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.

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.

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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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 site.

Publisher: W. W. Norton, 2002

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

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

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.

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.


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


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.

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Craven, Jackie. "Top 10 Guidebooks to House Styles." ThoughtCo, Aug. 9, 2016, Craven, Jackie. (2016, August 9). Top 10 Guidebooks to House Styles. Retrieved from Craven, Jackie. "Top 10 Guidebooks to House Styles." ThoughtCo. (accessed November 24, 2017).