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  • L-House on the Prairie

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    L-House on the Prairie


    Design Elements of the Ideal L-House

    1. Standard wood-frame construction employing pine two-by-fours, two-by-eights, and one-by-tens (boards with width and depth of two by four inches, two by eight inches, and one by ten inches, or five by ten centimeters, five by 20 centimeters, and 2.5 by 25 centimeters) was used throughout.

    2. The main floor plan outline was approximately the shape of a broad L or T whose outside dimensions were about 24 by 32 feet (7.3 by 9.8 meters) (Example 1, Example 2).

    3. The main floor plan contained a rectangular or square kitchen about 16 by 16 feet (4.9 by 4.9 meters) with an east-west axis, joined at right angles to another larger rectangle about 16 by 24 feet (4.9 by 7.3 meters) that contained a 16-by-16-foot living room on the south end, and a back bedroom about eight by 16 feet (2.4 by 4.9 meters) on the north end.

    4. An open porch about five by 16 feet (1.5 by 4.9 meters), with Gothic posts supporting its roof, was fit in the angle of the L so the porch overlooked the barnyard and faced the morning light (Example).

    5. The outside kitchen and living room doors both opened onto the kitchen porch.

    6. There was sometimes a formal front door to the living room and an open front porch on the center of the west end of the house. When a formal front door was present, there was usually no living room door opening onto the kitchen porch.

    7. The elevation was one-and-a-half-stories high, with four- or eight-pane windows that measured about 28 by 60 inches (71 by 152 centimeters) evenly spaced on the walls, individually or in pairs, on the vertical center line of the south wall of the living room L (Example).

    8. The second floor contained two or three bedrooms whose shapes conformed to the rooms below them. The bedroom above the living room, with the most windows and the most headroom, was usually the master bedroom.

    9. Downstairs ceilings were about nine feet (2.7 meters). The kitchen ceiling was sometimes one foot (0.3 meters) lower than the living room ceiling. Bedroom ceilings upstairs sloped down at the outside, leaving only about an eight-foot- (2.4-meter-) wide area centered under the roof ridge at full height.

    10. The house was sheltered by a pine-shingled gable-ended roof of four basic planes at about 45 degrees to the horizontal, with 12-inch (30-centimeter) overhangs.

    11. There was often an additional gable or gable-ended dormer window fit into the south roof over the kitchen, and over the living room above the front porch, to provide additional windows into the upstairs bedrooms.

    12. A two- or three-window bay was sometimes built out from the south wall of the living room.

    13. All outside walls were covered with four- or five-inch (ten- or 13-centimeter) pine siding.

    14. Exterior decoration was generally restricted to the porch posts, railings, brackets, the gable ends, and the bay window when present (Example).

    15. Exteriors were usually painted all white, all one color, or two colors, with the darker color applied to the door and window frames and selected portions of the decorations.

    16. Inside there were three doorways through the wall between the kitchen L and the living room L: one to the living room, one to the second-floor bedrooms, and one to the back bedroom on the first floor.

    17. There were two square chimneys of brick built on shelves about six feet (1.8 meters) above the floor. One rose from the kitchen stove up the center of the east wall through the roof ridge, and the other rose from the center of the back wall of the living room L.

    18. A grate about one foot (0.3 meters) square was fit into the ceiling of the living room above the stove, and less commonly above the kitchen stove, to allow warm air to rise into the otherwise unheated upstairs bedrooms.

    19. Interior walls and ceilings were covered with lath and plaster and then painted or wallpapered.

    20. Floors were of four- or five-inch (ten- or 13-centimeter) pine and painted, rarely varnished.

    21. There was a small root cellar, about eight by 12 feet (2.4 by 3.7 meters), with a dirt floor, under the center of the house, reached through a horizontal door outside and down a wood staircase.

    22. Foundations were of granite fieldstone, about two feet (0.6 meters) wide, and they were dug down only far enough to get below the frostline about three or four feet (0.9 or 1.2 meters).

    A self-employed writer, photographer, and house repairman, Bill Gabler holds a bachelor's degree in art history from the University of Minnesota. He has worked as senior managing photographer at the Space Science Center at the University of Minnesota and as a production editor at West Publishing Company in St. Paul.

    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.


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    ArchWeek Image

    Porches help reduce the scale of the L-house and provide fine detail and intricate rhythm.
    Photo: William G. Gabler Extra Large Image

    ArchWeek Image

    Although this house retained most of its original character long after falling into disuse, usually the smaller details and finer textures of L-houses were replaced in successive renovations or lost to decay and vandalism after the houses were abandoned.
    Photo: William G. Gabler Extra Large Image

    ArchWeek Image

    This kitchen was once a vital element in the lives of the family who owned the 470-acre (190-hectare) farmstead of which the house was a part.
    Photo: William G. Gabler Extra Large Image

    ArchWeek Image

    Small elements including bay windows and porch detailing allowed for individualization of the L-shaped farmhouse type.
    Photo: William G. Gabler Extra Large Image


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