the yard, as this Cliff May plan from Sunset Western Ranch Houses of 1946

shows. Note the headline, which rings even more true today, when scarce land for building makes every inch count. To continue the auto metaphor, you could say the ranch house became the Ford Mustang of home design in the 1960s, especially as it metamorphosed into Eichler tract houses and other contemporary designs. The exhibit brings us down to the present by showing recent prefab work by Michelle Kaufmann and online home plans like our very own Flexahouse by architect Nick Noyes. For an  exhaustive scholarly history of the pattern book see Houses From Books: Treatises, Pattern Books, and Catalogs in American Architecture: 1738-1950: A History and Guide, by Daniel D. Reiff (Penn State Press, 2000).

Our Newest Exclusive

I’m excited to present work by our latest exclusive architect, Bud Dietrich. It vividly continues the stock plan story into the future.

This elegant house — Plan 481-1 — combines a traditional outline with modern indoor-outdoor living in a crisp orderly plan.

Spatial surprises abound, from the home office/den in its own window bay to the

barrel vault in the living room and the daylit basement

play room opening to a broad stair up to the garden. I like Bud’s design philosophy: “We should create right-sized homes that are gentle on us and our resources. Rather than getting distracted by questions of architectural style let’s use our own wisdom and common sense to create homes that are appropriate for their time and place.” His beautiful multifunctional design shows just how far the stock plan has come.

4 responses to “Stock Plans Old and New

  1. Nice job on the last house Bud. I have a question about the playroom opening. How do you address the drainage from this area? In the wrong location – environment this design feature looks like it could be catastruaphic. I always look forward to this email, thanks for sharing the work!

  2. At first I really liked what Bud did within this traditional shape. Unfortunately the design fails utterly in considering the site, namely site drainage. The last image was the most telling, as water will always seek its own level and the entry/exit to the basement is just one giant storm drain.

    I understand the intent, but this solution will result in a flooded basement even under the slightest rain fall. A more appropriate solution would have turned the access into the basement toward the patio adjacent fire place. The plinth of the patio would have provided sufficient grade change to avoid flooding into the basement area as well a better connectivity between those two outside spaces.

    This is a common problem we have encountered with daylit basement solutions on shallow sloping sites. The site drainage issues are critical with such designs.

  3. Enjoyed your section on stock house plan books. I myself collect older stock house plans books, mostly featuring the Eichler, May house style. Older Home planners books also features some nice older ranch designs. Thanks

  4. Here’s a response to Bud’s plan from reader Ricardo Ramos:

    Your solution for drainage at the lower level (basement) and the stair will suffice for surface flow building up only in those locations. The issue is with the grading as it passes by the stairs down to the basement. The surface sheet flow from the grading will easily overwhelm the drains on the stairs and at the lower landing (which also tend to clog up with dirt and debris throughout the year anyway). My suggestion is to divert surface sheet flow along the grading with either an extended wall, a curving wall or even a bio swale, such that water cascading down the slope will not have unfetter access to the basement stair. Water rarely flows uphill when properly diverted. Your French drains and drain tile system will do the rest.

    Ricardo Ramos, Assoc. AIA, LEED® AP, CSI

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