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Architectural Design | Who Designed No. 139 Maplewood Avenue?

Robert W. Shopell's design no. 1265 from 101 Turn-of-the-Century House DesignsSomething bugged me about my Victorian. It took a few weeks of actually living in No. 139 Maplewood Avenue for it to dawn on me.

There were obvious clues that the house was altered over the years – like the footprints of two abandoned chimney hearths in the basement, indentations of “hinge prints” in door jams, a chimney in suspiciously good condition for 125 years old, and the misguided choice of Colonial-style millwork in some rooms. For a home that could boast it housed only four different families over its 125-year history, it had undergone considerable alterations.

It didn’t fit the mold of one particular Victorian architectural movement, but several. It had Eastlake-style  hinges on a few doors and a banister influenced by the Arts & Crafts movement, and so on.

I scoured the internet for books and articles on Victorian architecture. I stumbled on a book by Robert W. Shopell and it caught my eye – the home on the front cover had curves and steep angles similar to mine.  Could this guy be No. 139’s architect? The book, really more of a catalog reprint, contained many of his drawings – hence it’s name, 101 Turn-of-the-Century House Designs. I think it was 6 dollars on Amazon, so I bought it. If my home wasn’t in there, no big deal.

Thumbing through the book, I saw a bunch of gorgeous homes, but none looked like mine. I put it down and didn’t get back to it for another week or so. When I picked it up again, I went through it page by page and found myself staring one house in particular known as No. 1265. It was mine! It was No. 139!

Turns out, this guy, Shopell, was quite the architect of his day. His company, the Co-operative Building Plan Association, located in downtown New York City, had over 12,000 clients and revolutionized architectural design.  The Art Institute of Chicago writes that his “published designs, prepared by an in-house staff of architects for nearly three decades between 1881 and 1907. At its peak the firm employed about 50 architects, who provided free consultation to the customer who purchased a Shoppell plan, priced in the range of $15 to 65. Shoppell’s business intended to challenge directly the rising popularity of expensive custom-designed plans.”

Here’s the thing. Shopell altered his designs all the time – usually by builder or home-owner request. Even though the original designs offered specific “construction details”, there’s no guarantee that the Shopell homes that remain today were built accordingly.  In order to figure out that out – I needed to reconstruct the home’s changes throughout it’s history from a variety of resources such as real estate listings, obvious differences in woodwork, first hand account from neighbors, and of course, the original designs helped me piece together the puzzle. And even still, I haven’t learned everything.


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FOUNDER & LEAD CONTENT STRATEGIST I live in a gorgeous 1895 Victorian otherwise know as No.139, with my husband Gary McDaniel, who is a frequent foodie contributor to this blog, and our three kids. While only four other families have called this place home, some of them made really bad choices that altered it’s classic design. And there was a cheapo flipper in the mix too. Now, we’re cleaning up their messes. This blog is a creative outlet for the love of home design and art, doable DIY, indulging in good eats, and throwing a good party. While I write many of our articles, I’m not the only voice. Tradespersons, small business owners, or our good neighbors with special talents will share what they’ve learned through posts, photography, and video. Think about it. Who better to give you advice on landscape design, a well-stocked bar, or how to hire (and fire) the right contractor for your home reno than those who do it for a living or simply a passion to give voice to their hobby? My day (and weekend) job as a REALTOR®-Salesperson for Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Maplewood, NJ, gives me a unique opportunity to peek inside homes. Whether a it’s a sparkling or still-in-the-rough kind of diamond – all are dream worthy. I manage my real estate biz through my brand, INHABIT SOMa by Carla Labianca.

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