The House with Sixteen Handmade Doors: A Tale of Architectural Choice and Craftsmanship

Overview

An architectural whodunit that unlocks the secrets of a hand-built home.
When Henry Petroski and his wife Catherine bought a charming but modest six-decades-old island retreat in coastal Maine, Petroski couldn?t help but admire its unusual construction. An eminent expert on engineering, history, and design, he began wondering about the place?s origins and evolution: Who built it, and how? What needs, materials, technologies, historical ...

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The House with Sixteen Handmade Doors: A Tale of Architectural Choice and Craftsmanship

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Overview

An architectural whodunit that unlocks the secrets of a hand-built home.
When Henry Petroski and his wife Catherine bought a charming but modest six-decades-old island retreat in coastal Maine, Petroski couldn’t help but admire its unusual construction. An eminent expert on engineering, history, and design, he began wondering about the place’s origins and evolution: Who built it, and how? What needs, materials, technologies, historical developments, and laws shaped it? How had it fared through the years with its various inhabitants?
Sleuthing around dimly lit closets, knotty-pine wall panels, and even a secret passage—but never removing so much as a nail—Petroski zooms in on the details but also steps back to examine the structure in the context of its time and place.Catherine Petroski’s beautiful photographs capture the clues and the atmosphere. A vibrant cast of neighbors and past residents—most notably the house’s masterful creator, an engineer-turned-“folk architect”—become key characters in the story.As the mystery unfolds, revealing an extraordinary house and its environs, this ode to loving design will leave readers enchanted and inspired.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
02/10/2014
In 1997, Duke University engineering and history professor Petroski (The Pencil) and his wife bought a summer house in coastal Maine. Although it was the riverside location that initially enchanted them, Petroski soon became intrigued by the house itself, which was built by its original owner, Robert Phinney, also an engineer, in the 1950s. This leisurely narrative of a house and its environs and community, with photographs by the author’s wife, Catherine, is an architectural detective story that meanders like the river the house overlooks, and which Petroski likens to a game of Clue. He admires impeccable “fits,” speculates about empty beam recesses in the basement walls, and slowly peels away the mysteries of an oddly configured closet. But this investigation of a painstakingly crafted, idiosyncratic cabin does not end at its walls; Petroski nests his discoveries in the local historical, geographical, natural, and human events he encounters, chatting with neighbors, making repairs, sitting with Catherine on matching glider chairs, and watching river activity flow by. Petroski’s prose, as carefully crafted as Phinney’s workmanship, will make satisfying reading for architects and carpenters of the professional, amateur, and armchair varieties, as well as local history buffs and Maine lovers. 80 photos. (May)
David Esterly - Wall Street Journal
“A narrative tour-de-force.”
Peter Whoriskey - Washington Post
“A very close examination of a house’s anatomy, garnished with far-ranging asides on how things get made… intriguing.”
Kirkus Reviews
2014-03-29
Revealing the secrets of a quirky house. Petroski (Engineering and History/Duke Univ.; To Forgive Design: Understanding Failure, 2012, etc.) and his wife, Catherine, bought a house in Arrowsic, Maine, for their summer retreat. Due to its unique design and craftsmanship, Petroski, whose curiosity (about toothpicks, pencils, bridges, assorted useful objects and feats of engineering) knows no bounds, set out to investigate the house's history. The result is a charming book that will delight fans of PBS's This Old House and, for that matter, anyone who has ever owned, remodeled or admired a house. This one was the handiwork of Bob Phinney, built about 60 years ago when, in his late 30s, he moved with his family from New Jersey. He was a "folk architect," Petroski writes, who designed "a machine for living in" and "a structure worthy of an engineer…." A compact 1,200 square feet, the house consisted of three small bedrooms: one for his three sons, a master bedroom for him and his wife, and a tiny room for his daughter. Half the house was a living room and kitchen, divided by a massive stone fireplace. What caught Petroski's attention was Phinney's meticulous workmanship: nailheads, for example, aligned precisely and were flush with the surface of the wood; pine used for wall boards was chosen for its elegant and distinctive delineation, with no "incongruous juxtapositions of incompatible grain patterns and edge knots." With the help of historical archives, friendly neighbors and photographs, Petroski creates a biography of the house, a natural history of coastal Maine and a portrait of Phinney himself: "Like Frank Lloyd Wright, he may not have been tall," Petroski infers from the house's short doorways, "but he had high aspirations for his art…. His unerring care is manifest in every detail." Petroski, too, has an unerring eye for detail, which makes this admirably crafted book a delight to read.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393242041
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 5/5/2014
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 137,032
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Henry Petroski is the Aleksandar S. Vesic Professor of Civil Engineering and a professor of history at Duke University. He is the author of seventeen previous books on engineering and design, including the classics To Engineer Is Human and The Pencil.

Catherine Petroski is a photographer and the author of fiction and nonfiction books, including A Bride’s Passage. She and Henry live in Durham, North Carolina, and Arrowsic, Maine.

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