10 April 2010

Notes on renovating the American Gothic house

On 4 March, I wrote a post I titled Help Me Grant Wood and in it I detailed a presentation I was working on that had to do with an imaginary renovation of the house that sits in the background of Grant Wood's American Gothic.

What started out as an interesting idea has become my life's work over the last five weeks. I have never used SketchUp at this level before and I've never researched something so exhaustively in my life.

Right after I learned that it was a real house in Eldon, Iowa (that's currently rented to a caretaker by the way), I started digging around for anything I could find out about it. I found an entire library of photographs. That was relatively easy.

I hit on the mother lode when I found the Wapello County Assessor's website. On it, I found the property records for the house. I was hoping to find the plat for the property, but I found something equally useful in its place. Ta-da!

It's the measured footprint of the American Gothic House.

I saved it as a .jpg and imported into a SketchUp file and then I scaled it up to the proper size. So now that I knew how big the interior walls were, I could figure out the heights of everything from looking over the library of photographs I'd accumulated.

Here's the final exterior view I drew.

When I was digging around for photos, I came across this one.

It's the only image I could find of the back of the house. Who knew that there was another Gothic window and a back porch on the American Gothic house?

Speaking of that window, it took me the better part of a Saturday to get the radii right on that Gothic arch.

So there are the exterior shots. Ultimately, that model's going to end up Google Earth and that's pretty cool. I never thought I'd have a model on Google Earth some day. It's an interesting thing to ponder.

I finished the interior yesterday and I think I did the house proud. I'm not showing the interiors here just yet, though I will eventually. If you really want to see them though, you'll have to come to Chicago next Thursday.


  1. BRAVO, Paul!

    I am (wide-plank pine) floored by your amazing work.

  2. Thanks Raina! The inside of it has wide-plank walnut floors. I started with pine but I made the executive decision on behalf of my clients to upgrade the flooring.

  3. wow paul! impressive! i need to fly to florida to have you teach me sketch-up! i can make a box, then get frustrated and quit.

  4. Thanks Christian, I am used to winging it a lot of times in SketchUp, but modelling from life is another thing all together. When our SketchUp Designer Bootcamp lands in LA, you'll be the first to know. The company I do that with is based out of Long Beach so it's going to be sooner rather than later.

  5. This is just too cool for TV! I too have been playing with (and learning) SketchUp. At the same time, I am also taking a class in Revit. Interesting to compare the two. My impression is that SketchUp is more visually expressive, but that Revit is more architecturally exact (and it keeps track of all your materials schedules, which is huge). I'm tempted to try drawing the American Gothic house in Revit..

  6. By the way Paul, when you're done with your house, you should try dropping your SketchUp into Google earth. If you just tell SketchUp where the house is located, SketchUp can place it on the terrain map from Google Earth. You will have the real terrain and also the real sun and shadow patterns all through the year. I did this recently with a client's house, and I was just GOBSMACKED. I have built models and taken them to a center for a sun analysis (takes many hours), but this worked in just a few minutes. I'm pretty sure Google knows where the Grant Wood house is in physical location.

  7. Nicolette: Thanks for your comment. The Pro version of SketchUp keeps the materials schedule in a handy dandy spreadsheet. What I love about it too is that even the free version is as precise as you need it to be, you just have to tell it that you want precision...

    If you tackle the American Gothic house in Revit I'd love to know how you do. My SketchUp model of it will be up on the 3D Warehouse in a few days. Once it is, you can import it to SketchUp on your desktop and grab the dimensions from it that way.

  8. Oh, I am doing this project in cahoots with the great folks at Google and they're taking it from here. I don't need to do anything. The Google Earth tie-in with SketchUp is what's truly remarkable. Did you know you can find the plat of a client's house, import it and then build right on top of it? Amazing.

  9. Chicago is a bit of a trek for me Paul so I'll have to wait until you post some pictures:)

  10. Wow, Paul, your SketchUp image is amazing!!! No wonder you've been so busy!! ;-) And totally cool that your version of the American Gothic House will be on Google Earth. Remember me when you're famous!!

    Thanks so much for spreading the word about Matt's Art for Life Campaign and our giveaway. Matt's a good guy, and I really want to help him reach his goal.

    Good luck!!


  11. Fair enough Keith, I'll post the interiors after Chicago in your honor. I will make it to County Carlow one of these days...

    Kelly: Thanks! The Google Earth thing's a real bonus, that's for sure.

  12. This is ridiculously amazing.

    Between the saturday night sketchup, the chickens, the geology, etc. I think you're my new favorite (don't take this the wrong way)design nerd. And I mean that in the MOST complimentary way I assure you!!

    Oh yeah - and the kitchens!

  13. Hey there, thanks for dropping by. I'm glad you found me here and in finding me I just found you. Brava! I think we need to divide design blogs into the mindless gushers and the thoughtful critics. It's good to meet another thoughtful critic. Keep coming back and I promise to continue to take huge liberties with the definition of a design blog.

  14. Oh I read you everyday in my reader! I promise to be better about commenting and not be such a lurker. Thanks for visiting my blog - I believe that is the first time it has ever been called "thoughtful". ; )

    Can't wait to see your final American Gothic plans!

  15. Thanks again. I really love connecting with other bloggers.

  16. Tell me when your American Gothic house gets posted on Google. I would love to grab it and try a conversion to SketchUp. One thing I don't like about Revit is that it only runs on the Windows platform. I got a Mac several years ago (I call her "Flora" because I used her originally to show flowers and hold the light and gesture long enough for me to capture a botanically correct image in watercolors) and I hated to sully Flora with DOS stuff. Parallels works great, and Revit runs well, but somehow, I feel that I have insulted Flora. The Revit libraries for furniture and materials are also much more limited. Then too, SketchUp is FREE! I'm interested in trying a single drawing in both so I can decide which I like better.


    BTW, if you wonder what that flora looks like, you will find some here: http://comfortandjoydesign.com/Watercolors.html#


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