OHJ September 2019

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Editors' Letter: The comfortable house

There’s a tendency to think of America’s “old houses” as falling into three big categories: Colonial, Victorian, and Craftsman. An over-simplification, of course: “Colonial” might encompass everything from First Period through Greek Revival; “Victorian” runs from Gothic Revival through Second Empire and Queen Anne; “Craftsman” enfolds California bungalows and the Prairie School. Some people insist that an old-house designation ends with the Second World War, as building technology changed so much during the 1940s. Others are ready to add a fourth broad category, Modern, bringing Cliff May ranches and Wright’s Usonian houses into the fold.

What’s been overlooked? I’d say it’s the large number of historical revival houses built from ca. 1915 through about 1950. Nostalgic, nicely detailed, familiarly modern, and carpenter-built, these are the American Foursquares, Dutch Colonials, Tudors, and Spanish Colonials found coast to coast. Introducing a category we then called Post-Victorian, Old-House Journal gave these houses stature in a series of articles in 1982 that started with one entitled “The Comfortable House.” (It was, of course, a time when indoor plumbing, central heat, and garages had already become standard.) A few years after, with our support, the late art historian Alan Gowans wrote a groundbreaking book of the same name, tying together the social and architectural history of the era.

Better recognized now, these houses are still comfortable, and good candidates for restoration. Just look at the 1940s brick Tudor in this issue, with its fanciful roof lines and sunroom, beloved by two generations of the same family. Not a flashy mansion, but so attractive!

If you own a house of this vintage, or would like to, here’s a library of inspiration: The Comfortable House by Alan Gowans; Beyond the Bungalow by Paul Duchscherer; The Tudor Home by Kevin D. Murphy and Paul Rocheleau; Tudor Style by Lee Goff and Paul Rocheleau; Storybook Style by Arrol Gellner and Douglas Keister; Red Tile Style by
Arrol Gellner and Douglas Keister; The California Casa by Douglas Woods and Melba Levick; The Colonial Revival House by Richard Guy Wilson; At Home in New England
by Richard Wills. In print or not, you can find them. 

~ Patricia Poore, Editorial Director of Old House Journal

Look below to see stories from this issue.

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