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This stock plan house, built on a suburban site outside Spartanburg, represents the work of architect Donald A. Gardner. Since 1978, Gardner, who holds his degree in architecture from Clemson University, has been operating one of America’s most successful stock plan companies. His company, Donald A. Gardner Architects, Inc., and several affiliated firms are based in Greenville.
Since the late nineteenth century, when American architects began offering stock plans and even customized design service by mail, the stock plan business has grown along with the rate of home ownership in the United States. For over a century now, it has provided the construction documents, as well as the underlying design ideas, for a large percentage of the houses built to order or on speculation in all parts of the country. Stock plans thus provide an index of changing lifestyles and tastes.
Using stock plans can considerably lower the cost of building by reducing the portion for architectural services. Although stock plans have been available for a variety of building types (notably barns and other farm structures, as well as garages, stores, and churches), the American stock plan industry has mainly focused on residential buildings (single-family houses, duplexes, small multifamily dwellings, and vacation cottages). Stock plan producers have generally focused on one particular type; Gardner focuses on single-family houses. Stock plans have typically been sold through printed catalogs (so-called bungalow books or plan books) but, with the rise of internet marketing, they have in recent years increasingly been made available through websites.
Over the last quarter of the twentieth century, a large share of America’s economic activity shifted to the Sunbelt. This basic shift coincided with the rise of architectural postmodernism. Postmodernism helped to make historical and traditional architecture more respectable than it had been during the mid-twentieth-century heyday of modernism. Rediscovery of the positive qualities of older buildings, in turn, paved the way for the rapid ascendance of one of postmodernism’s offshoots: neotraditionalism.
American neotraditional architects and designers found inspiration in various places: in late Victorian architecture and the more classicizing designs of the early twentieth century; occasionally in early-nineteenth-century neoclassical architecture; and quite often in the vernacular buildings of various periods and regions. Neotraditionalism seems to enjoy special favor in the American South, and southern stock plan providers have applied themselves to meeting an ever-increasing demand for neotraditional designs. The same providers, notably including Gardner, have also played a major role in spreading the southern variants of neotraditional taste nationwide through their plan catalogs and other media.
As a result of the wide distribution and adoption of his neotraditional plans, Gardner may now rank as the most influential South Carolina architect of the past one hundred years—or perhaps of all time. Gardner’s house plans stand out from the offerings of many competitors by being the products of a professional architect. They are characterized by good proportions and axial logic. Gardner’s rooms have definite shapes and are arranged well for function. His doors and windows generally line up to create vistas. Overall, however, Gardner’s plans possess the asymmetrical informality and openness that survived in postmodernism and neotraditionalism as a residue of the modernism that preceded them. Indicative of their rootedness in Southern culture is their frequent provision of generous porches, decks, or other outdoor spaces adjacent to living areas. Gardner’s exteriors play up the entrance front as a principal facade. His designs often call, or at least allow, for execution using a variety of materials. Many designs feature multiple gables and a variety of window sizes, in a manner harking back to American taste in domestic architecture of the 1920s.
The Glovier House in the River Falls Plantation subdivision of Duncan was begun as a speculative house by builder Calvin Snow. It was based on Gardner’s Runnymeade design, which Gardner’s concern first offered in 2006. Joseph and Bethel Glovier purchased the house while it was still under construction. The Gloviers, who had admired the work of Gardner before discovering this house, worked with Snow to customize many of its features. The exterior is finished in brick and cultured stone, both highly favored building materials in the early-twenty-first-century South. A notable feature of the interior is the variety of ceiling treatments, different in every major room. Because the site of the house slopes, the residence gained a deck where a patio would have been had the house been built on a flat lot. Such relatively minor adjustments, as well as more significant ones such as the redesign of ceilings, are part of the normal procedure of building houses from stock plans.
“Contemporary Cottage.” Small Dream Homes27 (Winter 2013): 10-13.
“House Plans.” Donald A. Gardner, Architects, Inc. Accessed May 7, 2019. http://www.dongardner.com/.
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