"In several cases, a family might build a second octagon when they outgrew the first."
August 1, 2011 7:22 AM   Subscribe

"The most comprehensive source on octagon houses ever compiled."

Including sequential photos detailing building an octagon house (in VT), biographical information on Orson Fowler (more) the phrenologist who was one of the popularizers of octagonal living in the 1850's, and a special page devoted to unfindable mystery houses. Fowler's 1854 book A Home for All, or the Gravel Wall and Octagon Mode of Building is available in full on Google Books.
posted by jessamyn (47 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
"The most comprehensive source on octagon houses ever compiled."

Except for the last post.
posted by spicynuts at 7:35 AM on August 1, 2011 [5 favorites]

Cool! I drove by the octagonal library in Hancock Point (Maine) a few weeks ago. Really a neat old building. And I totally want the cute octagonal house on Bustin's Island.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 7:36 AM on August 1, 2011

I have a deep need to build an iconic, semi-underground house with a green roof, one which as yet has gone unfilled. I'm not sure I'll get there but it's a need.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:37 AM on August 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

You know who lives in an octagon house? HALF SHARK ALLIGATOR HALF MAN!

posted by everichon at 7:37 AM on August 1, 2011 [7 favorites]

I was looking for the local Octagon Barn on the list, but I'm guessing it's not on the list as it's a barn and not a house. But it is on the list of California Round Barns (part of a site dedicated to round barns and covered bridges; via the Octagon Barn's wiki page).
posted by filthy light thief at 7:39 AM on August 1, 2011

Pretty sure they had an octagon house on American Pickers a while back.
posted by spicynuts at 7:41 AM on August 1, 2011

Do you furnish an octagonal house any differently than you would a house with regular square corners? Does it make any difference in terms of how efficiently you use interior space?
posted by pracowity at 7:42 AM on August 1, 2011

I know someone who grew up in a round house, but not of this era--it would have been built in the (19)50s or 60s, near San Antonio, TX. She hated it, and blamed it for her family's dysfunction--no privacy, no way to go from, say, a bedroom to the bathroom without going through common living areas, a panopticon of sorts. (It is, of course, quite possible that the problem was the family, not the house.)
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:48 AM on August 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

Just the other day I passed a magnificent brick octagon house in either Ashby or Dunstable, Massachusetts (it doesn't seem to be in their inventory, I'll have to drop them a line!)
posted by usonian at 7:56 AM on August 1, 2011

When my Professor talked about octagon houses in class, he remarked that "almost every old New England town has one, but no town has two"
Ironically, the idea behind them was to enclose space with less material than a square house, but due to the lack of right angles they are pretty awful when it comes to room design.
posted by DeltaZ113 at 7:57 AM on August 1, 2011

My mistake - I saw this one on Route 119 in Townshend.
posted by usonian at 8:00 AM on August 1, 2011

Interesting that there are so many in New York State. I'm familiar with the Alfred one and have driven past many others. There's a lovely one near Cooperstown that I didn't see listed.

New York also has some lovely examples of round cobblestone homes, only possible where there are lots of glacially-tumbled rocks and talented masons. I've been told the latter came to work on the Erie Canal and stuck around to build homes after that project was finished.
posted by kinnakeet at 8:01 AM on August 1, 2011

She hated it, and blamed it for her family's dysfunction--no privacy, no way to go from, say, a bedroom to the bathroom without going through common living areas, a panopticon of sorts.

I don't think this depends on the shape of the house. There's no reason you couldn't build a normal rectangular house that had this problem, or an octagon or round house that didn't. But the architect that decided to build a round house may have thought "what the hell, if we're making it round we may as well throw out other conventional things like 'privacy'", so maybe your friend is right to blame the house, at least in part.
posted by madcaptenor at 8:07 AM on August 1, 2011

My father-in-law (RIP) lived in an octagonal house, though with wings and a porch. I'd link to the address in Google Maps but his wife still lives there and for some strange reason the house itself is whited-out as if it were Dick Cheney's house and it was a matter of national security.

It was a neat house, but the great room upstairs was so monstrously huge it was tough to furnish. It also has an octagonal copula with eight rafters on top of which he installed eight florescent strip lights. This lit the great room up nicely but from outside the strip bulbs are visible and it makes the building look sort of like a Pizza Hut. If you're driving on NH Rt. 89 near the Vermont border and you know where to look you can find it. It's the brightest thing on the hill for miles around and I'm pretty sure planes flying into Lebanon airport use it as a navigation aid.

I always wanted to take over the house and turn the cupola into an observatory.
posted by bondcliff at 8:08 AM on August 1, 2011

This photo from Custer County, Nebraska is unbelievably fucking awesome on so many levels. The house itself, the family members, the horse (presumably in the picture because it's as important as any family member), and, perhaps most of all, the background: there is nothing-- absolutely fucking nothing-- in that landscape all the way to the horizon. There are like half a dozen "Great American Novels" all contained in that single photograph (and most of them are by Willa Cather...).
posted by dersins at 8:09 AM on August 1, 2011 [10 favorites]

I love the only one listed in Minneapolis, which is just a few blocks from where I grew up. I never realized that the house was octagonal, mostly because it's a pretty standard design, only with clipped corners. According to the image on the main link, it was built that way "to utilize short boards". How wonderfully cheap.
posted by Ickster at 8:09 AM on August 1, 2011

This one is on the street I grew up on.
posted by garlic at 8:26 AM on August 1, 2011

The Octagon House in the District of Columbia is pretty neat. President Madison lived there for a time after the White House was burned, and there signed the Treaty of Ghent.
posted by exogenous at 8:31 AM on August 1, 2011

When I was a teenager, my parents took me to see the plantations in Natchez (my paternal ancestors spent some time there en route to Texas). The building that made the biggest impression on me was Longwood, which was the one thing I had to show my husband when we visited many years later. It was never completed, so you can see how it was constructed when you go inside.
posted by immlass at 8:32 AM on August 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

and there signed the Treaty of Ghent

Make that the ratification papers for the treaty, according to Wikipedia.
posted by exogenous at 8:33 AM on August 1, 2011

You can get the one in my old hometown, for $49K
posted by timsteil at 8:40 AM on August 1, 2011

I live just a mile down the road from this one, maybe I'll slow down and smell the roses next time by. Thanks for the post.
posted by fatbaq at 8:41 AM on August 1, 2011

Interesting that there are so many in New York State.

Probably indicative of the timing. In the decades after the Erie Canal opened in 1825, lots of new money and dangerous ideas spread through the state. That's when the octagon house came into vogue.
posted by pracowity at 8:44 AM on August 1, 2011

My uncle built himself an octagon (or hexagon) house from a kit. When he wanted to make it larger, he built a second and linked them together.

The original lobe, which had the bedrooms, was not panopticonish, but the addition had an open plan that connected the livingroom, diningroom, and kitchen along a 270 degree arc.
posted by zippy at 9:02 AM on August 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Here's a nice set of pictures including interiors of a multi-octagon house in Winchester MA. I think it is the one in the database listed as 290 Highland Ave. As the pix make clear, fitting rectangular furniture and fixtures into octagonal spaces isn't always easy.
posted by beagle at 9:12 AM on August 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

She hated it, and blamed it for her family's dysfunction--no privacy, no way to go from, say, a bedroom to the bathroom without going through common living areas, a panopticon of sorts.

There's a limestone one here that was quite explicitly built as a tiny little Benthamite prison. It's called the Round House. It was first used as a prison, then as a lockup, then as a rather swanky house for the Chief Constable of Fremantle. These days it's a museum.

(It also has an wonderful tunnel underneath, through which convicts dragged whales. Swoon.)
posted by Ahab at 9:14 AM on August 1, 2011

I ride by this one on the way to work. Haven't been to visit yet.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:16 AM on August 1, 2011

I always liked how Utopian thinking in America rests on the domestic, how these ideas of how to organise interior mind space reflected in attempts to map that on exterior spaces--and was always a little suprised that Shaker or Oenida spaces weren't round.
posted by PinkMoose at 9:29 AM on August 1, 2011

Ahab: (It also has an wonderful tunnel underneath, through which convicts dragged whales. Swoon.)


Growing up, I remember my parents and I visiting a friend of my grandpaernts who had just moved into a new log cabin and them just being so in love with it. And I wondered why, if they loved it so much, we didn't live somewhere like that and instead lived in a fairly boring but nice normal house. But I also didn't know why they thought they were so great.

Replace "log cabin" with "octogon house" and 'normal house" with "normal apartment" and I'm now my parents. But I still don't know why I think they're so neat.

Joke my grandfather used to tell us every time we'd drive by a specific circular barn -- how did the man die in the circular barn? Looking for a corner to piss in.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:52 AM on August 1, 2011

My grandmother lives in an octagonal house. My architect uncle designed it for her -- he always wanted to try his hand at an octagonal building.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 10:13 AM on August 1, 2011

A company called Topsider in North Carolina builds octagonal or hexagonal houses anywhere you want.
posted by Cranberry at 10:31 AM on August 1, 2011

I know I have seen an old blue and white clapboard Victorian octagon house in Sullivan County, NY. Now I'm going to have to track it down and take pictures.
posted by yellowcandy at 11:26 AM on August 1, 2011

Octagonal castle, with octagonal turrets.
posted by francesca too at 12:41 PM on August 1, 2011

I like seeing this one at the northeastern tip of Long Island, Maine when I'm out paddling, because it means I'm finally done paddling past Long Island which, as the name implies, is quite long.
posted by rusty at 12:51 PM on August 1, 2011

Octagonal castle, with octagonal turrets.

If reading Pratchett's non-fiction series Discworld has taught me anything, that place is absolutely crawling with magic and probably a thin point between us and the Dungeon Dimensions.

Which is my way of saying, I'd like to live there.
posted by quin at 1:12 PM on August 1, 2011

I read this as "octagon house" at first and thought there was an entire sub-genre I was previously unaware of.

Now I want to know what octagon house sounds like.
posted by flaterik at 1:15 PM on August 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

I lived in an octagonal building on campus for a while, it was cool I guess but the internal corridors could be disorienting because you could only see a few metres ahead, and I was forever rearranging the furniture in my room because of the non 90 degree corners.
posted by Joe Chip at 3:31 PM on August 1, 2011

I owned a house without 90 degree corners once. Not an octagon, but four hexagons joined together like the cells of a honeycomb, in Reynoldsville, PA, built late in the 19th century. I loved that home. The rooms were large, the ceilings were high and you could easily lose a person from the first floor to the second. It was wicked cold in the winter, expensive to heat and had an atmosphere that occasionally felt unsettling, like the time I thought I heard my spouse's footsteps crossing the foyer on the first floor, only to find no one around when I came downstairs.

But it also was the first home I shared with my spouse. It was where I learned how to be married, how to support in each other for worse (and we hit the category for worse pretty quickly). If we could have picked up that house and moved it when we left, we would have.
posted by theBigRedKittyPurrs at 4:48 PM on August 1, 2011

There's a semi-octagonical house in my neighborhood--it's a big octagon with a rectangle off the back. Since I recently bought my house and painted the interior rooms myself, with all the fun of "cutting in" the corners and ceiling edges, every time I pass that house I think "I wouldn't want to paint it".
posted by padraigin at 9:07 PM on August 1, 2011

I swear there's an octagon house in (or near) Chincoteague VA, where we once stayed with some family friends when I was a kid. But it doesn't show up on this list or elsewhere online as far as I can tell. It had the feeling of a 1960-70s build, though -- not a mid-nineteenth century one.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:41 PM on August 1, 2011

Interesting, except for the part where the website creator kept imploring me to left-click. I'm guessing he says forward slash too.
posted by readyfreddy at 5:41 AM on August 2, 2011

I contacted one of the researchers involved in the Octagon House website, Ellen Puerzer and she was very interested in our discussion here. Especially if you know of an octagon house that's not listed at the website, she asks you to get in touch with her (usonian and theBigRedKittyPurrs, she singled you out as people she'd like to hear from). Her email is at the Octagon House webpage and in the link below.

She also mentioned that she and Robert Kline (the other site creator) have different criteria for which octagonal structures should "count" - there are octagonal lighthouses, forts, college buildings, etc. The website in the FPP includes houses and lighthouses, but not college buildings, etc.

She also has a book out: The Octagonal House Inventory which is a limited printing run. Her book includes a number of buildings that aren't listed on the website (for example The Octagon at Amherst College), and does not include lighthouses (I believe). It also sounds like she is more of a historian, so may have more details on a lot of the houses.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:32 AM on August 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

How I remember the happy hours spent at the Octagon House at the local Geometry Zoo! And then to watch feeding time for the vectors, and the happy frolicking of the hypotenuse!
posted by Grangousier at 11:43 AM on August 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Speaking of eight sides: the Teeple Barn was the last remaining 16-sided barn in Illinois (scale model). Unfortunately, the 122-year-old barn blew down in 2007.
posted by bentley at 8:00 AM on August 3, 2011

I must now stop and look at every one of these links (half way through) because I have always loved octagonal houses. But after looking at the Vermont house in-process shots I wanted to ask - are people who build their homes inside and out ever really finished? I wonder if, once everything in the main building is done, they don't start immediately planning a guest house or a workshop or an underground lair or something. It seems hard to believe they could just sit back and stop - if they really enjoy the process. (Maybe a significant other has to say "no really, it's done, you can stop!")
posted by batgrlHG at 4:57 PM on August 3, 2011

I just knew there was some reason that the name Fowler kept sticking in my head - I read the most annoying book that mentioned him in a chapter on octagonal houses. It's Architectural Follies in America by Gwyn Headley (John Wiley & Sons, 1996) and as much as I love the subject material, the way the author wanders from topic to topic all willy nilly makes it hard to find a topic again - for example, for this thread. And then there's no bibliography or index. (At the same time I love the book because the author really enjoys weird architecture, and I love all the places he chose to include in the book. So it's a love hate thing.)

Happily I can give you a link to it in Google Books - page 114, I think, in the chapter called Miracle Houses (The American Dream). (Note that the title doesn't mention octagonal homes, sigh.) Find the paragraph where the author mentions the 1960 book by Clay Lancaster called Architectural Follies in America (which Headley admits he "hoped to plagiarize extensively" until he found most of the buildings were gone.) That will take you into the description of Fowler's love of concrete and octagonal houses.

The quote I couldn't forget, from Fowler's book: "An unhandy house...by perpetually irritating mothers, sours the tempers of their children, even before birth, thus rendering the whole family bad-dispositioned by nature."

He built or inspired a few of the octagon houses in NY (do a Find search for Fowler on that page). Sadly no photos of the 65 room Fowler's Folly - it gradually fell into ruin until 1897 when it was "dynamited 'because of the danger to visitors who still come to see Fowler's Folly" (Headly, p. 116; but no cite for the quote, I think it's a local paper, but no cited date.). But the Armour-Stiner House on this same page (it's under Westchester County and Armour) is really magnificent - and there are great interior photos on that page. Headley covers it on pg 116-117, but doesn't say anything about whether it was inspired by Fowler or not. (More book annoyance! Argh!) Here's its wikipedia page. And more photos via Flickr.
posted by batgrlHG at 6:11 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

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