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Reviving a classic : Carpenter gothic

Carpenter Gothic homes abound across North America - so common that we can easily speed past them on rural side roads without a second glance. But the modest elegance of their construction and their historical interest means they deserve a second look.

Examples of the style range from the unassuming to the wildly ornate – as 18th and 19th century woodworkers outdid themselves creating fancy roof trim and balcony railings echoing shapes normally seen in stone cathedrals. Pointed doors and windows, sometimes set with leaded glass, were also a common feature. And the houses were often finished in board-and-batten cladding and painted white with dark trim.

Probably the most famous is the modest little house in Eldon, Iowa said to have been the inspiration for painter Grant Wood’s iconic “American Gothic.” With its characteristic pointed Gothic window, the iconic house stands as a perfect counterpoint to the most famous farm couple in the history of art. Like them, it’s plain, upright, and a little bit shopworn. But it also expresses a certain nobility of character and a spiritual quality beyond what might be expected.

The original Gothic revolution in architecture happened in the late Middle Ages, when people realized that stone buildings could have narrower windows and doors if they came to a point instead of an arch at the top. From then on, Gothic cathedrals and other important buildings were ornamented with elaborate, lacy stonework and intricate stained glass windows.

The mid-18th century brought the Gothic Revival when churches, university buildings, and other stately structures popped up across North America – mostly made of stone. But in small towns and rural areas, the trend was applied to more modest wooden buildings including churches and homes.

You’ll spot them everywhere. Take a moment to appreciate the pretty and practical century-old farmhouses built in a style which, in a tip of the hat to workers who made them and the materials used, became known as Carpenter Gothic.

Takeaway?

Sometimes a fresh material breathes new life into an old style… think about the possibilities like fabric wallpaper or paper curtains!

-by Sarah B. Hood