Styles of Houses

July 21, 2009

residence scan 6

Here are a few drawings copied from John Milnes Baker’s delightful little book American House Styles: A Concise Guide.  There are too many of this kind of housing style taxonomies to count;  most are aimed at laypeople interested identfying the “style” of their own home.  I own several with varying degrees of good historical content and attractive drawings.  This one is a bit different, however.  The author is a residential architect and seems to have done a brisk trade through his career in applying various dream “styles” to pretty conventional house plans.

[ This is, after all, what most people want.  It was only this weekend at a pretty grueling family reunion in Middle America, WI, that I was cornered by second cousin in-law who asked a few mild questions about my design firm and then told me (as if sharing some secret and key piece of business acumen) that many contractors in cities just have a few house patterns that they build over an over.  “Well”, I was tempted to reply, “I imagine they’re producing a really quality product … and that its not contributing at all to the glut of ticky tacky crap that has sunk the American housing market as effectively as a pair of concrete shoes.”  One doesn’t doesn’t get to speak one’s mind at family reunions however.  Instead I just blog about it to the world.  I’m all class.]

In any case, Baker chose to do his guide to residential styles somewhat differently than the norm.  Instead of making sketches of existing houses from all over the country with their dates, locations and a little analysis appended, he included one floor plan at the beginning of the book and then demonstrated how it could be grown up from the ground in all the typical periods of American history.  His final section covered the mass housing styles of the last century.  In this case he added an attached garage to his “historical” house plan as you wouldn’t be able to tell it was an american house if it didn’t have an attached garage.

residence scan 1

For this plan he creates a number of little thumbnail sketches – these are drawings I copied into my pocket sketchbook but they are fairly faithful copies of his own.  The following text is quoted.  Uncharacteristically I didn’t note page numbers but the passages are easily identified by their historical period.

Minimalist Traditional 1935-1950

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“The compromise of the depression years. Usually one story or one and a half soties, multigabled with little or no decorative details.  Related to the Neocolonial Revival 1950-1970’s: “The real-estate developer’s staple, they are usual pale reflections of the original prototypes.  Roof pitches are usually too low and windows badly proportioned.  … with aluminum siding, fixed vinyl blinds and a little brick veneer to dress up the entrance they are the quintessential ‘phony colonies.'”

Builder’s Contemporary 1960-1985

residence scan 3

“simplified details and massing of contemporary design”

Super Mannerist 1960-1970’s

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“an exuberant Post Modern style characterized by eccentric massing, whimisical fenestration and decorated with flamboyant colors and bold graphics.”

Post Modern 1960’s-1990’s

residence scan 5

“the term applies to any of the arcitect-designed houses that incorporate details and features from a checklist of trendy cliches.  Stylized classical refferences and vernacular buildings blend in and amalgamation of affecation.  Pastel colors, stripes and eccentricity characterize the style.”  This always reminds me of my Urban Theory prof, Nancy Miller’s definition of Post modernism: “anything pink … with pediments.”

Deconstructionist 1980’s-1990’s

residence scan 6

“a sort of post-postmodernism, these designs are novel, quirky and perversely eccentric.  On the level of civil liberties, I am glad we are permitted to express ourselves in public, but I would prefer that free speach was verbal rather than quite so permanent – even in California where the style originated.”


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