Wednesday, June 1, 2011



Next to the east-west division of Berlin, New York City is the second most famous city to have a distinct separation of its east and its west. The Eastside of Manhattan has been known for generations as the place where wealth and social status is defined by your address. The Westside has always had a more laid-back reputation. Madison has also been defined by its east and west sides for as long as I can remember. In Madison the similarities to New York are somewhat the same but in reverse. Madison’s Westside has maintained the edge on the more white-collar, intellectual, university appeal. The Eastside has a more bohemian working class reputation. There’s no bigger reflection of this distinction then through its residential architecture. The older traditional homes of the Westside with their brick and stone facades evoke an era of little Beaver Cleavers with their horizontally striped t-shirts riding their Schwinn bikes while their mom’s vacuum their living room carpets dressed in billowing shirts topped by a string of pearls. The Eastside, on the other hand, is more a clapboard neighborhood.

Homes here tend to be more a blend of styles scraped from the rooming houses of the thirties and extending to the ranch styles of the post war building bonanza. It’s here among the population of old hippies and younger green- conscious families that a strange Madison specific phenomenon has risen - the purple house. This one used to belong to my sister. It's previous owner was the originator of the purple house. Once begun the craze caught on and now when a home has been touched by the purple wand its considered bad manners for subsequent owners to change the color.

Houses in all the hues of purple, from lilac to lavender, from the vibrant to the more subtle shades, a full range of purple homes can be found dotting the Eastside environs.

Having lived in New York City for several decades where the boldness in color selection stretches all the way from black to dark gray, the eye-straining anomaly of the purple house is both a welcome and unsettling experience. This time of the year, when lilacs are at their height, the Eastside of Madison turns into a wave of purple.

Now I have to admit that the purple houses, as eye catching as they are, frequently come with more idiosyncrasies than just their vibrant color. The use of Wisconsin’s state bird, the plastic flamingo, makes it’s presence know with the purple house.

And my favorite creative inspiration, the bowling ball garden, is a truly ingenious way of replacing flowers that would bloom and fade with a perennial planting that retains its color through all four seasons. Neither the debilitating heat of summer nor the frigid cold of three feet of snow can stop these artificial blooms from sporting their iridescent foliage.

I began to wonder if the purple house craze was some sort of cult, some group of purple worshipers who could give me some spiritual insight into the meaning of life. My first purplite was a young father out doing yard work in front of his purple three-story home.
I’d been sneaking photos of the purple houses from the safety of my car, not knowing if these purple worshipers would take offense at my picture taking and transport me to their alien infested planet in some purple galaxy far, far away, This time my curiosity got the better of me. I walked up to the young man and asked him, “What made you paint your home purple?”
With a big smile he looked up at me from the weeds he was pulling out of his front yard, “My wife likes purple.” It was as simple as that.

I tested the premise that there was no cult but just a love of purple with another purplite. Here the use of purple was a little more subdued, only showing up on the trim. The home’s owner, an older sixties hippie throwback, had come out from her driveway clad in what else, a purple tank top.  The question was the same, “What made you paint your home purple?” The response was the same too, “Well I just like the color purple.”

In all my research I never found any evidence of any cult link among these purple house owners. The only thing I discovered was a life of smiles brought on by the joy provided by this vibrant, kinky, unconventional color – purple.


For a flower with such a potent fragrance it's amazing how fragile they are once they've been cut. But for a fleeting few days our new studio, Pleasant Living, has been filled with the smell of lilacs. 


Purple Euphoria
John B Meuller, photographer


  1. This morning while I was out planting some flowers a neighbor told me that her brother had my house on his blog about purple houses. Mine is the one with the flamingos and palm tree in the yard.

    The reason for purple...I like purple and it works for my funky house.

    I think if we had a problem with people taking pictures of our houses, we wouldn't have painted them purple.

    Elizabeth St
    Madison, WI

  2. The only other place I have seen more purple houses than Madison, WI is Anchorage, Alaska. Perhaps they are Purplite transplants.

    Living among the Purplites.
    Anchorage, AK

  3. I've been living in my purple "Painted Lady" for many
    years . . . I became inspired to change the color of
    the former drab yellow 140 yr. old home when I visited
    San Francisco & other communities with these color-
    ful homes! I am located right in the mid' of the lower
    peninsula of mi-CHI-gan . . . That's right!! I live
    in a town full of CHI ~ I teach & practice Tai Chi
    in my yard & at our local senior center . . . I'm not
    very savy with putting pictures on the web . . . I
    could mail some pics . The house is so fabulous,
    purple on the outside & INSIDE, TOO!! Hues of purples
    with wild perennial gardens surround this beauty,
    on a corner lot in our small college town. Life is
    good when we live on the TAO . . . pat McZ

  4. Thanks for leaving our home out of this purple inventory. I was inspired by the 'original' purple house on Jenifer Street to paint my first house, N. Marquette Street, royal purple with white trim. House painting is a terrible job and the old wood ones in Madison need it every few years. The current owner resided it with vinyl when my paint job failed. We had our current house on Spaight painted lilac with royal purple and white trim. It is stucco and the paint lasts much much longer. We've had a 6' purple lite-up peace sign on it since 9/12/01. Two years ago I upgraded to LED lights so it's green and purple. TRL aka the Grape Nut Flake.