An American Foursquare in Chicago

Posted on February 28, 2014 by Phil Thompson | 0 comments

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New home portrait: An American Foursquare in Chicago

Visitors to Chicago might recognize the American Foursquare, a style of the prairie homes that became popular in the early 20th century. One of the features of the prairie homes was horizontal elements on the facade to echo the long horizon of the prairie. With the American Foursquare, that feature came through in the layers of strong, horizontal  and layered roofs. Designers and builders homes also integrated natural materials like wood and stone, in keeping with the Craftsman influence of the day.

In some ways, the foursquare couldn’t totally shed Victorian influence. Unlike some of the most extreme examples of ground-hugging prairie homes, for example, the foursquare retains some of the verticality and prominent front porch of  the Victorian homes. Also, while eschewing the heavily ornamented Victorian porches and other flourishes, the foursquare expressed itself in other ways:

“Windows were one of the few building components of the Foursquare where variety was encouraged. A Palladian window could suggest Colonial restraint and elegance. Elongated, diamond-paned sashes used in combination with undivided sheets of plate glass hinted at Tudor ruggedness. Stained glass hall lights and dining room transoms were a holdover from the medievalism of the Queen Anne period of the previous two decades. For window treatments, the protective shutters and heavy draperies of the Victorian are were abandoned in favor of light curtains and window shades. Awnings were a common and efficient way to screen out the summer sun. In keeping with Sullivan’s dictum that “form follows function, “window placement reflected the needs within the structure, rather than being purely symmetrical for symmetry’s sake.” (Source)

This home above shows some of that self-expression in its windows. I loved drawing the details of the stained glass.

The foursquare was one of the many home styles that residents could choose from the Sears catalog of homes. You can see this style of home on walks through Chicago neighborhoods. I’m familiar with many great examples in Ravenswood, along Hermitage and Paulina. Let us know where your favorite foursquares live.


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