House Portraits By Lawrence - Charming hand-drawn portraits of your favorite residence!

Recent Posts

A Tale of Two Houses.......
Some Holiday Card Ideas
House Proud...Home Sweet Home!
Reading for "The Earliest Colonials"
Early New England Houses- 1650-1700...


Framing your House Portrait
Holiday cards of your house
House Histories
Photographing your House Project
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A Tale of Two Houses.......

Compare...and Contrast!
Stay tuned!
This photo was bought in Massachusetts......

Some Holiday Card Ideas

Thinking About Holiday Cards...?
here's one example.....
I had been reading a super book that I'd bought and enjoyed called: Photographing Montana: 1894-1928, The Life and Work of Evelyn Cameron which inspired the drawing below.
The book is about a well-born English woman and her husband who emigrated to the American west at the end of the nineteenth-century  with the primary interest of raising thoroughbred horses. They hoped to ship the horses to Britain, where they felt there was a strong market.  Making a long story short- the Cameron's venture failed but they remained as ranchers in Montana.
Evelyn developed her interest in photography and took many pictures of the region, her neighbors and the events and happenings in her corner of the west. The photos were virtually lost until 1978 when a curator discovered them in old boxes in the basement of what had been the Cameron ranch house.  
The book is full of many of these wonderful photographs- so if you are interested in this kind of thing- look for a copy. The discoverer of the photographs put many of them together in the book and was able to use Evelyn's own diaries in writing the text- so the connection between what Evelyn saw and what she thought is quite valuable. I highly recommend the book.
Photographing Montana;  1894-1928  The Life and Work of Evelyn Cameron, by Donna M. Lucey.  New York:  Alfred A. Knopf, 1991.
Here is the drawing that was partly inspired from the book.  I used it as a holiday card the year I drew it. Since it was a long drawing, I folded it down the middle.
Rancher's Cabin, c. 1900.  A western-inspired Ranch home drawn to fold at mid-point...

House Proud...Home Sweet Home!

House Proud....Home Sweet Home!
A proud family stands in front of their home, which as relatively new when this photo was taken around 1910. Possibly located in Washington State.
During the last two or three decades of the nineteenth-century,  proud home-owners began to have photographs of their homes and families taken as records of their lives and successes. The photograph above is typical of this custom- and typically pictures a family lined up in front of their house in a very categorical, straightforward manner.  It's a very direct statement! We've all seen photos just like this one,  perhaps in old family albums or in books of historic photographs.
Among my favorites are those depicting mid-western prairie sod houses that date from the late 1870s and afterwards. These photos often depict earthen houses in conditions that suggest that living inside of them would be nearly impossible!  Many look little better than piles of roughly laid dirt blocks sited with little thought within pastures or fields, surrounded by miles of barren land. Almost always, however, and bringing a hint of humanity to these scenes is usually the group of homesteaders lined up proudly in front of these shelters. Often, they are dressed in their best clothing and sometimes they are pictured along side of a few of their best household possessions.  The suggestion is all about survival, of the pioneer spirit and of a strong suggestion of pride and accomplishment in the face of very difficult circumstances .When reading about the lives of these pioneers, (and I will suggest a good book at the end of this post) one is surprised to read about how "livable" shelters like this could actually be- especially in the face of the harsh winters that these pioneers often encountered.
Some thoughts about the house in the photograph above.
It's not difficult to imagine that the house pictured here might have been built by an early pioneering family- possibly to replace a cabin or a rude structure located someplace on the same property. As was often the case, many of these earlier shelters were maintained and "made-over" for other purposes. Many survived to serve as shelters for hired hands or even for the young married couple of the  family.
It's likely that the house in this photograph was considered a showplace at the time it was built. While it's not grand by any means, it was obviously intended to indicate a degree of success and prominence. The house has  a number of  "special embellishments" that suggest that it was the home of a successful family intent upon "showing off," at least a little.  Because of its setting, and because of the things surrounding it I have always guessed that the house was probably the home of successful farmers- though this is a guess.
Stylistically, the building probably dates somewhere between about 1895 and 1910- give or take a couple of years. In spite of a few embellishments that I'll point out below, it was really a simple, basic balloon-framed house of the kind that was common throughout the county at the time. By about 1915, a newly constructed house of the same size and type would have likely been constructed with some very definite Mission-style touches. These could have included square porch columns, simple porch rails in place of the fanciful turned ones in the photograph and probably a covering of shakes or shingles in a tone other than white. However, dating a house like this one is not a perfect science without more information and written documentation- since there is always "stylistic overlap."  However, we can certainly make an  "educated"  guess!
Where was the house built!?
Good question. I have no idea! But, I have some ideas.....  I bought the photograph in the late 1970s in Seattle- in one of those shops that has lots of old stuff scattered about in boxes and in stacks.  There is no identifying information on the back, which is more common than it should be! I doubt that I paid more than a dollar for the photo at the time. Since my historic survey work took me all over Washington state at that period, I had the strong feeling that the house looked stylistically similar to several of those that I was seeing on my travels through the countryside. Again, it was just a feeling.  I know that the house could have been built in Oregon, too- or even someplace in the mid-west, for that matter. I doubt if I'll ever know.
There are a few things that shout out at me when I take a close look at this photograph.
First of all,  I really suggest that if you look at old photos like this one that you use a magnifying glass under a lamp! It is amazing how much more one can see when that is the case. For example, I can easily notice the window curtains and their pattern and the fact that there seems to be a dog off to the left of the photo. Why isn't he n the picture? Maybe he just would not stand still for the photographer...?! Anyway, as the saying goes,  "a picture is worth a thousand words." 
Here are some of the things I see:    What else do you see?
  • The porch is really the building's most fanciful architectural element, and was one of the more costly.
  • The Corinthian column  capitals are a somewhat surprising selection and were certainly especially chosen. They add a certain "charm" to the house, though this order was usually used on buildings of a more "exalted" nature. Many things were available through Mail-Order catalogs at the time- and these would have been among those kinds of items.
  • The gables on the roof over the two second-story front windows are superfluous and deliberate additions. They certainly added cost and must have been suggested by the builder as a way of giving the house a little more prominence than it would have otherwise had. They could have been eliminated, but again, they do add a certain amount of charm to the building.
  • The same thing might be said about the little porch at the center of the second floor above the porch. This small addition is not very useful, especially if you take a close look at it. My magnifying glass clearly shows that there is a sill slightly below that of the flanking window sills, giving the suggestion that the door opening onto the porch was not full height!  Even a close look at the door shows that this is the case.  Actually,  if it had been a full height door, the  second floor porch deck would have had to have been lower than it was- causing some real potential water problems! ( my guess is that water, or ice and snow probably caused some real problems up there and that if we could see this house today, we'd probably notice that changes were made over the years to mitigate those  problems. For example, I'd almost bet that if we could find this house today, the porch would be gone and that the door would have been changed to a window...and just for starters! Little porches of this kind were common on Victorian-style houses of the 1880s and so, this feature was a common stylistic influence from that period.
  • Lastly, I note that an addition at the back of the house that stylistically suggests that it might have been built a few years earlier than the front portion.  My thought is that it eventually served as the kitchen and that another room or two on that same floor might have functioned as small bedrooms. The pitch of the roof at that addition suggests that one or two small and simple sleeping rooms could have been located under that gabled area.
  • I have a pretty good idea about the building's floor plan, based upon the back addition and because of the fact that the roof is hipped at the left side of the front and is constructed to suggest that the building's footprint was L-shaped, with a full two floors along the left side and at a portion of the back.
Thanks for "indulging" me! I love this kind of "sleuthing."
I hope that I've inspired you to take close looks at older buildings and photos! I almost consider it like re-reading a book several times over.  Each time you do so, you understand more. It's an inexpensive pastime and it's also lots of fun. I know that I have a professional back ground in this kind of investigation, but I do believe that anyone can become more observant by simply training themselves to look more closely at these kinds of things. So, have fun!
P.s.  Here are a few additional observations if you are new to this kind of  "sleuthing" and want to take a look at the photo with a critical eye. Remember to use a good magnifying glass!
  • Notice the small "alcove" porch between the main house and the smaller kitchen addition to the rear. Could this be a side entrance for the family and might it lead into a back hallway or directly into the kitchen? If you look closely, you can see what may be the top tread of a wooden side step leading up to the porch. (the top riser is the fascia just below the porch floor- which- incidentally, seems to be  sloping- something it might have done originally to exhaust rain water.) What do you think?
  • Notice that the foundation of the front portion of the house and the possibly older back portion might have different plate heights. This is difficult to see but could this be the case? The inside floors were likely at the same level even if the foundations were constructed at different times.
  • Does the protruding vestibule at the front porch gives you some suggestion about the inside floor plan? I think it gives us a good clue about that.
  • And, how about the chimneys? What is your guess about these and does their different shape suggest something...?
OK! Hard to stop...
If you want to read a SUPER BOOK that is also a real classic in early twentieth-century American literature, get a copy of :
Giants In The Earth:  A Saga of the Prairie,  by O. E. Rolvaag.
New York: Harper Perennial/Modern Classics,  1999.
This book was first written and published in 1924 and 1925 in two volumes.
It is readily available today in paperback.
Rolvaag was born in Norway in 1876 and emigrated to America in 1896, eventually becoming a professor of Norwegian literature at St. Olaf College.
Giants in the Earth is his story about a Norwegian family braving the wilds of the Dakota territory during the late nineteenth-century and of the struggles and the daily life that they endured.  The descriptions of the sod houses which they built and in which they lived is graphic and fascinating.
Of course, I'd also recommend several of the books written by Willa Cather- for more of the same kind of late nineteenth-century atmosphere!   
Happy Reading!
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Reading for "The Earliest Colonials"

It occurred to me that some may enjoy learning more about the buildings of American's seventeenth-century. You can easily go On Line to search out good sources. However, I want to recommend an especially good book on the architecture of early Massachusetts Bay as well as two other excellent histories that capture "the environment" of that area during the seventeenth-century.
I recommend:
The Framed Houses of Massachusetts Bay, 1625-1725,  by Abbott Lowell Cummings,  Cambridge:  Harvard University Press, 1979.
This is a great book and has wonderful drawings done especially for it that illustrate many of the architectural details of the houses of that period and area.
If you have the opportunity to travel in Massachusetts and want to see seventeenth-century buildings first hand- be sure to take a drive up through the North Shore. The ancient American town of Ipswich, Massachusetts has a large collection of seventeenth-century houses still extant - many of which lie "buried" under eighteenth-century remodeling! The Whipple House- which I believe dates from 1686 is a house museum worth visiting there.
Also- if you can, drive down to the south shore, to the Plymouth area where you can visit the re-created seventeenth "Plimouth Plantation". The buildings there are NOT original, but are accurate recreations of the kinds of houses that the first colonists built and inhabited.
The two books listed below are not architectural histories, but rather historical narratives about two of Massachusetts Bay's, and the nation's most illustrious seventeenth-century citizens- Anne Hutchinson and Samuel Sewall. The books are very readable and  both give the reader an excellent idea about the "atmosphere" of seventeenth-century Boston.  I had no trouble picturing the houses and the physical  setting as I read these books.
So- take a look at: 
American Jezebel;  The Uncommon Life of Anne Hutchinson, The Woman Who Defied the Puritans.  by Eve LaPlante, Harper San Francisco,  2005.
Salem Witch Judge: the Life and Repentance of Samuel Sewall. 
By Eve LaPlante,  Harper Collins, 2008.
Incidentally, Eve LaPlante is a direct descendant of both Anne Hutchinson and Judge Sewall.
Happy Reading!!

Early New England Houses- 1650-1700...

To say that the very first dwellings of the early American colonists, both in New England and in the south were rude and rustic- is at best an understatement.  If they could get to shore at all and were unable to spend any time living aboard the wooden ships that had brought them here, they generally had to either dig themselves into hillsides, live in caves- perhaps previously occupied by animals- or take the advice and assistance of friendly native Americans who helped them construct bark "wigwams" similar to those they themselves inhabited.
The weather situation was a bit less forbidding in the south than it was in the north- where the winters brought snow, sleet and ice and the howling winds. While the south could certainly be cold and snowy during the winter,  conditions there tended to be less severe and more encouraging for those building shelters.
Naturally, the colonists brought along the mental images and traditions of the buildings that they were used to- namely, those that were like the ones they had known in England- or Holland...  Regional differences were noticeable in the structures erected by settlers in the north, in the mid-Atlantic area and in the south- and these were especially evident as the seventeenth-century wore onward into the eighteenth.
However, at first- the main idea was shelter- and dwellings throughout the colonies were similar. New Englanders tended to construct their homes of wood- of heavy timber and split boarding from the earliest days. There was certainly plenty of virgin timber available. In the south, because of the abundance of clay and its suitability for being made into brick, houses and other buildings were eventually often constructed of masonry, or at first, from a rough, basic plaster mixture composed of the clay-laden mud that they mixed with straw and dried grasses that was called "wattle and daub." It was remarkably strong and weather tight and served fairly well until stronger materials could be utilized. Wood-framed and wood clad structures persisted, however after initial settlement, and masonry buildings were always more costly to construct.
The following quote from the writings of a prominent Salem, Massachusetts minister, the Reverend Francis Higginson was penned by him in 1630- only ten short years after the first permanent colony in New England as established in Plymouth. During the same year that the city of Boston was founded by the Puritans, Higginson advised prospective colonists to be "... strongly instructed what things are fittest to bring with you for your more comfortable passage at sea, as also for your husbandry occasions when you come to the land." The minister warned the prospective colonists that once they were parted from old England, "you shall meet neither with markets nor fayres to buy what you want..."
I find these to be pretty sobering words- and very evocative of what the barren forbidding landscape really presented to these men and women!
William Bradford offered another piece of sage advice, this time hitting about the resolve of colonists who 'are too delicate and unfitted to begin new plantations and colonists that cannot endure the biting of a muskeeto."  (from my book, Decorating Old House Interiors,  Sterling Publishers,   New York, 1994.  p.9)
In a relatively few years, the first colonists were living in rather comfortable and solid structures. As I wrote in Decorating Old House Interiors,  "In 1642, only twenty years after the landing at Plymouth, Edward Johnson, a newly arrived joiner, wrote that 'the Lord hath been pleased to turn all the wigwams, huts and hovels the English dwelt in at their first coming into orderly, fair and well-built houses, well furnished many of them.......'" (p. 12)
My portrait of a New England coastal village not tor far from the sea, shown below, depicts two typical houses of post and beam construction- with pegged connections and large chimneys. The two-story dwelling was typical with one room per floor.  On the first, the "Hall" served both as the kitchen and the parlor, and likely as a bedroom, as well. The room above, of the same size, was also used as a multi-purposed room- mainly as a bedroom with several beds for family members and also as a work-room for daily tasks such as sewing and weaving.  The third floor "garret" provided additional and unheated sleeping space -sometimes for "fortunate' hired household hands or servants.
A colored version of the black and white portrait below can be seen by clicking on this Historical Societies tab.
Two typical early-era New England dwelllings- both of Post and Beam construction with pegged connections.circa, 1640s.

Framing your House Portrait

Thoughts about Framing your House Portrait...
Framing any picture is really important and, in my opinion, can either "make or break" the picture that is being framed. Of course, in the end, it's a matter of personal taste and cost. As you know if you have had anything famed professionally in the past, it can be pretty costly.
Here are some thoughts to help you think about this.
  • You can purchase very nice frames in Arts & Crafts stores and even by catalog these days. My advice about this is just to make sure that you keep the frame simple.  This is my personal taste,  but a heavy, overly ornate and gilded rococo frame will not likely do the trick. Think about "letting the picture do the talking."
  • Be careful about the mat that you choose for the framing job. Again, keeping it simple is likely the best way to go. Stay away from colored mats, too! Compound mats are costly and unnecessary. Just remember that some professional framers like to add on things to bring up the price of the final job. Of course, I am not really one to give advice about this because over the years, I've been talked into some pretty costly framing jobs- though I have never regretted a single one.  When you go to a good framer, you can be assured that it will all come out correctly in the end.
  • Mat size is really important- and there is a formula for correct mat proportions. You can find that on line. I'm sure that many of us have been to art shows or to restaurants where the art that is displayed is for sale and has been improperly framed and matted. When mats are too narrow, for example, they cause our eyes to look at the framed picture in an uncomfortable manner- because the picture seems crowded into the space. We may not know what is wrong- but we can generally sense that something is.  Most people can see this instinctively, I think. Take note of this next time you are at an art show and you'll see what I mean.  If you are like me, it will make you very uncomfortable- and of course, it does not help sell any pictures, either!
  • Think about using a very wide mat around a smaller house portrait. This can really focus your eyes in on the picture. I have several pictures framed in this manner and they are very effective, in my opinion. 
So- there are just a few thoughts for you to think about- and to confuse you even more. When it comes time to frame your House Portrait, I'd be happy to give you my advice- so please ask if you wish.
Happy Framing!

Holiday Cards!

House Portraits can make great Holiday Cards! 
As you've probably noticed, House Portraits currently has a special pre-holiday offer on orders placed before September 1, 2013. For information about that, please check out the last tab on this site.
Here is another thought...
If you are thinking of commissioning a special house portrait as either a gift for a friend or having one done for yourself, it might be a good idea to talk with me about having that portrait adapted to a winter-time holiday card view at the same time. For example, if you're interested in having your house depicted with a spring or summer time background, I can easily hold aside a print of the project so that I can adapt it to a holiday-time view. We can talk about the additional price for this, but it is usually minimal and certainly less than the price of a second view. 
I look forward to working with you, so please don't hesitate to get in touch with me!
You can also have your House Portrait made into note cards.  This also makes a wonderful gift in conjunction with a drawing!
I can discuss that process with you and will be happy to either provide that service for you or let you know how you can go about it yourself.

Photographing your Project...

Here are a few suggestions for you regarding the photography of your house or building project.
1)  Take good, clear photographs from the angle from which you  wish your project to be seen. For example, do you want to photograph it face-on or from either the left or the right?
2)  Consider taking photos from a variety of angles and from a number of distances so that you can decide what view might actually be the best.  For example. consider walking across the street to take the photo, or consider taking it from an angle that you might not usually consider.  Very often you house or building will be seen to its best advantage if you do this- and in some instances, you can even minimize odd or problematic parts of the building that you may not want to feature "head on" !
3) Take a few pictures to show specific details that may not show up clearly on an over-all shot.  For example, a detail of the front door or specific details will be useful.
4)   Be sure to make a print or two of some of the photos and to mark them up with specific notations about color placement or materials that may not be real clear in the photos. For example, Let me know where colors stop and start or where there is a change in material and what it is.  Sometimes stone and brick can look surprisingly the same if they are photographed from a distance.
5)  Make a note about the roofing material, and color.  Slate and composition shingles often look pretty much the same from a distance, too!
6)   make notations about the landscaping.  If you want the portrait to show an autumnal scene, please let me know what color the trees are at that time of year. And, also let me know what kinds of seasonal flowers and other plants are in the area, as well!
P.s.  If I need additional information, I'll get in touch with you- so don't be too concerned about the details at this point!
Here are several photographs of the same house that  illustrate what I mean about taking pictures of your project from different angles.  (or even in different lighting conditions...) You can tell that this is the same house, BUT, it is interesting how different it appears from  different angles.
By the way, the first drawing at the banner on top of each page on this site shows this house in a Summertime View.... The winter view closest to the view on he banner is the first photo below.
A larger picture of the summer view can be seen in the
HOUSE PORTRAIT GALLERIES section on this site. (first portrait)
This picture was taken around 6:45 a.m. just after a snowfall, and from across the street from the house. A photograph of the same house at mid-morning.  The house faces south.This photograph makes this property look grander and larger than its 1/3 acre!An early morning view...and very quiet!

Hello Everyone! Welcome!

Hello Everyone!
Welcome to
House Portraits by Lawrence!
I'll post helpful tips for you here periodically.
The first posting is about tips for photographing your project.
Subsequent posts will cover framing and other "important" things!
I am a reader- and may also, from time to time, post a note about interesting books or sources that pertain to the general subject of houses, buildings, preservation, historic interiors, etc., etc., etc......
If you have any that you would like to recommend, please do. I am always on the lookout for books about these subjects that I have not yet come across.
I am also going to be posting informative "stories and histories" about some of the houses and buildings that you will see illustrated on this site, and some interesting general architectural information about the historical background of some of our better known American styles.  Being an architectural historian and having taught architectural history at the grad school level, I am "an incurable professor."  There's really nothing better I like to talk about than Historical American Architecture- so if you share that interest, please take a look at that section here. I promise that I will try to keep it light.
I feel that almost all buildings have interesting stories behind them- so from time to time, I will be sharing "engaging" stylistic or building information about some of the buildings that you will see on this site. I will only publish information that the building owner allows, of course!
A little bit about my background can be found on the "About the Artist" page.
I look forward to hearing from you!

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