Evolution in home design

The architectural terms cocktail-party guests sometimes throw around -- “Modernism,” “Post-Modernism,” “Deconstructivism” -- aren’t so difficult to understand, thanks to the lessons in this book.

The 424-page book starts with the first American home style, the Colonial, before presenting 15 others, including Greek Revival, Victorian, Prairie and modern-day. A short overview of each style is followed by several representative photographs (there are 350 photos, many of them fine, plus detailed drawings). Each chapter closes with a handy roundup of “notes on the defining characteristics.”

Just enough history is presented on each style to understand why a specific style was popular at a certain time, and how it influenced the design that followed. The simplicity of the Colonial house is naturally followed by the more elegant and symmetrical -- yet similar -- Georgian. The drop in the price of glass and the greater availability of it, for example, explains the Georgian’s bigger windows.


Clearly laid-out, the history of American architecture, in all its permutations, makes sense -- even the last chapter on the phenomenon that is the McMansion.

- Christy Hobart