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Posted by on August 2, 2013 in Design, High Cross House |

The culture of domestic architecture

The culture of domestic architecture

Interesting to look at the original plans for High Cross House.  Built in the early 1930s by a Swiss-American architect whose firm was based in New York, it seems very clear from reading the extant correspondence that the architect rarely – if indeed at all – visited the site of what I assume to have been a reasonably important domestic commission (although that is based entirely on lack of knowledge on my part). The commissioner had lived in the US during his most formative years and come to know and love the American expression of the Bauhaus.

Some of the plainest cultural differences between then and now, and between the US and the UK stand out from the page when looking at the original plan.

The most obvious of these is the reference to the ‘First Floor’ (UK: Ground Floor) and ‘Second and Third floors’ (UK: First and Second…).  Beyond that is most notable that the house had almost as many bathrooms as bedrooms, something unheard of in domestic British architecture at this time. Other differences are of time, some of place. There was much discussion in the correspondence about the external colour scheme (see posts passim) but interestingly the scheme provided by the architect and adopted at least when the house first opened, was white stucco for the main house, but with the servant’s ‘wing’ painted a cerulean blue. To the outside eye, this differentiation is not clear – it is simply that one part of the house is painted white and another part blue – but it seems an interesting delineation to choose.

What we would now refer to as the Master Bedroom is called the Master’s Bed Room (huge difference that one, if analysed in any depth). I don’t know what this room would have been called in domestic architecture within Britain.  On the ground floor (first floor) the rooms are:

1 Terrace (an outdoor space, probably no difference there)

2 Living Room

3 Dining Room

4 Pantry (although probably not a cold pantry, showing the emergence of refrigeration which was probably far more advanced in the US and in the UK)

5 Kitchen

6 Larder

7 Servants’ Entrance (not terribly likely to find one of those in a small family home these days)

8 Laundry (later correspondence shows that the laundry was abandoned in favour of a larger kitchen, on the grounds that the kitchen was too small and that ‘most of the laundry will be sent out’.

9 Servants’ Hall (actually quite a small living area for the two live-in maids)

10 Closet (would be referred to as a wardrobe in British English)

11 Main Entrance

12 Entrance Hall

13 Coat Room & Toilet (referred to archaically in Britain as a ‘Cloakroom’, even now) Unlikely to find an extra toilet in a contemporary British home?

14 Garage.  This was a large two-car garage attached directly to the house in the sense that it was possible to get from the garage to the house without going outdoors. The plan drawing shows a large ‘family’ car and an open top sportster.

15 Boiler Room (the house was centrally heated, again somewhat unusual even for a modern British home at this time).

16 Study


On the first floor, the rooms in the original plan are shown as:

(not sure what happened to 17, 18, and 19)

20 Sun Terrace

21 Master’s Bed Room (see above)

22 Master’s Bath Room

23 Writing Room (this was jettisoned in the final design)

24 Wardrobe (clearly explicitly for clothes rather than ‘stuff’)

25 Daughter’s Bed Room

26 Daughter’s Bath Room

27 Terrace (also referred to as a sleeping porch, and accessible from both the main bedrooms.  Nights when temperatures might encourage outdoor sleeping here in the UK are exceptionally rare, but relatively commonplace in many parts of the US)

28 Guest Bed Room

29 Guest Bath Room

30 Roof over Entrance

31 Linen Room & Shelves

32 Maids’ Closet

33 Maids’ Bed Room (this was in fact divided into two separate rooms, hence the plural possessive)

34 Maids’ Bath Room

This is a house designed for those with American sensibilities and attitudes to bathing.  Similar houses in the UK would still most likely boast sinks in the bedrooms with shared bathroom facilities ‘down the hall’. Instead all of the bathrooms here are ensuite.  Most of these features are now, needless to say, regarded as de rigeur.