Getting Familiar With An “Authentic” Classic Style

With French Country houses, English Cottages, Tuscan villas and classic houses of our great American residential heritage being among the most popular house styles today, there are many possibilities for your new or second home.  With that in mind, what style is appropriate for your site, setting, and lifestyle?

This can be a daunting question if you are not an expert on residential design history around the world.  Ever wonder why some houses “just don’t look right?”  Or had the feeling that this house looks “sort of ” Italian?  With so many house plans claiming to be French country, English cottage, Tuscan, or other there are thousands of poor imitations.  You may have an idea of a style that appeals to you, but do you really know how to tell a French Normandy farmhouse from an English cottage and what similarities they have in common?  How about the differences in design, materials and detailing from from one region of a country to another?

There are fabulous sources of information available to help you understand and get inspired by residential design options from any period and any part of the world in addition to our web site of old world plans.  Here are a few helpful resources to get you started:

American Residential Design:

Classic Charleston Doorway

Classic Charleston Doorway

If you want to get familiar with the history of American residential design heritage, there is a particularly helpful and concise book entitled American Homes, An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Domestic Architecture”, by award winning architect Lester Walker, and published by Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, New York.  This work contains written descriptions and “drawings that are so clear, they explain construction details at a glance.”

"Get Your House Right"Another great book about historic American houses and how to recognize authentic period detailing is “Get Your House Right, Architectural  Elements to Use & Avoid.” by Marianne Cusato & Ben Pentreath and published by Sterling, New York and London.  This is truly a highly detailed (over 1,000 meticulous line drawings), clear and informative  work that will help anyone wanting to be sure that their “historic” American home is designed correctly.

creating-the-old-house1If you’re looking for a survey of authentic, historically designed homes rooted in the design principles of the past you may want to check out “Creating the New Old House, Yesterday’s Character for Today’s Home” published by The Taunton Press. The author shows it is possible “to craft a new home with familiar forms and harmonious proportions of tradition that is also tailored for modern living”.  Photographs of each of the eighteen homes featured in this book are examples of classic regional style of new homes across the country.

9780394739694“A Field Guide to American Houses” by Virginia and Lee McAlester and published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York will enable you to identify in their Historic and architectural contexts, the houses you see throughout America.  Black and white photographs and detailed sketches trace the history of the American house from the 17th century to the present. Each chapter treats one of the major architectural styles that have been popular over our country’s past.  Identifying features, principal subtypes, variants and details are thoroughly explored.

143619mAn essential small book that is large on detail about residential design details is “Architectural Details” by Marcia Reiss and published by Thunder Bay Press, San Diego. It is a concise visual guide for recognizing architectural styles and features.  With over 300 drawings and photos it discusses a vast range of contemporary and historic houses.

Visit New South Classics’ Postcards from Charleston from our most recent tour of Charleston, South Carolina for a tour of some of America’s most admired classic residential design.

The American Bungalow and Arts & Crafts Cabin:

Craftsman Style

Craftsman Style by New South Classics

A few references that will help you define the classic Arts & Crafts Bungalow and what makes it different from other small houses are suggested below.  These books may help you learn the basic elements that define these small, one or one-and-a-half story houses.

Typical design elements that set this style apart from others are low-pitched roofs, exposed rafter tails, low, gabled or shed dormers, shingle siding, the use of rustic native stone, brick, and fixtures of wrought iron, art-glass, and interior hand-crafted detailing.  Maybe you can apply some of these design elements to your own classic bungalow.

Bungalow_Details_Exterior“Bungalow Details: Exterior” by Jane Powell and Linda Svendsen and published by Giggs Smith, Salt Lake City is “the ultimate book that will teach you how to incorporate these elements into your home’s design.  Included are historical sidebars and general how-to information that will enable you to anticipate, re-create, or apply them to your unique bungalow.”  Detailed photographs of building materials, windows, doors and the smallest elements of bungalow design are included along with the author’s own list of resources for where to find authentic elements of the arts & crafts home.

“The Bungalow, America’s Arts & Crafts Home” by Paul Duchscherer and Douglas Keister and published by Penguin Studio focuses on the popularity of the California bungalow, one of the most popular housing styles in America.  The book contains 197 illustrations covering everything from exterior detailing and interior architecture, furnishings and decorative objects.  In addition, the book touches on many other craftsman style like the Swiss chalet, Spanish Colonial, Prairie and Oriental.

Arts and Crafts Cabin“The Arts & Crafts Cabin” by Robbin Obomswain and published by Giggs Smith, Publisher focuses on the today’s hybrid cabin design.  These are homes inspired by the original Arts & Crafts movement of the 1800’s and relate to the natural environment and are simple in design.  The book is filled with plans and inspirational interiors.  Line drawings, sketches and rich color photographs bring the current arts & crafts trend to light.

American Bungalow Cover“American Bungalow” is an excellent magazine featuring just about everything to do with preserving, restoring and building an arts & crafts bungalow.

Another magazine that may prove interesting is the bi-monthly “Cottages & Bungalows” which covers everything from design, landscape, interiors and more.

Style_1900 Cover“Style 1900”  is a quarterly magazine exploring the antiques, architecture, philosophies, and personalities of the Arts and Crafts movement in America and Abroad.

Note: If you’re interested in the Arts and Crafts style you may be interested in attending the Grove Park Inn Arts and Crafts Conference on February 19-21, 2010 in Asheville, North Carolina,

The English Cottage:

English Cottage

English Cottage

If you’re looking for English cottage design, it may be helpful to start by taking a look at actual photos of English villages with their subtle differences.  English houses have distinct differences depending on the period and region of the country.  Hugh Palmer has produced what I call “coffee table books” with stunning images of those ancient towns “in which the true heart of England lies.”  His book, The Most Beautiful Country Towns of England”published by Thames & Hudson, New York will let you see true English cottages in their natural setting and serves as a traveler’s guide to England’s glorious countryside.

15054562A similar book by James Bently entitled “The Most Beautiful Villages of England” published by Thames and Hudson Ltd., London.  You will be able to appreciate the different regions by county (northern, midland, eastern, southern and western) with its rich color photographs and absorbing commentary.  Hugh Palmer is a leading British photographer of architecture and gardens and has masterfully captured the architecture of each.   As the author says, “history,location and local building materials have etched the distinct character of each region and each village”.

14805367Other books worth noting that zero in on specific English styles popular in America include “Tudor Style, Tudor Revival Houses in America from 1890 to the Presentby Lee Goff and photographs by Paul Rocheleau and published by Universe Publishing.  The Tudor house is “one of America’s keystones” and is a type of house that has attracted homeowners in England for centuries and in America for over a hundred years with their easily recognizable steep gabled roofs, leaded windows, half-timbering and intricate brick work.

French Country Houses:

French Window

French Window

As with the other house styles, perhaps the best way to become familiar with classic French residential detailing is to take a trip to France.  That way you can experience first hand what French country design is all about and experience the variety of styles from region to region.

In lieu of that, there are many fabulous books of stunning photography and narrative to bring French Country architecture to you.  From the half-timbered houses of Normandy to the splendid Renaissance chateaux of the Loire, or the beauty and distinction of the small towns of Provence, France has a residential style for all tastes.

Loire Valley Cottage

Loire Valley Cottage

Our New South Classics’ Postcards from France from our last trip to the Loire Valley region of France may get you in the mood!

The following list should prove helpful (and fun!) if you want to become more familiar with classic French country houses:

25119902“Manor Houses In Normandy” by Yves Lescroart and published by h.f. ullmann

  • “The Most Beautiful Country Towns of Provence” by Helena Attlee and published by Thames & Hudson
  • “French Villages” by Suzanne Madon and published by Molier
  • “The Most Beautiful Villages of Normandy” by Hugh Palmer and published by Thames & Hudson, Ltd. London/New York
  • “The most Beautiful Villages of the Loire” by Hugh Palmer and published by Thames & Hudson, Ltd. London/New York
  • “Undiscovered France”  An insider’s guide to the most beautiful villages by Brigitte Tilleray and published by Cassell
  • “Living in Provence” by Dane McDowell and published by Flammarion, Paris
  • “The Provencal House” architecture and interiors by Johanna Thornycroft and Andreas von Einsiedel, and published by Stewart Tabori & Chang, New York
  • “The French Touch” by Jan de Luz and published by Gibbs Smith, Salt Lake City

20779839Living in Normandy” by Serge Gleizes, and Christian Sarramon (photographer)   This book contains a wealth of information including a first hand glimpse into typical Norman homes with half-timbering, thatched and slate roofs, mansard windows, turrets and balconies.  If you like food, it even offers restaurant guides, hotels, brasseries, bed and breakfasts, antique dealers and tips on where to sample the famous local products.

Italian and Mediterranean residential design:

Northern Italian Villa

Northern Italian Villa

As with American, French, and English houses, Italian and Mediterranean houses vary in style, materials and technique depending on the region of the country.  Ranging from private villas, castles fortresses or farmhouses, the private residences of Italy seem somehow connected to the land and reflect the richness of the Italian lifestyle and history.  The beauty of one region, Tuscany, in particular, with its vineyards, rolling hils, lush valleys, and clusters of red tiled villages embody the ancient artistic and architectural heritage of this region.

In an effort to help you get familiar with Classic Italian residential style ,  I have listed below some of the best books I have seen that beautifully portray the Tuscan lifestyle in elegant color photographs and fascinating narrative:

100% Italian

100% Italian character

If you want to focus on Tuscany and surrounding areas, two books by James Bently portray the remarkable variety of this region through stunning color photographs and accompanying written commentary.  They are “The Most Beautiful Villages of Tuscany” and “The Most Beautiful Country Towns of Tuscany” by Thames & Hudson, Ltd., London.

61H82S8CA9L._SL125_“Living in Tuscany” by Bruno Racine and published by Flammarion, Paris, is a more detailed look at Tuscan life.  Beautiful photographs and accompanying narrative cover topics as varried as the vineyards and rolling hills, gardens of Tuscany, Tuscan interiors, artistic heritage, places of special interest, and even a visitor’s guide with the best addresses to discover the true Tuscany beyond the tourist trail.

italcoun“Italian Country Hideaways” Vacationing in Tuscany’s and Umbria’s Private Villas, Castles and Estates by Kelley F. Hurst and published by Universe Publishing, New York, offers a glimpse into gracious estates and their owners. ” Following an introduction to the local food and wine, historic sites, and other points of interestin each region, the book presents a selection of unique estates, highlighting their most memorable features, from their delectable food and noteworthy decor to their impressive architecture…and fascinating history”.

14780561If it is the Mediterranean style with Spanish influence that appeals to you, you may enjoy reading “Red Tile Style” by Arrol Gellner and published by Viking Studio, The Penguin Group, England.  This book is a vivid exploration of the historical roots and modern-day applications of Spanish Revival architecture in America.  Over 300 brilliant photographs trace the style of small houses or casitas to large estates in many variations including Monterey, Moorish, Mediterranean, and Pueblo.

tuscanstylebigmag2009Chances are that there is a Barne & Noble near you that sells the magazine “Tuscan Style” .  I have found this magazine to contain interesting articles and fabulous photographs of Tuscan and Mediterranean homes featuring exterior details and sumptuous interiors. It is pricey at $9.95, but you just may find some great ideas for your housE.

For additional material that may be of interest, be sure to visit New South Classics at

                                       Bruce Eason, AIA


%d bloggers like this: