It may be that Dirk Gently has become my inspiration. His holistic detective agency based on “the fundamental interconnectedness of all things” takes a big-picture view of crime and I seem to have a similar take on architectural history. So perhaps that’s why Douglas Adams’ unlovable character resonated with me. I’ve noted lately that three of my blogs—yes, there are others besides Agincourt—have begun to blur: William Halsey Wood has crossed over at least three times and now Lawrence Buck is doing the same.
Buck has designed two buildings in Agincourt, both of them houses and both from the years just prior to World War I. Don’t look for a book on Buck; I haven’t written it yet, but had better get a move on before someone else does. Having looked at a few dozen Buck buildings (most of them single-family houses), I’ve developed a feel for his style, though that may be too strong a claim. You be the judge.
The Aiden and Cordelia Archer house is a big one—3000+ square feet, which doesn’t count for much these days—on three floors. But it’s the cottage-like Rose Kavanagh house (at a little over 1000 sq. ft.) that interests me these days. Its inspiration was, in fact, Buck’s own home, a very small one built in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago shortly after he married and began a family. It’s long gone, a victim of early gentrification, probably replaced by a handsome 1920s apartment block or a 1960s ugly one. I’ve walked that street but can’t recall.
You’ve probably not encountered Lawrence Buck (1865-1929) but his dates will suggest that he was a close contemporary of you-know-who. In fact, I just ran across an on-line piece about one of Buck’s Rockford, Illinois houses that states without hesitation that Buck worked for “he who shall not be named,” which, by the way, is untrue. But his work was widely published in platforms like the House Beautiful, Ladies Home Journal, and House & Garden. You might actually might be surprised to know that he designed a house in Williston. But it was his own home that served as a model for Rose Kavanagh’s home.
Since they were both Chicagoans, it’s tempting to link Buck with Frank Lloyd Wright. Their work attracted a similar clientele (based on my own unscientific sampling and subject to revision); they even officed in Steinway Hall for a few years and undoubtedly snarled at one another in the elevator on those days when Wright came in from the Oak Park studio. In an obscure piece of correspondence with Ralph Fletcher Seymour (who published an early work of Swedish feminist Ellen Key, translated by Mamah Borthwick Cheney), Wright makes a snarky remark about Buck’s rendering skills. So I smile at the prospect of occasional interactions between them.
But you can see from these grainy reproductions from Isabel Bevier’s The House: its Plan, Decoration and Care that a Buck house was downright reticent when compared with Wrightian bravado. It seems much farer to me that his buildings be compared with British Arts & Crafts designers like Raymond Unwin and Barry Parker, who may be even more obscure. But that’s a claim for another day. In the meantime, consider this simple house from about one hundred years ago on the sandy north shore of Chicago just a few block south of the Evanston line and a hundred yards from the lake. And tell me if I’ve absorbed some of its finer, more delicate, borderline gemüchtlich qualities.
Rose’s house is the one on the left. She’s standing by the kitchen door.