Gorgeous old homes. Pleasing proportions. Lovely details. Thoughtful design. Windows galore. Simple roof lines. Tell me, why – WHY – are they not being built like this anymore? People buy the old ones that are falling apart, and then spend thousands of dollars fixing them up. So I know people love these well-built gems. Don’t get me wrong, it makes my heart very happy when I see old homes restored. But I am always keeping an eye out for modest, family, new construction homes that are built like a Classic, and I’m just not seeing them.
I mean, I get it. They have quirky floor plans that don’t work for today’s lifestyle. But, I have news people. These old house plans can totally make a comeback. Over the weekend, I looked at a hundred or so beautiful floor plans by the early 20th-century architect, Leila Ross Wilburn (1885-1967), and printed out about a dozen of plans at random from her stock plan catalogs. I got out my roll of trace paper and with just a few minor tweaks to the interior layout, I was able to give every single one of her plans a refreshed design that has all the features that people are looking for in today’s home, without compromising the exterior.I first discovered this architect last year while wrapping up a house tour post for Apartment Therapy (you can see that hour tour here). The homeowner, who lives in Georgia, had said that her old home was designed by the first registered female architect in Georgia. She didn’t give me the name, but I had to research it to find out as I loved her unique little Spanish Colonial house and was intrigued about a woman who chose a profession a hundred years ago that was dominated by men.
Since then, I have loved Wilburn’s collection of designs. Interestingly, she was responsible for a vast number of homes built in Georgia and beyond but was not well known because her approach was different from other architects. Her goal was to make beautiful, affordable, and enjoyable homes available to middle-class families, and therefore her business was built upon the distribution of her plan books instead of custom residences. She had her office in a shared building with realtors and developers, and hundreds of her homes were built reflecting the values of the Craftsman movement; now treasures throughout the south.
“I feel that, being a woman, I know just the little things that should go in a house to make living in it a pleasure to the entire family.”
I love this quote because I have wanted to create stock house plans for years for similar reasons—when I look at house plans today I feel like they are often missing that special woman’s touch. I’m not sure how else to explain it, but I do believe that women bring a unique perspective to architecture. Not better, just different.
So if you are thinking of building a house, consider bringing back these beauties. Here is one of my favorite bungalows by Mrs. Wilburn. She considers this one of her most unique bungalows in her collection, which is probably why I like it so much. This one is 1875 s.f. on one level.
Home No. 42 from Leila Ross Wilburn’s Pattern Book:
Back then, people valued the rooms differently. Living and Dining Rooms were large, but kitchens were small and placed in the back of the house. Rooms were separated from each other, laundry rooms didn’t exist, and it was common for a house to have one bathroom. However, even the smallest house plans had other types of rooms like breakfast nooks, sunrooms, verandas, and screened porches. And of course, casement windows, built-ins, and fireplaces are what give these homes that added charm.
Without changing the exterior, here is how you can easily take one of these plans and make it a fantastic plan for today. It went from a 3 bedroom/1 bath to a 3 bedroom/2.5 bath with an office. And the kitchen is a showstopper. I mean, seriously – there is no reason to keep these hundred-year designs in some dusty, basement archive.
In 2003 Wilburn was inducted into Georgia Women of Achievement. If I could, I build one of her homes in a heartbeat. Any interested developers out there? Let’s talk 😉