To some people blueprints are puzzles so intricate or in such strange language that, rather than attempt to find any order within the chaos that the many lines and symbols present to them, they leave the matter to their architects.....

1 Adapted from "How To Read Blueprints," House Beautiful Building Annual, 1926 (Boston: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1926), p. 24.

If they had made an effort to visualize the house in its complete form according to the design and plans that the architect indicated in his drawings, they would have been spared many, if not all, of their disappointments.

To read plans properly the home-builder must train himself to add the third dimension which the drawings do not show. In the case of floor plans, we have the length and the depth but not the height of the house; and in the case of the elevations, the length or the width and the height but not all three at once. The plan, in other words, shows what there would be of the house if it were sliced open horizontally at any one of the floors and looked down upon from a height. Perhaps the easiest way to understand the floor plan and see the relation of room to room, the location of windows, doors, and so forth, is to trace with a pencil a route beginning at the front door and so on throughout the house. Reduce yourself in imagination to the size of the pencil point and assume an abundance of curiosity about every square inch as you pass through it. Go through all the openings shown on the plans, but think of them as doorways, and erect walls for the partitions as you go. Try the doors and make sure that they swing the most convenient way; sit in front of the fireplace and see whether you find yourself in a passageway or in a comfortable, cozy backwater; stand at the kitchen cabinet or at the sink and see whether you have good light; see how far you have to walk to put away the dishes or to get things from the icebox; think where the best views are; whether you can see them from the living-room windows; and so forth, and so forth. You can play this game almost indefinitely and should play it until you have lived in every part of every room and put all the furniture in its place.

To fit in your furniture cut diagrams of it out of cardboard at the same scale at which the plans are drawn, which is usually what is called one-eighth or one-quarter scale. One-eighth means that every eighth of an inch is equal to one foot; one-quarter, that every quarter of an inch is equal to one foot. Although an architect has a special scale to enable him to read plans quickly, an ordinary rule can be used for this purpose. The best way to get an idea of the actual size of the rooms, however, is to go on a measuring expedition. Equip yourself with a six-foot rule and measure your friends' living-rooms or dining-rooms or bathrooms, as the case may be, until you find one that is approximately the size of yours, or one that is the size you want yours to be.

Elevations are misleading and do not give a true idea of the house as it will appear, for they are drawn as if the eye of the observer were on a level with the topmost line and at the same time on a level with the bottom line. In reconstructing the house in imagination, translating it to a three-dimensional mass of length, depth, and height, it is necessary to remember that in perspective the eye will see much less of the roof and chimneys than is shown on the elevation drawing.