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Book Extras

The vast majority of us live in one of a finite number of prototypical suburban American Homes. Here are descriptions of those homes, some of which are excerpted from the book but others which are fresh to this website.

We are pleased to link to Christine G.H. Franck’s website, where she has a great list of historic American house styles illustrated by her own sketches, as shown here.

We are pleased to link to Christine G.H. Franck’s website, where she has a great list of historic American house styles illustrated by her own sketches, as shown here.

The first Ranch was a single-story affair built by a man named Cliff May in San Diego in 1932. The idea was to build a home that was as affordable as possible to fit the minimal needs of Depression-era families. What made this building a Ranch? Hard to say, but it has a layout that’s evenly split between bedrooms on one side and living space on the other, with low-pitched roofs and broad eaves.

Originating in 19th-century India (as in “Bengal”), the Bungalow has become as American as apple pie and is virtually a Cape with a porch with a dominant roof. Our version was born at the start of the 20th century, and took the Cape, applied Arts & Crafts style, and moved the chimney (absurd in India’s climate) that clogged the center of the Cape to the gable end of the house, thereby freeing up the interior. Not unlike Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian houses, the Bungalow was seen as a way to get many people into nice houses quickly and cheaply.

The Colonial is the Mac & Cheese of our culture’s domestic architecture fare, the essential baseline for almost all residential thinking. When the early colonists came to North America, they had to put a roof over their head quickly to survive. They had to come up with a dwelling that shed water and would protect them against animals, weather, and anyone who wanted to steal what they had taken so much courage and effort to build.

The Cape is probably as close to an “Ur” house as one can get: a simple rectangle with a gable roof; a centered entry and windows; a chimney at either end or, more commonly, in the center; and, in later models, shed, doghouse, or larger gable dormers sprouting from the roof.

Although the vast majority of homes that Americans live in can easily be described as either Colonial, Ranch, Cape, Bungalow, or Foursquare, there’s a significant number of homes that violate the generic tools of these homes of humble origins. The homes mentioned above were organized by rectilinear geometry, logical structural layout, and “self-supporting” roofs (they didn’t have a lot of hips, valleys, shapes, asymmetries, etc.).

The American Foursquare, a style that originated after the Victorian era had exhausted hyper-detailing, has the clean shape of the Prairie School houses that helped inspire the Ranch. It was organized in a way that made it easy to build.

The “Contemporary” is the realtor name for a popularized, mass-produced version of the “Modernist” house, a style made famous in the first half of the last century for its absence of window grilles, flat roofs, and linear, sculpted, and abstracted form distilled by an architect.