I saw my first pattern book while visiting the Huntington Library Rare Books department in 1992 or 93. The book was Designs by Inigo Jones, written by William Kent and published in 1727. By the time I opened that book, I’d been working as a carpenter for more than fifteen years and specializing in finish carpentry for nearly ten years. Looking back, it’s amazing that I was able to survive without any understanding of architectural design, in a profession dependent upon architectural design.
A Note from the Publisher:
WARNING: POTENTIAL CONFLICT OF INTEREST!
If you are sensitive about articles that seem to favor a particular manufacturer, then DON’T read this one! It’s written about a new Andersen Windows project! After years of experience, I’ve found that some manufacturers know more about their products than anyone else; if a carpenter wants to learn the best way to install a product, sometimes the best source of information is the manufacturer. In the future, look for more carefully-screened articles from manufacturers.
Since the early 1990s, I’ve haunted historic homes, read countless books on architecture, and collected my own small library of pattern books—references I turn to repeatedly whenever I have a design decision to make, whether it’s the style of casing on a home, a mantelpiece plan, a coffered ceiling layout, or window and door designs.
Like getting started as a carpenter, digging into architectural history and design can be dry, hard ground. It’s important to take small steps. Probably the most helpful books I’ve found are The Elements of Style by Stephen Calloway, Asher Benjamin’s The Country Builders Assistant, Illustrated Dictionary of Historic Architecture by Cyril Harris, A Field Guide to American Houses by Virginia Savage McAlester (look for a review of McAlester’s latest edition in TiC soon!), and of course, Get Your House Right by Marianne Cusato.
But like a lot of carpenters, when I first started studying architecture, I wanted to find the perfect book—the one single resource that answered every question: what style of mantelpiece to use on a particular home; what type of casing and baseboard; what crown molding size and profile; what windows and doors; what stair design….
I’ve given up looking for that single resource. Instead, I’ve found that design is not a black and white issue, a question of right or wrong. But there are rules.
I remember back in 2008 I visited Andersen Windows to look at a new window. It was a brand new design they were preparing to market—the A Series Window. The remarkable thing about the new window was that Andersen had figured out how to mathematically control the height of the window rails so that casement windows, double hung windows, sliding windows, and picture windows could be installed side-by-side and you’d never know the difference between the styles—all the muntin bars dividing the lights would align perfectly. For the first time, without ordering custom units, we could easily achieve level sight lines between windows and doors! From my experience as a custom finish contractor, that was a real breakthrough.
But during the visit to Minneapolis, the folks at Andersen showed me something else that was also a monumental breakthrough—a pattern book, in folio size (BIG), that a team of architects, photographers, and artists were painstakingly putting together after traveling the country visiting historic homes of every style and recording details on windows, doors, exterior and interior moldings, hardware, and even paint colors.
|The pattern book was divided into architectural styles, and each style, from farmhouses to colonial mansions, was covered exquisitely in beautiful drawings, both in charcoal and ink, watercolors, pastels, and of course photographs.|
There was only one copy of the hand-bound book—all the artwork was original. There was no way I could fit that folio into my shirt. In fact, they wouldn’t even let me take a photograph of it!
|But now you can get a taste of that folio by visiting Andersen’s website and viewing their Home Style Library. They’ve distilled much of the work from that hand-printed book into this brief online resource.|
Andersen has also printed a collection of individual “pattern books.” Of course, these wire-bound booklets aren’t a single resource, but they do provide a broad view of each primary architectural style found in America, and they can definitely help contractors and architects choose the right windows and doors.
|What’s more, the pattern books are available for free in iTunes and Google Play, which means they’re iPad and Android-friendly!|
And while you’re on the Andersen site, check out their new Installation Materials Calculator—one way to be sure you have all the materials you’ll need for installing windows on your next job, from flashing to drain pans to drip cap.