Great American Houses and Their Architectural Styles
by Virginia and Lee McAlester, Abbeville Press, 348 pages .
You may pick up this hefty volume wondering why anyone needs another guide to house styles, but you’ll finish it a convert. Much of the book’s appeal lies in its sensual qualities; its brilliantly glowing photos on shiny, heavy paper shed light onto the remotest corners of a room. The houses too—a selection of twenty-five, each the best of its style—wrap their charms around the reader. Fortunately one of the McAlesters’ requirements in choosing their examples was that they be open to the public, so anyone who is intrigued by a picture can plan to go on from there to meet the real house. But the book isn’t just about a pretty face. By arranging their chapters around a general style (colonial, Victorian, eclectic, etc.) and breaking down these categories to more refinements than this reader was ever aware of, the authors present very precise visual information that stays in the mind’s eye. Also the lush pictorial treatment is helped along by lively histories of the houses and by outline drawings identifying the four or five most characteristic features of each type, promising to make a walk down any Main Street, U.S.A., an adventure in stylistic detection.