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Top 5 House Style Guides

These illustrated books will help you identify house styles


What style is your house? To find answers fast, reach for one of these portable paperbacks. With black and white photos and pictorial glossaries, they will help you spot a Queen Anne, tell the difference between a Bungalow and a Tudor, and name the decorative features that make your own home special. Unlike a hefty architectural encyclopedia, the focus is on private homes, mostly in North America.

1. A Field Guide to American Houses

A stately Victorian house with a front lawn
Photo by Patti McConville/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

Don't confuse this fact-packed volume with other books by similar titles. Written in 1984 by Virginia and Lee McAlester, A Field Guide set the standard for guides to residential architecture in the United States. More than 500 pages long, the book is packed with black and white photos and extensive details about the evolution of housing styles, substyles, and construction techniques. Virginia Savage McAlester revised and updated the guidebook in 2014.

2. American Shelter : An Illustrated Encyclopedia of the American Home

Spanning from early Native American structures up through postmodernism, American Shelter provides a sweeping history of residential architecture in North America. In 336 pages, author Les Walker identifies more a hundred distinct building styles.

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3. American House Styles: A Concise Guide

John Milnes Baker, an architect who specializes in home design, offers a unique approach to architectural history: He presents elevation drawings and floor plans for a simple four-bedroom house, and then adapts the plan to illustrate styles from early colonial to postmodern. The 192-page book includes 100 line drawings and a glossary.

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4. The Visual Dictionary of American Domestic Architecture

With some 500 line drawings, author Rachel Carley presents an easy-to-understand graphic survey of building styles and techniques. Each illustration is labeled with the names of important architectural details. This guide is handy if you want to know the name for a particular type of window or ornament.

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5. Identifying American Architecture

Subtitled "A Pictorial Guide to Styles and Terms: 1600 through 1945," this thin paperback briefly defines the characteristic features of America's most common architectural styles. Most of the 214 black and white photographs illustrate residential buildings. Co-author John J. G. Blumenson was formally on the staff of the USA National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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