Page C1.1 . 14 November 2007                     
ArchitectureWeek - Culture Department
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L-House on the Prairie

by William G. Gabler

In the 19th century, the great majority of the houses of western Minnesota were cheap, plain, awkward, and unlovely. Harmony and unity emerged from the mundane clutter, however, in the form of the classic L-house, which became representative of much of the farming way of life in the Midwest.

When the prairie families earned enough money to move out of their cabins and sod houses, they often built modest rectangular-shaped, one-and-a-half-story houses with simple gable roofs. These structures became L-houses when the families earned enough to add on the kitchen L and porch of a complete L-house.

The easiest way to expand was to extend the original house sideways by laying more joists parallel to the original ones. Since the joist length was limited to about 16 feet (4.9 meters), one ended up with a house 16 feet wide and whatever length one wanted, but a long narrow house was not very desirable. Those houses were hard to heat evenly, requiring a stove at each end.

The next least complicated means of expansion was the L-house approach, which added a second 16-foot-wide section onto the side of the original house at right angles so the new floor plan resembled an L, where the foot of the L was the living room and the stem of the L was the kitchen. Many L-houses were designed so the living room segment extended beyond the walls of the kitchen segment, which made the house plan resemble an asymmetrical T rather than an L.   >>>

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This article is excerpted from Death of the Dream: Classic Minnesota Farmhouses by William G. Gabler, copyright 1997, with permission of the publisher, Afton Historical Society Press.



ArchWeek Image

This L-house farmhouse has survived with its original Victorian detailing intact, revealing an unusual level of architectural sophistication for Minnesota farmhouses of its time.
Photo: William G. Gabler Extra Large Image

ArchWeek Image

With its yard spaces still intact and in original proportion to the driveway and shelterbelt, this L-house can be seen in a roughly original context, although the trees and shrubs have begun to take over.
Photo: William G. Gabler Extra Large Image


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