Recently I’ve become more and more infatuated with Storybook style homes. As y’all know, I love historic styles, and I’ve designed a few American historic style homes. But, during my recent trip to England, I was totally inspired by the charm of rural cottages, medieval buildings, castles, cathedrals and country estates. The Storybook Style that swept the US in the 1920’s and 30’s conjures up all of medieval Europe, and mixes the quaint, quirky, whimsy and magic together. Also called Fairytale, Disneyesque, Hansel & Gretel, the style is an eclectic mix of Medieval fortifications, french farmhouses, English peasant cottages and even middle eastern temples. So much of my favorite things!
In the 1920’s, after soldiers returned from the war in Europe, and the film industry exploded, people became fascinated with charming and exotic architecture, and the Storybook style became a thing. Starting in Hollywoodland, by skilled set builders, for eccentric wealthy clients, the style soon spread to San Francisco, and up the Pacific Northwest, and by the 1930’s was all across the US.
Storybook style homes share many characteristics with their contemporaries, the proper period revivals, but Storybooks are exaggerated and joyful, and not meant to be taken so seriously. The idea behind the style draws on a wistfulness for the past and vernacular styles. Storybooks incorporate an eclectic variety of styles for effect, along with a flare for theater, love of fine craftsmanship, and sense of humor. The houses are typically quaint and a bit smaller, but so totally full of personality.
Defining Concepts of Storybook Style Homes
- Types: Rural, Vernacular, Castle, Spanish Colonial, English Tudor, French Normandy, German
- Use of simple materials, brick, stone, stucco
- eclectic combinations of vernacular elements
- exaggerated or cartoonish interpretations of forms
- made to look as if built up and added to over time
- non structural framing to create mass called furring to produce massive walls, arches and deep reveals
- distressed elements, made to mimic hand made tooling marks
- distressed timeworn appearance by use of artificial aging
- Rich Patinas
- masonry and stucco combined to evoke a crumbling facade of old world structure
- evoke naive rural architecture
Storybook style homes have a long tradition. The movement really started in Europe in the 1700’s, and was called Picturesque Style. It was an emotional, nostalgic return to the past, in reaction to the very academic Classical Revival, and the beginnings of the industrial age. Of course, by American standard these European buildings are considered old and authentic, but in Europe it was all revival.
In France, Marie Antoinette built a mock medieval French Hameau on the grounds of Versailles in 1783. She would dress up, and pretend to be a milkmaid to escape her oppressive court life.
In Britain, architects were building reproduction castles, mock ruins and medieval style cottages with thatched roofs. Even Windsor Castle is a mock-medieval mansion. The “medieval” castle we see today is actually a remodel done in 1823. Who knew??
In Germany, the king of Bavaria built the most famous “fake castle” Neuschwanstein, in 1882, which, ironically, has become the ideal image of a what a real castle should look like. Disney even modeled Sleeping Beauty’s Castle after it.
The late 1800’s brought about The Arts & Crafts Movement in England, Art Nouveau in Belgium and France, and the height of the Victorian era styles in America. In the early 1900’s Craftsman style bungalows were all the rage.
Meanwhile in Los Angeles, the film industry was really gearing up. Hollywood began to attract all sorts of creative people, and the studios prospered. Demand for homes grew and they needed to reflect the flamboyant and creative nature of the industry. The popular films of the time were all set in exotic far off places, with sets built by highly skilled artisans, which was total inspiration for architects and home builders.
Famous film producer Harry Oliver built the Spaneda House in 1921 as his office and dressing room for his studio.
In 1924, architect Henry F. Withey designed this Hollywoodland home. For sale now! (June 2018)
By the late 20’s the style spread across the states. The Great Depression brought a new level of escapism, and people were even more enamored with exotic and European styles.
There are even some examples right here in Dallas. This one built by Charles Dilbek in 1934.
Storybook Style Home Characteristics
- French Normandy
- Pointed, Eyebrow & Onion Arches
- Dovecotes – bird houses built into turrets for doves or pigeons
- ivyflower draped arbors
- half timbering with brick or stucco or both
- leaded and stained glass
- Jerkinhead Gables
- Steep Pitch
- Dormers: Small scaled, sometimes entirely decorative
- Eyebrow Dormers
- Front gabled or hipped dormers like are common in rural France
- English style shed and dustpan dormers
- Eased or rounded edges
- Seawave Patterns
- Rolled Eaves to simulate Thatch
- Shingles or Shakes
- Slate, randomly sized, set in exaggeratedly misaligned patterns
- Barrel Tile Ridge Caps
- wrought iron – prized for its irregular hand worked appearance. grills, railings, strap hinges, locksets, weather vanes , window boxes, downspout straps, light fixtures, knockers
- simple materials lovingly detailed
- clinker brick
- rubbed brick
- Crazed brick
- Hollywood or Drunken Brick lay
- rubble stone
- corbeled beams
- vaulted ceilings
Windows & Doors
- gothic tracery
- dutch door
- casement windows
- Leaded & Stained Glass
- losenge shaped muntins
- arched frame
- wood-framed with leaded or wavy glass installed; figural insets of stained glass are not uncommon.
SCALE: Most storybook homes are fairly small and are based upon a fanciful interpretation of medieval European homes, or traditional English cottage style. Larger storybook homes are often constructed to appear as though built up gradually over time, one addition at a time, or built primarily out of stone with battlements and turrets to resemble a castle.
Notable architects: Harry Oliver, Walter W. Dixon, William R. Yelland and Carr Jones, Hugh Comstock