Monday, August 30, 2010

My favorite architecture books

I am frequently asked about my favorite reference books for architecture, however when I started my blog over three years ago, I didn’t own a single architecture reference book.  Writing this blog has increased my interest in architecture, and has also exposed me to some excellent books that are written for the non-architect who wants to know more about the design of houses and architectural styles.  Over the past few years, three books have emerged as essential references that I go to again and again when researching blog posts and learning about interesting architectural elements in the houses that I love.  These books have also been quite interesting and helpful to me as I have worked with my architect on the design of the house I am building.

About a month after I started blogging, a reader recommended a book that has become a frequent reference and a constant source of inspiration for me:  A Field Guide to American Houses, by Virginia and Lee McAlester.


Whenever I see an interesting house on my daily dog walks, this book is the first I go to in order to determine the style of the house, and the characteristics of the architectural style.  Each chapter (arranged chronologically) goes through architectural styles that have been popular in America for the past 300 years; the characteristics and identifying features of each architectural style is reviewed in detail, and illustrations of the common forms of the style are included.  Also included are pictures of actual houses that typify each architectural style.

I have found this book to be a fantastic reference for the details that really capture my eye – the roof styles, materials commonly used, door and window styles.  The book is also a valuable reference for the architectural terms that are used to describe the elements of a house.  The first chapter is particularly valuable as it establishes the foundation of the architectural elements of a house, and the lingo that is used to describe these elements.  My copy of this book is now dog eared as I have referred to it so often! 
Click here to see A Field Guide to American Houses in my Amazon.com store (all prices represent Amazon’s best price).  (Postscript: a reader just notified me that there is a paperback version - click here for the paperback version)

I am not sure how or where I heard about this book, but I have owned it for years and find it to be a great reference for understanding classical architecture.   I find it to be particularly helpful when I see house that is supposed to be traditional, and built in the classical tradition, yet somehow doesn’t work. 


Get Your House Right clearly illustrates what is right in classical architectural design, from a scale, proportion, and design perspective – and what is wrong (or, more accurately, when classical elements are used in an entirely wrong way).  All of this is illustrated with simple, clear drawings (clearly marked AVOID and USE!).  It is also extremely useful as a reference for the vocabulary of architecture – I always refer to it when writing a post about architectural elements (such as my last post on stone door surrounds and porticos).  I often lack the basic vocabulary to describe what I am seeing, but this book helps tremendously by defining the architectural elements in clear terms.  It is a book designed for the non-architect house enthusiast in mind, and it a great reference. 

Click here to see Get Your House Right in my Amazon.com store (all prices represent Amazon’s best price).  You will see houses in a whole different way after reading this book!

Last year, when I was looking for a house (and beginning to think about building a house), Terry from Architecture Tourist told me about the book a A Pattern Language – and I can truly say that reading this book had a profound effect on the way that I look at houses.   Alexander wrote this book to express ways (broken down into patterns) that humans can design homes and communities to be more comfortable places to live, based on natural considerations that make a house work in its environment and for the comfort of its inhabitants (such as family size, the lot itself, natural light, to name a few).  At over 1000 pages, it is full of interesting ideas, and covers the gamut from what works in a community, what works in an office setting, to what works in landscape and residential building.  Although not all of the patterns are practical to implement, this book really made me think about the design of a house in a whole new way.


One of my favorite patterns from A Pattern Language is ”Light on Two Sides” (and I wrote a blog post on this which is one of my all time favorite posts).  As Alexander states:
When they have a choice, people will always gravitate to those rooms which have light on two sides, and leave the rooms which are lit only from one side unused and empty.
When I read this, I immediately thought about many of the houses I had seen in my real estate search, and rejected, because they seemed too closed in, too dark.  Without exception, the majority of the rooms in these houses had windows on only one side of the room. 

The new editor of House Beautiful, Newell Turner, seems to be as smitten with A Pattern Language as I am; in his personal blog chronicling the experience of building a 1200 square foot house in the New York’s Catskills Mountains, he cites A Pattern Language as “an indispensable reference book for anyone building or renovating a house. It's the second volume of a three book series that gives readers new/old ways for looking at design. Alexander and his colleagues take a common sense, human approach to design issues (or patterns) and follow each with concise, useful advice. While they start in the larger realm of community and neighborhood planning and work their way down through the most intimate experiences of a house, it's all presented in an easy to dive-in-and-out of format that will leave you thinking and planning a more inspired and natural home. I found a lot of inspiration in this book”.  I also spied A Pattern Language in one of the first issues of House Beautiful with Turner at the helm; check out page 97 of the September 2010 House Beautiful and you will see A Pattern Language featured. (Note: in the comments, Architecture Tourist recommends looking at A Pattern Language in person before purchasing - because it is not one of your typical coffee table books filled with glossy pictures - quite the opposite. It has the feel of a textbook.)

To see other design, architecture, art, and decorative books that I recommend, please visit the Things That Inspire Amazon store.

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Architectural design element: carved stone door surrounds

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I sometimes wonder if living in Washington DC as a child planted the seed for my love of beautiful, classic architecture.  When I visited my sister in June, my first trip to her ‘new’ house in DC, I was struck with the character of the homes in the area (many of which are embassies).  In particular I noticed the abundance of stone door entrances in some of the city houses – the areas that surround and frame the front doors, in the form of door surrounds, porticos, and casings. 

One of the most magnificent stone door surrounds I saw was on the British Embassy residence, designed by Edwin Lutyens.  Look at the beauty of the carvings in the stone.  This kind of elaborate design is typically only seen in public buildings.

I feel quite certain that this building is an embassy.  The stone portico caught my eye.

The flag and brass plaque give this house away as an embassy.  The simple stone door surround (matched by the casings that surround the windows) has beautiful scale to my amateur eyes.

I believe this is a private residence.   I was struck my the beautiful and elaborate door surround, punctuated by columns and a keystone at the arch. I love the that the mullions of the windows are painted black.

Stone door surrounds are a time honored tradition, and very long lasting.  This home, built in the early 20th century, has a timeless feel with the patina of the stucco and the beauty of the stone door surround. Note the face carved into the stone…I wonder who it is?

Atlanta is filled with wonderful examples of stone door surrounds, particularly ones that are made of limestone.  This home, built in the 1920s, has striking limestone accents on its front, but the grand ‘Buckhead’ green door with its limestone door surround is the focal point, and has aged so beautifully.  Stone imparts a weight and heft to a door surround that would be difficult to achieve with another material, but it only appropriate for certain styles of houses.

A home with an exterior of stone, accented by a limestone door surround that has a very French style.

James from Limestone & Boxwoods alerted me to the limestone door surround of this house being built in the Brookhaven area of Atlanta.  Note how the side walls of the limestone door surround are carved to emulate the lines of the antique door.

The stone door surround (and window casings) makes this 1920s  Tudor style formal and elegant.

I featured this charming home on my blog earlier in the year. The striking limestone door surround is the focal point of the tailored front of this house.   Architecture by Norman Askins and Stan Dixon.

A French Normandy style house in Atlanta has a charming rusticated limestone door surround that works beautifully with the Tennessee fieldstone exterior. Architecture by Pak Heydt & Associates.

Lutyens inspired limestone entry arches, in a project by Pak-Heydt & Associates architects. Source.

Another Pak-Heydt project used Texas limestone to achieve the correct color balance. Source.

This Yong Pak renovation was featured in Southern Accents in 2005; a reader sent the article to me for another reason, but I immediately noticed the beautiful and subtle limestone door surround paired with charming lanterns.  I love the color palette of this house.

Atlanta residential designer Bill Baker is quite well known for his love of limestone as a defining element in the facade of a home.  This house, featured on my blog earlier this year, has exquisite details in the limestone carvings, and the initials of the homeowners are carved into the door surround.

A limestone portico is one of the defining elements of a 1930s house that was recently renovated in Atlanta.  Residential designer Bill Baker transformed the house into charming Regency style. 

A stone portico was recently added to a house that is being renovated in Buckhead right now; the addition of the portico has transformed the appearance of the house.  Architecture by Spitzmiller & Norris.

Architect Stan Dixon seems to have a fondness for the elegance that limestone adds to a house. He used a clean lined door surround to a 1950s ranch house that was renovated several years ago. 

The stunning house in Atlanta that I featured in my last post (Before and after: a magazine cover house) has a limestone door surround, with a keystone accent.  Stan Dixon, the architect of this home, designed the house that I am building, and we will have a limestone door surround that will be the focal point of the front of the house.   It will be a simple and clean lined design – but will add a nice touch of elegance to the house.

Mediterranean Masterpiece - Before Entry[1] Mediterranean Masterpiece - Front Yard[1]
Finally, a great before and after showing the impact that a limestone door surround has on a house.  Before – on the left – a Mediterranean style 1920s house in Atlanta.  After, on the right, the house after it was renovated.  The structure of the front stays the same, but the balconies were removed, and a limestone door surround was added.  I think it ‘makes’ the house.  Architecture by Rodolfo Castro (project architect, while he was with Summerour & Associates).  Source: Limestone & Boxwoods.

Do you see stone door surrounds or porticos in your neck of the woods? I had no idea how widely used they were in Atlanta until I really started noticing.  I am not surprised though; many of the homes in certain areas of Atlanta reflect a more classical and elegant style of architecture, and stone door surrounds work beautifully with this style.

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Monday, August 16, 2010

Before and after: a magazine cover house

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The cover house of the August Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles is one that I have had my eye on for years.  When it was being built, I would drive by to check on its progress (the house was built on spec; the developer was John Mears, architect Stan Dixon, and builder Benecki Fine Homes), and when the real estate listing went up, I was thrilled to finally get a glimpse of the inside.  It was only a glimpse, though;  the listing contained only a few dark pictures, and the house was not finished or furnished.  The house wasn’t on the market very long, so clearly the poor real estate photos had no impact on the sales value of the house – anyone who saw the inside could immediately sense the quality of the design and its excellent bones. 

I saved all of the real estate photos, and they provide an interesting dialogue on the story of the house, from spec development to magazine cover.  Before the house sold, I was also able to get a tour by architect Stan Dixon, while the house was at the tail end of construction; the house certainly made quite an impression on me.

An artist’s rendering of the house, which was included in the real estate listing and was on the sign outside the property while the house was being built.  The front door that was originally conceived for the house was solid, with a transom above. Photo above via real estate listing.

The door that the developer actually selected for the house had glass, so designer Betty Burgess used portiere curtains to create a sense of  privacy from the busy street.  What I love about this house is not only the beautiful clean lines (it has been described as ‘French City’, as opposed to ‘French Country’), but also the fact that it presents a relatively modest presence on the street, despite the fact that it is not a small house on the inside. Image via AH&L, photo credit Erica George Dines.

The inside courtyard of the house had a grassy center and pea gravel paths. Above photo via real estate listing.

The new owner of the house built a pool and paved the sides with bluestone. The doors on the right open to the garage, which can used as auxiliary entertainment space and is decked out with a disco ball and black and white  checkerboard floors.  Image above via AH&L, photo credit Erica George Dines.

The bones of the kitchen, and its layout, are one of many highlights of the interiors. Note the hanging pendant lights from the beam, a clever way to add task lighting to the space. Above photo via real estate listing.

The kitchen with interior design by Betty Burgess.  I am not sure if the difference in color is because of the dark quality of the real estate picture, or if it was changed.  The AH&L picture certainly shows the beautiful color scheme of the kitchen as it translates in real life.  Two obvious changes: the island was painted a dark color, and Burgess added the industrial lights above the island. Image above via AH&L, photo credit Erica George Dines.

The real estate photos really did nothing for capturing the beautiful bones of the house.  Even empty, the library was a gorgeous space.  The window on the right is balanced by the bar on the left. Above photo via real estate listing.

The exquisite library, as seen in Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles.  Burgess acknowledged that this was the darkest room in the house, so she selected royal blue velvet that would ‘pop’ against the warm tone of the paneling. Image above via AH&L, photo credit Erica George Dines.

To me, one of the most interesting rooms in the house is the living room.  I was wondering how a designer would tackle the space, which is quite wide, with doors in each corner. Above photo via real estate listing.

100325_EGDINES_Lowe_Burges_04[1] 100325_EGDINES_Lowe_Burges_01[3]
Burgess handled it beautifully by setting up one side of the room in a more formal way (as seen in the vertical picture, with the fireplace as the focal point), and the other side of the room in a more casual way (seen on the left of the horizontal picture), with a TV as the focal point (the TV can be hidden by a set of sliding antique doors). Image above via AH&L, photo credit Erica George Dines.

The formal powder room really caught my eye when I first saw this house (Stan gave me a tour when construction was almost finished).  Because this bathroom is not used for any of the activities that require a mirror above the sink, Stan placed the sink below a window, and the window has a great view.  Stan said that a mirror could easily be placed on the adjacent wall. Above photo via real estate listing.

The powder room after Betty Burgess layered on the decorative elements.  As Stan envisioned, there is a mirror on the side.  I love how Betty had the window trim and sink base painted a glossy black, and I particularly love that dramatic wallpaper with matching fabric on the bench. Image above via AH&L, photo credit Erica George Dines.

This house has captured the imagination of so many in Atlanta; despite the fact that the house is only a few years old, many cite it as one of their favorite houses in Atlanta.  Clearly the house has also captured the imagination of the blogosphere given how many blogs I have seen it on.  Do you have a favorite room in the house?

For the entire article, please click here - ‘Perfect Pitch’, by Heather Paper, photos by Erica George Dines.  To subscribe to Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles, click hereAtlanta Homes & Lifestyles has a new iPad app, where digital copies of the magazine can be purchased for .99.  Check it out!

Please visit Metamorphosis Monday for other inspiring posts and transformation stories!

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Thursday, August 12, 2010

More of a good thing

Last month, I posted about friend and artist Nancy B. Westfall, whose iconic crab paintings have graced the pages of Domino and House Beautiful.
The crab painting above the sink (whimsically placed above a bowl) is by Nancy B. Westfall. Image via House Beautiful, interior design by Ruthie Sommers.
Within one day of the post, the majority of the paintings sold to collectors around the world.  Nancy has been hard at work creating more paintings, available for a short time through the Quatrefoil Design store, including some of her newest subject – the rock lobster.










To see all of the crab and lobster paintings together, please click here:

Available for a limited time!  If you are interested in a custom color combination, custom crab and lobster paintings are available by special order:

As always, thank you for your support of my blog and my store!

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