What We're Reading
Information and inspiration for homeowners and history buffs
By James H. Schwartz and Stephanie Joy Smith | From Preservation | September/October 2008
Celebrating Compatible Design: Creating New Spaces in Historic Homes
By Rob White (Utah Heritage Foundation, $15)
Though the title seems to promise heavy lifting, this light booklet could save your neighborhood. As the introduction says, it's "a book about beautiful home additions É an idea book for anyone contemplating an addition É [with] examples to illustrate the perils of ignoring good design."
Through photographs and text, you'll discover the types of additions that work in historic districts, and the pitfalls that responsible homeowners should avoid. As author Rob White explains, "Successful additions aim to preserve the character of the original by deferring to it É This is the essence of compatibility."
I particularly enjoyed the frank analysis of additions that fail. They're all here: monster houses that tower over historic streetscapes, pop-ups that reduce vintage homes to mere pedestals for new construction, and—my personal pet peeve—charming houses subsumed by huge dormers. (If bad things happen to good people, I'm convinced that bad dormers happen to good cottages.)
Though this booklet focuses on neighborhoods in Salt Lake City, it contains lessons for residents everywhere. The chapter on garages seems particularly valuable. Good garages, White explains, are sensitive to the primary residence and good looking on their own. They're also distinguished by carefully chosen doors.
Breeze through this booklet to earmark the projects (and garages) you admire, then show it to your architect or contractor before bulldozers come near your house. You'll be glad you did.
To purchase call 801.533.0858 or go to www.utahheritagefoundation.org.
Who Will Love It: Anyone who's considering building an addition onto an old house
Where to Keep It: In the file where you put photos, magazine clippings, and floor plans you love
How to Describe It: Eye opening
Louis Sullivan's Merchants National Bank
By Bill Menner (Pomegranate, $18.95)
If you think that all of Louis Sullivan's commissions resemble his Guaranty Building in Buffalo, or his Carson, Pirie, Scott building in Chicago, this elegant little book may startle you.
In the last years of Sullivan's career (trying times for the man often credited with the invention of the American skyscraper), he designed eight jewellike banks throughout the Midwest. The Merchants National Bank in Grinnell, Iowa, is one of the finest.
As Bill Menner's book illustrates, the brick building seems somewhat plain at first glance. But a closer look reveals a riot of terra-cotta decoration and a giant stained-glass window. Inside, skylights and more colored windows create a dazzling light show—dramatic evidence of the building's complexity.
The book documents how Sullivan spent countless hours studying the site here, sketching away on a notepad bought at the local drugstore. By the time the building opened in 1915, the architect known for his abrasive personality was reinvigorated.
Leaf through Menner's book, enjoy historic images of Grinnell and color shots of the bank building today, and you'll get a sense of just how breathtaking a seemingly simple architectural creation can be.
Who Will Love It: Fans of unforgettable buildings in unexpected places
Where to Keep It: Near the travel guides. Grab it the next time you head to the Midwest.
How to Describe It: Illuminating
For more photos, stories, and tips, subscribe to the print edition of Preservation magazine.