If you’ve spent any time reading city tax assessments or records, you may know that old or historic houses were often just labeled “old style” regardless of what kind of style it actually was. A ca. 1935 Dutch Colonial Revival (with shingle influence) house that I researched last semester was called “old style” and so is my current ca. 1910 Colonial Revival house. Granted, both are Colonial Revival so it’s a poor example. The obviously Shingle style house next to mine is characterized as “Colonial.” I point these out not to say that all city assessments are wrong; I scanned just a few in Burlington and did come across some that seemed correct upon first glance. This is merely a warning to homeowners, researchers, students, etc.: do not necessarily believe the tax records.
In the same vein, realty listings are often entertaining. The architectural vocabulary is quite different (and quite frankly, often inaccurate. I do not mean to pick on realtors — some listings just provide obvious examples). Do realty listings use inaccurate vocabulary because the general public does not care to know all of the architectural terms and details or because that is all realtors were taught and therefore employ? Are realtors properly educated when it comes to historic homes? We all grow up with the terms cottage, victorian, bungalow, and colonial, but they tend to be overused. But if we are all talking about houses and architectures, shouldn’t we be on the same page? Shouldn’t one style mean the same to two different groups? What do you think?
Architectural vocabulary can be very specific and debated, but it’s fair to say that there are standard proper style and feature names that the general public (i.e. non-architectural historians and non-preservationists) could easily understand. So I offer some easy pictorial guides for anyone who wants to have a better understanding of architectural styles. (Of course styles will vary slightly by region.)
1. Residential Styles: this first one is actually from Realtor Mag, (go realtor.org!) and it is a good, basic guide for residential styles.
2. Architectural Style Guide: a brief listing with recommended books from Preservation Directory.
3. Architectural Style Guide: from Arkansas but applicable across the USA. (PDF — print for easy reference!)
To find additional resources, search for “architectural style guide,” “easy architectural style guide” or something like that. Your state historic preservation office should have a comprehensive guide as well.
So what do you think? Should we all be on the same page for vocabulary? Is there a large gap? Is it shrinking, growing?