Four fireplaces, three bedrooms, two baths, one maid.

"Royal Barry Wills... or IS it?"

Royal Barry Wills... or IS it?

This past week-end I sat down with my partner and watched one of our favorite movies: “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dreamhouse”, the 1948 classic film every architecture client should be forced to watch.  I don’t know what part this movie played on my choice of career, but I distinctly remember being mesmerized as a child by the house and the suburban Connecticut couple, Cary Grant and Myrna Loy, who built it.  For those of you not familiar with the film, IMDB (Internet Movie Database) offers the succinct summary:  “A man and his wife decide they can afford to have a house in the country built to their specifications. It’s a lot more trouble than they think.”

When I was a young apprentice on the drawing boards of Royal Barry Wills  it was considered gospel among us draftsmen that the Connecticut dream-house of the title was a bona fide 1940′s creation of our own dear employer. The massive whitewashed chimney, the louvered blinds at windows AND front door,  the wide fireplace and low beamed living room were all old familiar friends seen daily on our own drafting boards.  Besides, who but Royal Barry Wills could have so perfectly rendered the ideal suburban residence of the post-war dream?  Alas, subsequent scholarship has informed me that the house so beloved by classic film fans and architects alike was only a movie set built on R.K.O.’s rear lot in Los Angeles; the same lot used decades later for filming the T.V. series “M*A*S*H”.

However, in an interesting aside, the architect-turned-set-designer who created the “house” for the studio was asked by his bosses to send actual floor plans to contractors who were to participate in a publicity stunt: building Mr. Blandings’ dream house on real lots across the United States!  It is estimated that seventy-eight replicas of varying degrees of faithfulness to the design were built in over twenty-five states to promote the movie.  The poor man had to re-draw the set countless times to accommodate the building codes of every municipality chosen.  A little research uncovered a copy of the first and second floor plans of this charming Colonial Revival house.

"Mr. Blandings' Dream House"

The American Dream: Four fireplaces, three bedrooms, two and a half bathrooms, one maid.

This entry was posted in Classical Architecture, Historic Houses, Royal Barry Wills, Traditional House Design and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Four fireplaces, three bedrooms, two baths, one maid.

  1. Elizabeth Cronin says:

    Mr. Blandings…is one of my favorite movies. I love houses and especially this one. The setting is beautiful. Can you tell me if any sketches or plans are available? Most of the drawings I have seen on the Internet are not easy to read. Thank you for any information you can providde. I just love the way Mryna Loy described the paint colors.

    • Timothy says:

      Dear Elizabeth,

      Always a treat, meeting another distant Cronin cousin. I sometimes wonder if there are any of us left in County Cork.

      I agree, Myrna Loy’s conversation about paint colors with the contractor is one of the best moments in the film. It’s funny and true to life. My clients have picked house colors to match wildflowers picked on site, curtains from their old house, the blue in Chinese export teacups, and the golden label on a bottle of Veuve Cliquot Champagne!

      I have often thought of drawing up a complete set of construction drawings for the Blandings’ Dream House based on available photos and floor plans. If you’re interested in persuing this, let me know. This could be just the occasion I’ve been waiting for.

      Best wishes,


      Timothy Cronin, AIA
      T. Cronin, Architect, Ltd.
      (617) 375-7975 x 403

  2. John Dolan says:

    Doing research on the designer of the house from Mr. Blanding I came across your website. Have you managed to create a set of plans for the house? I am very interested in obtaining a copy with an eye to building it.

    • Timothy says:

      Mr. Dolan,
      Thanks for contacting me. I have a partially completed set of plans and elevations for Mr. Blandings dream house. I started them in a fit of absentmindedness and then became distracted by my professional obligations. I’ll get around to finishing them some time soon. If you’re serious about getting the house built in the field I would be glad to take on the commission.
      Timothy Cronin, Architect

  3. Mike Conrad says:

    If RBW had actually designed it, its proportions would be better and the windows would be pulled a bit inboard of the house’s corners. Nifty plan though; granted for our own time the casual-living spaces would need expanding.

    • Timothy says:

      Good observation regarding window placement, Mike. An apocryphal story once circulated in the draughting room at Royal Barry Wills was that an old-time builder in rural New England once commented that Mr. Wills “got the window placement RIGHT”, unlike most “modern” architects of the day. So much old knowledge of proportion and composition has been lost over the years. A careful study of historic house details will pay great design dividends to the modern practitioner.

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