American Foursquare: Simple and Beautiful Design

Visiting my grandmother as a young girl in the hot and humid south, I discovered her famed front porch swing on a lazy summer day.

Every time I sat down on that swing and took in the world around me, a calming presence arrived. Now today, whenever I see a beautiful old home with a great porch, a cathartic feeling instantly takes over. This, I believe, is what makes American Foursquare homes so truly unique, and such a sought after period home.

Similar to the Chicago Bungalow in that it has an open floor plan, lots of built ins and fireplaces, American Foursquare homes are well designed. As builders contended with narrow lots, they stuck with these smart, economical and efficient housing styles, as every inch of available space was built out. Constructed primarily from the late 1890s to the early 1930s, they were always square in shape.

Because of its design simplicity, it came as no surprise when Sears Reoebuck & Co. decided to use the American Foursquare style as inspiration for their catalog of home building kits in the mid-1930s. The style was so popular, that even Prairie School architect Frank Lloyd Wright  designed his own version of the Foursquare style, with his imprint on it. Made up of 3 square rooms and an entrance hall on the first floor, and four square rooms on the second floor, coupled with a basement;  American Foursquare homes  typically came with a wide front porch. The materials used were sourced from throughout the Midwest; sometimes brick, stone or stucco, with slight variations seen in different regions in  the country.

Fortunately, there is an abundance of American Foursquare homes found throughout the Chicago suburbs. In particular, many are located in east Wilmette’s CAGE area (Chestnut, Ashland, Greenwood, Elmwood) stretching between Sheridan Rd. and Green Bay Rd. I also found a beauty in the heart of Winnetka on Lincoln Ave;  a navy blue and white pristine home listed with the Winnetka Historical society.

After speaking with its homeowner Susan Green, It’s easy to understand the  appeal.  Susan said what initially attracted her to the home was the front porch. Hailing originally from Virginia, Susan loves that it is a simple house yet still sturdy, with great bones. In the summer they try to eat out on the front porch and you can hear the surf of Lake Michigan on quiet evenings. This happy homeowner went on to say that “The windows let in a lot of light, and there are high ceilings, which provide a very roomy feel.”

Nearly 100 years have passed since these American Foursquares were built. Today many of the homes have been expanded, renovated, each with their own personal style. I only wish that all homeowners could experience the ease and calm that comes from sitting out on a front porch swing. Time for a glass of lemonade!