Customer Reviews: The Abrams Guide to American House Styles (Abrams Book)
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on March 5, 2006
The color pictures are all new and the subjects very well chosen, and paging through this book is enjoyable. The concise text reviews the usual classifications in the usual ways, its academic tone partly redeemed by occasional wit.

He renames Richardson Romanesque as Richardsonian, Federal as Late Georgian, and says Queen Anne originated from Arts and Crafts rather than medieval styles, although I think there's a little of each. Like most authors, he discusses the white flat-roofed Modern examples as though they were the next in line to follow the Tudors and Colonial Revivals, despite the fact that they never amounted to more than an insignificant fraction of houses built, then continues with the Post Modern and Deconstructivist styles, pure "magazine architecture", marking an era in which architects begin to serve a new and powerful patron of the arts, the media.

But the countless postwar ranches and split-levels are never mentioned. Trying to keep it highbrow, I guess.

He returns to ordinary houses at the very end, to jump on the mock-the-McMansions bandwagon, using as examples, ironically, some of the prettiest houses in the book.

A few nits to pick:

* Medieval homes had steep roofs because they used thatch, not due to the narrow London streets.

* Le Corbusier's "machines for living" quote actually was intended to extoll creature comforts, not stark Modernism.

* The Arts and Crafts post-and-beam masterpiece, the Gamble House, is ordinary stud construction where it doesn't show.

* Beams are always horizontal, as are clapboards.

* It was Louis Sullivan who said architecture was set back 50 years by a late 19th Century exhibition, not some academic.

Still like the James C. Massey book, available used. But you may like this one for its pictures.
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on January 22, 2005
I've always wondered how people came up with all the different names for house designs: Georgian, victorian, georgian and all the rest. I have periodically looked at a house and proclaimed it to be something, and been patiently corrected by people somewhat of a superior attitude telling me: "No, (with an implied You Fool), that's not a __________ it's a _________."

In this book Pulitzer candidate William Morgan definitively describes the fifteen house styles. Each style is presented in a short historical summary text along with a bulletid list of its distinguishing characteristics. Within each broac style, there are variations. Within Victorian, for instance he discusses stick style, queen anne, richardsonian and shingle style.

There are about 350 houses illustrated from more than 40 states so that region-specific details can be identified. Well over 400 pages, most with multiple photographs illustrate the details of the various styles.

Very enjoyable book.
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In the United States, there is a very rich history of producing field guides to American Domestic Architecture. So it was into this already crowded field that "The Abrams Guide to American House Styles" was published in 2004. In my opinion, if you are going to introduce a new book into an established field, you need to do something new.

This Guide has two features that are unique. First, all of the photos are in color. This is the first Guide that I have seen that has done this. I really enjoyed seeing the photos of the earliest American homes. Second, unlike most field guides, this Guide continues to the current day. I thought that adding examples of McMansions was a very nice touch. Most other field guides stop somewhere around 1950.

Field Guides can be divided into photo books and line drawing books. I prefer line drawing books because they help the reader concentrate on the architectural features that combine to make a style. I think photo books are less effective because they are too specific. Instead of concentrating on the stylistic details, the photos make the reader concentrate on a specific house. The other reason I do not like photo books is that photos are inherently distracting. Instead of concentrating on the architectural features, the eye is drawn to foilage, electrical poles, cars and people walking in front of the building.

The Abrams' Guides does a good job of cutting out most of the distractions but where if fails miserably is in the trees around the house. A good 10-15% of the images are ruined by trees getting in the way of the photographer. Either they block the full image or their shadow obscure key details. I can accept a few trees around a house but to have so many photos ruined is unacceptable. It as though the editors did not have enough photos and they were forced to accept poor quality photos to fill out the book. If you want to see a field guide with beautiful color photographs of houses, see Robin Langley Sommer's "The American House".

If your tastes run to photos, purchase "A Field Guide to American Houses" by Virginia McAlester. If you prefer line drawings like I do, check out, "The Visual Dictionary of American Architecture" or Lester Walker's "American Homes".

Looking at old homes and determining their sytles is a great hobby. The Abram's Guide is a very poor introduction to this rewarding past time.
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on May 29, 2014
This book is in almost new condition. I can't believe the amount of information between the front and back covers! The data is comprehensive, informative, pictures are clear and was a big help with identifying my house type. I am TOTALLY impressed with this book. Great transaction. Seller was quick to ship.
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on November 18, 2004
My knowledge is sorely lacking regarding american architecture but I am fascinated. This guide is accessible, legible and extremely interesting. I look forward to reading it over and over. Anyone interested in houses and real estate will find this book indispensable.
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on December 4, 2013
As one who's never had time or money for an architecture class, this book has enlightened me enough to pick out various styles and architectural elements as I travel. Solid, clear descriptions and nice photography.
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on May 7, 2008
If you are just getting interested in the topic of house styles, this book is an excellent introduction. The color pictures are a great help versus black and white pictures or even sketches. If nothing else, this is a great starter book!
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on July 4, 2013
This book really helped me in the architectural design of my new home here in Brazil. An excellent choice, but there are no drawings of the floor plan over the periods with the arrangement and proportion of the rooms.
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on August 18, 2007
This book is a good guide to house identification as well as a pleasure to look it. The photographs are beautifully done, and in full color which I think is important for noticing details that help one identify a house. The text is helpful in explaining historical information, and there are quick reference charts for each house type that condense the major features of that type. Sometimes the distinction between early, middle, and late Georgian is hard determine, and I didn't find it very helpful there, but other than that it is a great guide and a nice coffee table book as well since the pics are so fabulous.
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on May 1, 2010
This book is an excellent field guide to American architecture. It is well organized, perfectly researched, and the pictures are beautiful. It is a very good addition to the subject of American architecture.
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