The Catalog Houses of George F. Barber & Co.
Between 1887 and 1913, Geo. F. Barber & Co. of Knoxville, Tennessee, was one of the leading mail-order
architectural firms in the United States. With a staff numbering around 50, the firm produced architectural
designs, both stock catalog plans and custom designed houses, for prominent small-town bankers, merchants
and farmers who often had more capital than confidence in their architectural taste. Geo. F. Barber & Co.
catered to this market, producing around a 1,000 designs each year for clients in every state of the Union.
The firm's relentless advertising advised readers of popular journals that architectural design had become too
arcane to be left to amateurs and could only be safely entrusted to architects. Outlining the horrors of a house
not designed by a trained architect, the firm advised prospective home builders that Geo. F. Barber & Co. was
"between you and a hideous monstrosity." This exhibit profiles Geo. F. Barber & Co., its publications, its mail-
order design and production methods and focuses upon the hundreds of familiar, yet distinctive and sometimes
bizarre, Barber houses that were an integral part of the small-town streetscape at the turn of the last century.
"The Catalog Houses of George F. Barber & Co." is the product of a four-year research project by Michael
Alcorn locating nearly 1,000 Barber houses in forty-two states. The exhibit consists of 11 by 17 inch panels
illustrating 125 different Barber designs, each with a photograph of a housebuilt from the design, a typical
floor plan, and a brief description of the designs publishing history and its architectural significance.
The exhibit was funded by a SITE grant from the University of Nevada Las Vegas.
© 2006 The Institute for Small Town Studies
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