George G. Elmslie had worked with Louis Sullivan for many years and, in partnership with William G. Purcell, became a leading practitioner of the Prairie Style. In 1909, Elmslie had served as Sullivan’s draftsman and representative in the creation of the Bradleys’ first Madison home (DA31). Elmslie and Purcell also designed a summer house for the Bradleys in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, which is one of the firm’s best-known works.
Wanting their design to harmonize with its environment, the firm sited this house to offer spectacular vistas of Lake Mendota, the University of Wisconsin campus, and the state capitol. From the street, the house appears to hover over the earth, its dark-brick raised basement a visual void beneath the white stucco walls. The stucco walls appear as membranes, enclosing the volume of the house, something seen later in European modernism of the 1920s. Rows of casement windows, deep eaves, cantilevered balconies, and bands of wooden trim produce a pronounced horizontality.
Like many architects of the Progressive Era, Purcell and Elmslie embraced domestic-reform ideals. They experimented with making a house into, as Purcell described it in his unpublished memoir, “a perfect machine for accomplishing all the household life as automatically as possible” with the push of a button. Here they installed work-saving devices such as a central vacuum cleaning system. They also focused on efficiency. As Purcell later observed, “the closets and store-rooms were a maze of specialized subdivisions for every possible article,” and the kitchen “was a pioneer study in scientific arrangement” (Purcell and Elmslie Archives).