Goodbye, Basement. Hello, Relaxatorium

Filed in Design, Education by on March 31, 2015 0 Comments

Publications showcasing home plans to builders and prospective home owners have been readily available for at least 150 years. And while most appear to have been published by architectural and design firms, many were published by building product suppliers to promote use of their products.

Here is a selection of homes from these product-focused publications.

A Basement by Any Other Name

Twenty New Prize Contest Small House Plans was published by the Bituminous Coal Institute in 1945. It featured winners of a design contest to show home buyers the additional living space they could expect in a home with a “bonus basement furnished and paid for by the savings that can come from heating your home with bituminous coal.” Shown below is an honorable mention plan featuring this bonus-space “relaxatorium.”


Familiar Names and Products

Although it was published more than a century ago in 1911, the building plans in Modern Building Ideas and Plans were presented by the General Roofing Manufacturing Company, a predecessor to today’s well-known CertainTeed Corporation. In addition to house plans, the publication included plans for farm buildings, apartments, a hospital, a movie theater and office buildings, as well as a free-standing Art Nouveau garage complete with an apartment for the chauffeur.

With its first-floor bedroom, lavatory and sun parlor as well as walk-in closets on the second floor, the house (below) foreshadowed some of today’s most desired home features by more than a century.


“It is logical that the building, which is to protect 10 or 15 thousand dollars worth of choice machines, should be planned with care and built substantially and well,” noted the description of the Art Nouveau-style garage (below).


Brick Plan Evokes English-Style Homes

Published in 1925 by the American Face Brick Association, the sixth edition of The Home of Beauty: Designs for a Small Brick House presented home designs with seven rooms or less.

The house below includes an unusual integrated porch  for outdoor meals during the summer months or as an extension of the living room with the addition of glazing. The publishers recommended that the front of the house face east. Complete plans and specifications for homes in the publication were priced at $25, the equivalent of $335 today.


All these publications are held in the Building Technology Heritage Library, a project of the Association for Preservation Technology International. The library is hosted as part of the Internet Archive.


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