DEFINING STORYBOOK ARCHITECTURE

As a quick look at the photos on this website will attest, storybook structures can differ considerably from one another—far more so than is typical for buildings generally considered to be of a single architectural style. So what is "storybook architecture?" Can anything so varied in its manifestations really be defined at all? It seems a precise definition may not be possible, or even desirable—for, as Arrol Gellner wrote in
Storybook Style: America's Whimsical Homes of the Twenties, "attempting to classify them as such based upon this detail or that misses their real essence, which owes more to inventiveness than authenticity."

Nevertheless, a general definition is possible, and several subtype definitions will be proposed and used throughout this site. In this instance at least, a picture is indeed worth a thousand words—and the best way to define storybook style is with photographs and drawings. Since no one here can draw very well, we'll use photos...

witch cottage mormandy village critter's pink castle

Though obviously very different from one another, each of the structures pictured above is pure storybook style. Before looking at the differences which place them in separate subcategories, consider the features which set storybook structures apart from their less imaginative neighbors. Most of these features are unusual in themselves. And while the appearance of any particular feature doesn't necessarily mean the building in question is storybook—when several of thee features appear together in a single structure, it is most likely storybook style.


COMMON FEATURES OF STORYBOOK ARCHITECTURE

Some of the terms used below are a bit technical; an illustrated glossary of terms related to storybook architecture will be added to this page in the near future.

CONSTRUCTION: Predominately stucco (often roughly troweled), frequently with half-timbering (often curved); use of rubble stone, crazed brick, and clinker brick are common; all-stone, all-brick, and all-wood construction are sometimes used. Turrets with conical roofs are a common feature, as are faux dovecotes.

WALLS: Often sloped or curving; almost never square or rectangular; wing walls are not uncommon.

ROOFLINES: Always curved in some way—swaybacked, sagged, concave, undulating or sharply pointed; never flat and seemingly never of the straight- and equal-sided triangular form; gables are usually jerkinhead or very sharply pointed; eaves are often rolled; use of catslides is common.

ROOFING MATERIALS: Most often wooden shingles, wooden shakes, or slate laid down in a seawave or other intentionally irregular pattern; though the original materials have frequently been replaced over time, the irregular pattern is sometimes imitated in the more modern material.

DOORS: Round-topped or batten (occasionally both), often with a peek-a-boo; doors are frequently set in an arched doorway lined with stone; when turret is present, the building's front door typically opens into this.

WINDOWS: Sometimes wood-framed but often steel-framed (presumably to more closely resemble medieval windows); on older homes, the glass (unless replaced) is leaded or wavy; figural insets of stained glass are not uncommon.

CHIMNEYS: Chimneys are seldom regular in appearance; most feature a combination of stucco and seemingly haphazardly-placed stone or brick.

IRONWORK: Wrought iron door hinges, handles, knockers, and locksets are common, as are other wrought iron embellishments.

OTHER: Most storybook structures are fairly small, though many make use of deceptive perspective to trick the eye into perceiving them as being larger than they really are; larger storybooks are often constructed to appear as though built up gradually over time, one addition at a time. All (or nearly all) are based upon a fanciful interpretation of medieval European homes; a number of the true masterworks have been artificially and intentionally aged, lending them the appearance of structures built centuries in the past.

LOCATION: As befits their faux-rural heritage, many storybook homes are surrounded by trees and shrubbery; as most were constructed in the 1920s and 1930s, the greenery can conceal these structures from the casual observer.


TYPES OF STORYBOOK ARCHITECTURE

As mentioned above, storybook structures can vary considerably from one another. Even so, most fall into one of several broad categories pictured below (definitions will be added shortly). This section should be considered a work in progress, and will be updated frequently until complete. Some category names may change over the next month or so.

CLASSIC:
A classic-style storybook home.

COTTAGE:
Storybook cottage home.

FORT:
Storybook fort complex.

CASTLE:
A storybook castle.

COURT:
A storybook court.

UNIQUE:
The archetypal 'witchy' storybook home.






John Ruskin, photographed by Frederick Hollyer in 1894.

Old buildings are not ours. They belong, partly to those who built them, and partly to the generations of Mankind who are to follow us. The dead still have their right in them: that which they labored for...we have no right to obliterate. What we ourselves have built, we are at liberty to throw down. But what other men gave their strength, and wealth, and life to accomplish, their right over it does not pass away with their death.
                                                    —John Ruskin



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