Taking A Closer Look at the Houses We Live In

Taking A Closer Look at the Houses We Live In

Howe edits book on the history and style of US domestic architecture

By Stephen Gawlik
Staff Writer

No, laughs Prof. Jeffery Howe (Fine Arts) he's not Bob Vila, nor does he have any desire to impersonate the popular TV handyman.

Prof. Jeffery Howe (Fine Arts)
"Despite what some may think, home improvement isn't my area of expertise," said Howe.

But Howe, a highly regarded architecture and art history scholar, might easily be mistaken for a Vila-like specialist thanks to his recent publication.

Howe edited and contributed to The Houses We Live In: An Identification Guide to the History and Style of American Domestic Architecture, an illustrated guide to the architectural styles of American houses from colonial to modern America. Containing 600 photographs and overlays to identify key features of American homes throughout history, The Houses We Live In details how the various styles were developed, covering every type of American house from log cabins and mobile homes to the Richardson Romanesque homes of the Deep South.

Howe said he hopes those who read the book will develop a better appreciation of the architecture that's just under - or over - their noses.

"One goal is to get people to appreciate the architecture that's in their own backyards," said Howe. "You don't have to go to New York or Chicago or Europe to see some really great architecture.

"In a lot of ways our houses are the public face of who we are. So you can learn a lot about Americans and American history by looking closely at houses."

Howe said that some of the marquee changes in the history of domestic architecture were related to developments in technology.

Indoor plumbing and electricity, for example, "have really changed what we do in our houses." Washing clothes was once almost exclusively an outdoor job, but with the invention of electric washing machines and improvements in plumbing, people set aside space in the basement or elsewhere in the house as the "laundry area."

Howe cites Greater Boston, its history pre-dating the birth of the United States, as an ideal location to enjoy many varieties of domestic architecture.

"It's a very richly textured area with a lot of different styles in a relatively small area," said Howe.

The idea for the book came not from Howe, but from the publisher, who happened to browse Howe's award-winning on-line digital image archive that contains images of paintings, sculpture, and architecture.

"The publisher called originally seeking permission to use the photos," said Howe, who has been photographing art and architecture for over 20 years. "After we'd talked for a while they asked me if I wanted to be the editor."

The site has also generated correspondence from people around the globe who have questions about their home repair projects.

"I have to tell them they need to hire an architect for those questions," said Howe. "The site was developed as a study tool for students but it's gotten a lot of attention from others."
Of the 600 photos contained within The Houses We Live In 440 are Howe's, some of which he plucked from his collection, but most he shot while travelling around the country while on sabbatical last year. He also wrote several sections of the book.


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