Wednesday, February 1, 2017

What's in a Style?

What's in a Style?

What does the Code Guy know about style?

This is either for an instant architect disguise or a Harry Potter costume, or both.  But it certainly conveys our style.
Turns out...I know a little, thank you very much.  I haven't always been the Code Guy.  I have always looked at buildings, however.  In college, I completed a minor in Architectural History.  Maybe not too much Egyptian revival architecture made its way to these shores, but much of our architectural history, and thus style, is based in the past.  Greek, Roman, Renaissance, you name it. 

But in all things (well, almost all things) I am the first to admit that I may not know everything, and what I did know, I may have forgotten.

These are two useful resources I've come across that I'd like to share.

This is an early printing, it has been updated, but I think very similar to the original.
Except somehow Lee's name fell off the cover...?
The first is primarily for exteriors:  A Field Guide to American Houses, originally published in 1984 by Virginia and Lee McAlester.  This volume discusses basic geometries as well as the various structural components that are shared by all styles.  It then goes into detailed accounts of nearly every style that entered this continent from indigenous Native American, to Gothic revival, to the Prairie Style.  It delves into identifying features, principal sub-types, shapes, decorations, details, geographical and chronological details.  Along with pictures!  Included are volume isometrics, elevation variants, as well as carving details, shingle patterns and carpentry sketches of which I would be proud were they mine.  Of course the book includes actual photographs of examples across the country, too.

This book would be a great reference source during a renovation of a styled house, or if you want to nail down what type of variations are in the neighborhood where you might be building, or if you need to add a little detail to a more give an exterior a little more "oomph".  This book should really have been distributed to all those builders across the land that slapped every available foam shape on a house regardless of how they relate:  heavy quoins maybe don't go well with those skinny stick-style spindle work...

This book can be used like a field guide just as are guides to flora and fauna.  "Ahh, the Cape Cod, in its natural environment.  Breathtaking..."

The other volume deals primarily with the interiors of buildings:  The Elements of Style, Edited by Stephen Calloway and Elizabeth Cromley.

Much more a text book sized volume than a field guide.  Heavy too!
This book is a wealth of interior detailing based on various styles.  This book, too, reveals a more or less chronological ordering of styles: starting with Tudor and Jacobean, and running the gambit through Colonial, Georgian, Victorian (both British and American) to Arts & Crafts and Modern. Where this book is unique is that within each "Style" the chapters are tabbed with various detail categories, such as:  windows, lighting, staircases and woodwork.  So, say you're working in an American Beaux Arts house renovation and you want to know what types of light fixtures work.  Page 413 is a cream tab and has 11 detailed line drawings of representative chandeliers, sconces and lanterns.  The next page has as many details on decorative metalwork in a house such as this.

Where applicable, this book has some nice photos, some in color.  There are kitchen stoves, doorbells, fireplaces, and I even found my 1940's bathroom lavatory.  This book works on two continents, and even translates the British "skirting board" to the American "baseboard" for the reader.  It even has a directory of suppliers for both sides of the Pond.  The 1991 original copyright may date some of this information, however.

Our country is BIG!  And the styles in one city will be totally different in another part of the country. But there is no reason to guess at what details go with which styles.  There are probably hundreds of other books that could easily match a newel post for that Federal stair.  Even effective detailing can be achieved in new construction that is maybe a bit larger than a normal house.  Our office works all over the country designing senior living campuses.  A client in Williamsburg, VA probably has a pretty good vision of the style for their buildings.  Let us not confuse our styles!

This post is part of the ArchiTalks series (led by Bob Borson of Life of an Architect ) where a group of us (architects who also blog) all post on the same day and promote each other’s blogs. This month’s theme is "Style"  A lot of other talented writers who also are architects are listed below and are worth checking out:

-->Bob Borson - Life of An Architect (@bobborson)

-->Lee Calisti, AIA - Think Architect (@LeeCalisti) words

-->Lora Teagarden - L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
The AREsketches Style

-->Collier Ward - One More Story (@BuildingContent)
Good Artists Copy; Great Artists Steal

-->Eric T. Faulkner - Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
Name That Stile!

-->Michele Grace Hottel - Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)

-->Meghana Joshi - IRA Consultants, LLC (@MeghanaIRA)
Architalks : Style

-->brady ernst - Soapbox Architect (@bradyernstAIA)
What Style Do You Build In?

-->Brian Paletz - The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
You do you

-->Michael LaValley - Evolving Architect (@archivalley)
Defining an Architect's Style

-->Jarod Hall - di'velept (@divelept)
What's Your Style?

-->Greg Croft - Sage Leaf Group (@croft_gregory)
Architectural Style

-->Jeffrey Pelletier - Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
Should You Pick Your Architect Based on Style or Service?

-->Samantha R. Markham - The Aspiring Architect (@TheAspiringArch)
5 Styles of an Aspiring Architect

-->Kyu Young Kim - J&K Architects Atelier (@sokokyu)
Loaded With Style

-->Nisha Kandiah - ArchiDragon (@ArchiDragon)
Regression or Evolution : Style

-->Keith Palma - Architect's Trace (@cogitatedesign)
Stylized Hatred

-->Mark Stephens - Mark Stephens Architects (@architectmark)
Architectalks 23 - Style

-->Jeremiah Russell, AIA - ROGUE Architecture (@rogue_architect)
style: #architalks


  1. James, I believe I read this post a week or so back.
    I'm glad it made it to the Architalks blog series this month.

    Nice work.

  2. Thanks for the comment - I got done a little early and made it "live" for my editor (my wife) to proofread before i linked it anywhere. I never assume anyone will see it beforehand!