I was fortunate to catch the last day of the exhibition, SELLING the DWELLING, The Books that Built America’s Houses, 1775-2000, at the Grolier Club in New York.  Richard Cheek, exhibition curator and author of the accompanying book, is a photographer who records the visual history of America’s architecture as well as a bibliophile.

The exhibition was an opportunity for Richard to display his collection of historical materials that document over 225 years of literature related to designing and constructing houses, from English and French architectural treatises to 18th century  builders’ guides and 19th century pattern books to 20th century house plan catalogs. They document the economic expansion of the new nation and the growing desire of individual homeownership that became a possibility, and then a priority, for many Americans.

The audience for the literature associated with this growing phenomenon of homeownership included the craftsmen who built the houses. They were looking to add the latest or classically correct details. Colored elevations, plates and floor plans sold the most books and generated new business for the master builders, many of whom were the authors. These builders’ guides transformed tight entry foyers, tiny baths and impractical kitchens into more welcoming and functional spaces.

The exhibition was dense with interesting material and the book is a great document for anyone interested in the evolution of American house design books.

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