Video: American Foursquare, Part II

Hi. This is Nathan Harrison for We looked, in Part I, how the Foursquare house fits into American history and what it means. Let’s look now at how to identify a Foursquare.

The most important thing is that it looks like a big cube from the front. It also characteristically has hipped roofs. So the roof comes down to the same level on all sides. Here’s an example of what is not a hipped roof. This is a gabled roof on this Victorian house.

Now, that being said, I would still call this house a true Foursquare because it meets our philosophical definition of a Foursquare, whereas the third defining feature is that it would have a minimum of 2 stories.

So that means that we would not consider this to be a Foursquare, although it does have some of the other characteristics. And I would say this is definitely not a Foursquare. Gotta draw the line somewhere.

The other thing that I would say is a defining feature based on the history of the Foursquare, is its simplicity and its economy.

Other common features you’ll find in a Foursquare — Often you’ll find a prominent center hall in the middle of the house. Nearly all Foursquare will have a dormer in the front, and some will have a dormer on all four sides.

A large front porch, often the full width of the house is characteristic.

These columns or posts that hold up the front porch roof tend to be square rather than round.

The eaves all around the house tend to have a very large overhang, as you can see here. This is tied into the economy of the house. Because Foursquares generally have a hipped roof and a large overhang, that means much of the house is protected from the rain. Only a driving rain is going to get onto the boards, which means the house is going to last longer. Again, its about the economy.

Foursquares typically have craftsman style woodwork. Later Fourssquares would typically have arched entries between rooms and possibly built-in cabinetry.

Now if you own a Foursquare and want to remodel, you’re going to have to do it in the back because typically they are on very narrow lots. And it’s good that it will be in the back because that will preserve the LOOK of the Foursquare. If you build out from the side, it no longer looks like a cube.

In the eyes of we moderns, Foursquares have four general short-comings that usually occasion a remodel project.

The first is a small and walled off kitchen.

Second, typically there will only be 1 bathroom in the house – typically not on the first floor. If you look closely at this floor plan, you can see a bath here on the second floor along with 4 bedrooms. On the first floor, all we show is a “washroom”, and I suspect that’s not “washroom” like we use it today but that was actually a laundry room.

Another big complaint is a lack of storage space. Although the attic in a Foursquare tends to be generous. This particular one has a pantry and nothing else other than these closets upstairs.

Then the 4th complaint that occasions a remodel is the desire for a much larger master suite.

Now, given the fact that we are 80-100 years past the time when these Foursquares were built, the chances are great that if you own a Foursquare, someone’s already attempted a remodel addition to the back of the house.

If that’s not the case, then consider yourself lucky; you’re starting with a clean slate, which is a lot less complicated. If you are working with a clean slate, then the obvious remodel project would be to simply add a 2-story addition to the back of the house. On the first story, you’d want a kitchen expansion and a bathroom for the main floor. A mudroom with some storage would also be a good idea if you could fit it.

Then directly above that on the second floor would be an expanded master suite, possibly with a porch. And by the way, if you do a project like this, make sure it has a hipped roof in keeping with the original look of the Foursquare.

Here’s one final tidbit I’ll leave you with. When you see a neighborhood of Foursquares like this, you can bet there’s a rail line nearby, because these houses were pre-built generally somewhere else and brought in by rail, and so, of course, the obvious place to build them would be somewhere near the rail line.

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