Cementing Your Home Plans in 1909 | Smithsonian Voices

When it comes to building a new home, there are so many things to consider. Should it be multi-storey or single-storey? Will it have a basement? Would you like bedrooms on both floors or only on the second floor? What building materials are used? The questions may seem endless. If you built a house in 1909, especially one made of cement, this design catalog might have given you some inspiration.

The trade catalog is entitled Cement Houses and How to Build Them (1909) by Wm. A. Radford and published by Radford Architectural Co. The subject of this catalog can be gathered from its title, but its foreword gives a little more detail. It explains that the aim of this catalogue, or ‘textbook’ as it is called in the preface, is ‘to present the subject simply and in a manner of practical use to the man who intends to acquire at moderate expense build a house.”

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Radford Architectural Co., Chicago, IL. Cement Houses and How to Build Them by Wm. A. Radford, 1909, front cover.

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The first half of the catalog contains detailed information about building a concrete house. This includes descriptions of different types of cement, explanations of waterproofing, and things to consider when building walls, foundations, stairs, and more. There’s even a section on the use of concrete for farm buildings. The second half of the catalog features a variety of house designs, each in cement.

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Radford Architectural Co., Chicago, IL. Cement Houses and How to Build Them by Wm. A. Radford, 1909, title page.

Smithsonian Libraries and Archives

Why build a cement house? This 1909 catalog indicates several reasons. It mentions the durability and adaptability of cement for construction. It describes cement as an alternative to wood and mentions a shortage of timber and lumber and the fact that wood may not always be in abundance. It also points out, “We do this with no intention of belittling other standard materials, for there is room for all.”

Radford Architectural Co. did not build the actual houses. Instead, they provided designs of the houses. Finding a builder and contractor was the responsibility of the prospective homeowner. The catalog mentions that these designs were drawn by architects “who were specifically concerned with the construction of concrete houses”.

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Radford Architectural Co., Chicago, IL. Cement Houses and How to Build Them by Wm. A. Radford, 1909, page 82, design no. 8206, showing a perspective view of a two-story house with floor plans.

Smithsonian Libraries and Archives

For $10 to $15, a prospective homeowner in 1909 could request plans of any design in the catalog. In addition to plans printed in blue, the company also provided specifications describing construction details. Due to regional differences in building materials, they did not provide a “bill of materials” or costs for building the house.

The plans included:

  • Floor plans of each floor showing the shape and size of all rooms, hallways and closets, as well as the location of plumbing fixtures with measurements
  • Foundation and basement plans showing the shape and size of walls, piers, footings, posts, etc., as well as windows, doors, chimneys, partitions, etc.
  • For complicated roofs, a roof plan with valleys, gutters, ridges, ridges, etc.
  • Four views showing the shape and size of doors, windows, porches, cornices, etc., all exterior details and wall sections with ceiling height, roof, etc.
  • Interior details such as door and window frames, moldings, doors, railings etc.

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Radford Architectural Co., Chicago, IL. Cement Houses and How to Build Them by Wm. A. Radford, 1909, unnumbered page, Drafting Room of Radford Architectural Co.

Smithsonian Libraries and Archives

The catalog shows both perspective views and floor plans for a variety of homes. Design #8207 is a two story home with front and back porches. The front door opens directly into the living room, which has a cozy corner with two seats at the back. One seat appears to be a window seat overlooking the side courtyard. To the left of the living room is the dining room with access to the kitchen directly behind it. A door in the kitchen opens onto the back porch.

The staircase that leads to the second floor is at the back of the living room next to the corner. Once at the top there is a hall with a bathroom and two bedrooms.

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Radford Architectural Co., Chicago, IL. Cement Houses and How to Build Them by Wm. A. Radford, 1909, page 84, design no. 8207, showing a perspective view of a two-story house with floor plans.

Smithsonian Libraries and Archives

Design #8295 is a one-story home with a full-length porch. The front door opens into the living room with the dining room to the right. The kitchen is at the back of the house behind the dining room. The living room offers a passage to enter the left side of the house where there are two bedrooms. A bathroom is located between the front and rear bedrooms. Nestled between the kitchen and back bedroom is a back porch accessed through a door in the kitchen.

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Radford Architectural Co., Chicago, IL. Cement Houses and How to Build Them by Wm. A. Radford, 1909, page 150, design No. 8295, showing a perspective view of a one-story house with floor plan.

Smithsonian Libraries and Archives

Design #8020 is a two-story home with a continuous porch and basement. Upon entering the house, the residents find themselves in an anteroom. The lounge with a fireplace is located directly behind the anteroom.

The lounge offers several ways to reach the rest of the house. One possibility leads to the parlour, which is to the left of the break room. The salon leads into the dining room just beyond, which then leads to the pantry at the rear of the house. The pantry has a door to the kitchen on the right.

Another option is to follow the passage at the back of the break hall into the kitchen. The kitchen has an exterior door to the back porch as well as stairs leading to the basement.

The leisure hall also includes a staircase to the second floor. Upstairs there is a central hall with entrances to four bedrooms and a bathroom.

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Radford Architectural Co., Chicago, IL. Cement Houses and How to Build Them by Wm. A. Radford, 1909, page 114, design no. 8020, showing a perspective view of a two-story house with floor plans.

Smithsonian Libraries and Archives

Cement Houses and How to Build Them (1909) by Wm. A. Radford and other Radford Architectural Co. trade catalogs are in the Trade Literature Collection of the National Museum of American History Library. Curious about other designs from Radford Architectural Co.? Check out this post highlighting designs for shops and homes. National Museum of the American History Library

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