Friday, July 28, 2017

Storybook Style: America's Whimsical Homes of the 1920s

Storybook Style: American Whimsical Homes of the 1920s by Arrol Gellner and Douglas Keister is a delightful pictorial history of fantasy homes influenced by Old European rural homes.

The 1920s Period Revival styles included Mediterranean, Normandy, Tudor, and Spanish styles, and the relatively rarer Storybook.

I had not realized that the architectural style I have long admired had a name, or that it's roots date to WWI when soldiers returned from the European front with a love of the rural, rustic houses and Medieval structures they had seen: the quaint cobblestone cottage with thatched roof, the half-timbered Tudor house, the shingled roof, and rolled eaves and seawave rooflines.

In my neighborhood there is a house that I have admired, built in the 1920s when a rail line came into our suburban town, allowing workers in Detroit to live in what became the never ending suburbs of Oakland County, MI.

The Clawson Historical Center has identified the house as a Montgomery Ward 'kit house' called The Cranford from the late 1920s. It is described as a "Tudor revival and “storybook” style home" that "combines several varied architectural features, including a gambrel roof, dormers, Tudor peaks and faux stucco and half-timber."
from  Clawson Historical Museum
There are several Cranford homes in our 2 square mile city.

The authors follow the evolution of the style, from "Backstory" to "Opening Act;" how Hollywood "movie people" adopted the fantasy period styles for their homes; the legendary development of Hollywoodland; and how the fad for Period houses made its way across the country.

The history of period styles dates to the 'picturesque' fad of the 18th c which revived Medieval, Classical, and Gothic styles. This is when people built fake 'ruins,' homes that looked like castles, and the construction of fabulous public buildings like the Brighton Pavilion with its exotic Indian/Chinese/Saracenic influences.

In the 19th c, Victorians rebelled against Industrialization in a movement reviving hand craftsmanship, resulting in the Arts and Crafts movement. Art Noveau briefly ruled, with its naturalistic designs and artistry.

The Craftsman style became popular and led to the Bungalow. My great-grandfather and his sons built Bungalow homes in Tonawanda, NY in the 1920s.
Bungalow built by y grandfather John Becker in Tonawanda, NY
Another Becker bungalow in Tonawanda
The Philadelphia Centennial Exposition was the roots of the Colonial Revival which ascended in the 1920s and continued through the Bicentennial. My parents and grandparents all decorated in the Colonial style.

circa 1930 greeting card features a Storybook
cottage with a dovecote and thatched roof
The Storybook Style was the most fantastic period style of them all. The photographs show the wide variety of interpretation. The more misshapen, bizarre, and odd the design the more it pleased!

The Witch's House was built for Willat Studios in 1920 as a set for silent films, including Hansel and Gretel. One of the producers moved it to Beverly Hills and made it into his home.

The style influenced home design across the nation. Sears offered a medieval influenced English cottage with "catslide roof and rubble-tome trim" in its 1931 catalog. The Montgomery Ward Cranford kit house is a very domesticated nod to the style.

The book includes Michigan's Bartholomew's Boulder Park in Charlevoix, created by Earl Young. Born in Mancelona, Michigan Young studied at University of Michigan for a year before dropping out and going into real estate. His twelve stone houses were built in the late 1920s after the peak of the Storybook style, but are influenced by trips to Europe.

Photo by my dad of a "Mushroom House" in Charlevoix, MI
He also built ''mushroom houses' in 1952, and seven homes in downtown Charlevoix including the Half House in 1947. He used local fieldstone and cedar shingled roofs.

Another Michigan mention is Henry Ford's purchase of stone cottages for Greenfield Village in the 1920s. He had wanted Arlington Row, but was rejected and instead bought a 1600s cottage from near Chedworth. The cottage is one of my favorite parts of the Village.

Cottswald Cottage at Greenfield Village
1600s Cottswald farm at Greenfield Village


pigeon house, 1600s farm at Greenfield Village
Storybook Style was such fun to read, with plentiful color photographs.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through Edelweiss in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Storybook Style
by Arrol Gellner, Douglas Keister
Schiffer Publications
July 2017
$34.99 hardcover
308 color and b/w images | 176 pp
ISBN13: 9780764353086