Top 10 Guidebooks to House Styles

These illustrated books will help you identify house styles

What style is your house? To find answers fast, reach for one of these accessible books. Yes, books, with no batteries required. Books, with a variety of photos, black and white illustrations, 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.

01
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A Field Guide to American Houses

A stately Victorian house, yellow with green roof and green trim, with pumpkins on the stoop beneath a US flag
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. Buy from Amazon »

02
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American Shelter : An Illustrated Encyclopedia of the American Home

American Shelter by Lester Walker (top part of book cover)
American Shelter by Lester Walker. Image crop courtesy Amazon.com

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. Publisher: Overlook, 1998

Lester Walker reconfigured his American Shelter book into this 2015 edition called American Homes: The Landmark Illustrated Encyclopedia of Domestic Architecture from Black Dog & Leventhal.
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03
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American House Styles: A Concise Guide

American House Styles, A Concise Guide (top half of book cover)
American House Styles, A Concise Guide. Image crop courtesy Amazon.com

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. You'll see quotes from this book throughout the Architecture at About.com site.

Publisher: W. W. Norton, 2002 Buy from Amazon »

04
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The Visual Dictionary of American Domestic Architecture

The Visual Dictionary of American Domestic Architecture
The Visual Dictionary of American Domestic Architecture. Image cropped from Amazon.com

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.

Publisher: Holt, 1997 Buy from Amazon »

05
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Identifying American Architecture

Identifying American Architecture - A Pictorial Guide to Styles and Terms, 1600-1945
Identifying American Architecture - A Pictorial Guide to Styles and Terms, 1600-1945. Image courtesy Amazon.com

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. This book has gotten mixed reviews, so know your needs.

Publisher: American Association for State and Local History (paperback), 1981 Buy from Amazon »

06
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A Visual Dictionary of Architecture by Francis D. K. Ching

A Visual Dictionary of Architecture by Francis D.K. Ching
A Visual Dictionary of Architecture by Francis D.K. Ching. Image crop courtesy Amazon.com

The first edition of this Wiley book from 1996 (320 pages) has gotten consistently good reviews. It is still available for purchase.

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The 2011 second edition, also published by Wiley (336 pages), has received rave reviews as well. Buy from Amazon »

07
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A Field Guide to American Architecture by Carole Rifkind

A Field Guide to American Architecture
A Field Guide to American Architecture. Image crop courtesy Amazon.com

Carole Rifkind's 1980 book from Plume has become a standard guide in contextualizing American architecture. Style development of residential and commercial architecture is an expansion of other field guides.

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08
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How to Read Houses: A Crash Course in Domestic Architecture

How to Read Houses, a Crash course in domestic architecture
How to Read Houses, a Crash course in domestic architecture. Image crop courtesy Amazon.com

What caught my eye when I saw this Will Jones book at a book store was the accurate title. Yes, indeed, when we look at the style of a piece of architecture, we ARE reading the signs of the building. This 2014 Rizzoli book is part of a series, including  How to Read Buildings: A Crash Course in Architectural Styles by Carol Davidson Cragoe, 2008.
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09
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American Houses: A Field Guide to the Architecture of the Home

American Houses, A Field Guide to the Architecture of the Home by Gerald Foster
American Houses, A Field Guide to the Architecture of the Home by Gerald Foster. Image cropped from Amazon.com

The drawing by Gerald L. Foster for this 2004 guide make this a personal history of American domestic architecture.

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10
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The Abrams Guide to American House Styles by William Morgan

The Abrams Guide to American House Styles by William Morgan
The Abrams Guide to American House Styles by William Morgan. Image cropped from Amazon.com

In 424 pages for Abrams Publishers, architectural historian William Morgan seeks to do in this 2008 guide what other have done before hime—describe the array of American house styles. Buy from Amazon »