William Gray Purcell (1880 – 1964) American architect and furniture designer

William Gray Purcell featured image
William Gray Purcell featured image

William Gray Purcell was an American architect and furniture designer. He was active in Minneapolis and Philadelphia. He worked with George Grant Elmslie and George Feick for a short time. Purcell & Elmslie designed structures in twenty-two states as well as Australia and China. Minneapolis, Minnesota; Chicago, Illinois; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Portland, Oregon, were among the firm’s locations.

Early Life

Frank Lloyd Wright erected his Oak Park studio on the same street as Charles A. Purcell’s house when he was fifteen. The work of Louis Sullivan continued to amaze Purcell in Chicago, where he visited his grandfather at The Interior offices on a regular basis. Following his graduation from Oak Park High School in 1899, he enrolled in Cornell University’s School of Architecture in Ithaca, NY, with the intention of studying the building arts in college.

Design Career

In Minnesota, he established the architecture firm Purcell and Feick with George Feick, and he was active between 1907 and 1909. Purcell and George Elmslie went into business over the war years. Purcell met George Elmslie in the office of Louis Sullivan in Chicago during the short time he worked there. Their architectural commissions included banks, many in small towns throughout the upper Midwest. Like Sullivan and Wright, the studio team avoided prominent Beaux-Arts forms and neo-classical detailing to create a simple, indigenous American style, Prairie School. 

Their building facades with steel frames, brick facings and pier and lintel articulation incorporated terracotta ornamentation, arched entryways, high clerestory windows, stained-glass windows and site-specific furnishings. The firm took on numerous local commissions, including private residences and municipal buildings.  

Furniture Design

Purcell was designed for comfort in particular and was fond of the modular, geometric type of club chair with narrow vertical splats on three sides. Their cube-like shape echoes that of the buildings they were commissioned for.


Byars, M., & Riley, T. (2004). The design encyclopedia. Laurence King Publishing.

Wikipedia contributors. (2021, March 15). William Gray Purcell. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 01:08, June 4, 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=William_Gray_Purcell&oldid=1012328312

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