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Books of the Week — Home, Sweet Home

Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam
Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home
A charm from the skies seems to hallow us there
Which seek thro’ the world, is ne’er met elsewhere
Home! Home!
Sweet, sweet home!
There’s no place like home
There’s no place like home!

An exile from home splendor dazzles in vain
Oh give me my lowly thatched cottage again
The birds singing gaily that came at my call
And gave me the peace of mind dearer than all
Home, home, sweet, sweet home
There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home!

Lyrics by American actor, John Howard Payne; music by English composer, Sir Henry Bishop — 1823

An Improved and Enlarged Edition of Nicholson’s New Carpenter’s Guide: Being a Complete Book of Lines, for Carpenters, Joiners, and Workmen in General
Peter Nicholson (1765-1844)
London: Printed for Jones & Co., 1825
TH5605 N6 1825

Peter Nicholson was apprenticed to a cabinet-maker but left this trade to write and teach. He is remembered today for his theoretical work on the skew arch, which received kudos from contractors, engineers and masons; his invention of draughtsman’s tools, including a centrolinead and cyclograph; and his books on practical carpentry. He published his first book, The Carpenter’s New Guide in 1792, illustrating it with eighty-four copperplates engraved by himself. The guide contained an original method for construction of groins and niches of complex, double curved forms.

The book went through innumerable editions and was printed well into the 1870s. There were no real changes to the work’s contents – Nicholson’s structural theories and sound building methods remained foundational to architecture nearly one hundred years after they were first promoted.

Nicholson’s work was as popular in the United States as  it was in Great Britain.


The New and Improved Practical Builder
Peter Nicholson (1765-1844)
London: Thomas Kelly, 1837
TH1455 N6 1837


The Practical House Carpenter: Being a Complete Development of the Grecian Orders of Architecture…Containing One Example of the Tuscan Order, Three Examples of the Doric Order, Three Examples of the Ionic Order, One Example of the Corinthian Order, and one Example of the Composite Order…to Which are Added as Series of Designs for Porticos, Frontispieces, Doors, etc. Engraved on Sixty-four Large Quarto Copper-plates
Asher Benjamin (1773-1845)
Boston: R.P. & C. Williams, and Richardson, Lord & Holbrook, 1832
Third edition
NA2520 B45 1832

Asher Benjamin, who trained as a carpenter, was an American architect whose work transitioned between Federal architecture and later Greek Revival architecture. He wrote seven books on design, eventually published in forty-five various editions, influencing the architectural aesthetic of cities and towns throughout New England until the Civil War. His first pattern book, published in 1797, adapted English designs to fit the scale and economies of New England. His plans were copied by builders in the Midwest and in the South. His books, the first to be written by an American architect, introduced American builders to architectural history and geometry and provided drawings and practical advice, including details of circular staircases, doorways, fireplace mantels, dormer windows, and fences.

Profusely illustrated, The Practical House Carpenter, first published in 1830, was written as a detailed guide for master carpenters and builders, but offered insight into the origins of the Greek and Roman style referenced by his already well-known designs. Benjamin’s earlier work promoted the Federal style. This book took American architectural taste in a new, Greek Revival, direction.


“A good home will encourage its inhabitants to pursue a moral existence.”

Cottage Residences: or, A Series of Designs for Rural Cottages and Cottage Villas, and Their Gardens and Grounds. Adapted to North America…Illustrated with Many Engravings
A.J. Downing (1815-1852)
New York; London: Wiley and Putnam, 1847
Third edition
NA7561 D8 1847

First published in 1842, Andrew Jackson Downing’s Cottage Residences became an influential pattern book of houses that mixed romantic architecture with English countryside pastoral picturesque. The popular book was read and consulted, spreading the “Carpenter Gothic” architectural style among Victorian-era commercial and private builders.

Downing was primarily a landscape designer and horticulturalist who was an advocate of Gothic Revival in the United States. He was the editor of The Horticulturalist from 1846 to 1852. He was appointed by President Fillmore to design and manage the work of arranging the lands around the Capitol, White House, and Smithsonian as public gardens and promenades.

Cottage Residences contains designs for twenty-eight houses, along with the house plans, and includes plans for laying out gardens, orchards, and various plants to be used. The designs are simple and meant to be affordable, although, in fact, this was hardly the case. Downing applied principles of landscape and architectural design – form, color, scent, size, climate, and function — to the needs of modest-income households. While strongly influenced by the English romantic movement founded by Sir Walter Scott, he was profoundly “American,” believing its democratic political form to be at the heart of its connection with nature. Downing organized Cottage Residences so that consumers could understand and use it, coaching potential homeowners on how to work with architects and builders. It remained in print for the rest of the nineteenth century.

Downing is credited with the popularization of the front porch, which he saw as a link from house to nature. He believed that interacting with nature had a healing effect and wanted all people to be able to experience nature as an integral part of their home life.

“People’s pride in their country is connected to pride in their home. If they can decorate and build their homes to symbolize the values they hope to embody, such as prosperity, education and patriotism, they will be happier people and better citizens.”

“A good house will lead to a good civilization”

“There is a moral influence in a country home”


The American Architect: Comprising Original Designs of Cheap Country and Village Residences, with Details, Specifications, Plans and Directions, and an Estimate of the Cost of Each Design
John Warren Ritch (b. 1822)
New York: C.M. Saxton, 1852
Later edition
NA7130 R6

John Warren Ritch was born in Putnam County, New York. He was the first treasurer of the American Institution of Architects. He designed several buildings in New York City. His American Architect, a popular pattern book, was first published as a serial between 1847 and 1848. He is recognized today for the still-surviving “Wilderstein,” a two-story house, an Italianate villa style, revamped in the “Queen Anne” style, built along the Hudson River in Duchess County, New York for businessman Thomas H. Suckley. This home was hardly a “Cheap” residence.

American Architect contains twelve designs for country homes, each based on different styles including “Italian,” “Farm House,” and “Gothic Cottage.” Each design includes house plans, a description of the materials needed and a cost estimate, carpenter’s speculations, and mason’s speculations.

“As one principal object of the series is to produce cheap Dwellings, it should be borne in mind, that a greater amount of skill in the Designer is required, than in those of greater display.”


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