My preference for classical American architecture does not stop me from seeking out more whimsical structures: the “storybook” style of the interwar years is a particular obsession, though there are not many examples in our region. One of my very favorite Salem houses, which I wrote about here and check in on often, is classic storybook, as is Santarella in western Massachusetts. Most of the houses below would probably be classified more as Arts and Crafts or “eclectic” houses by architectural historians, but it’s all in the details for me: a few fanciful touches makes the grade. The first house, which is situated on a street that runs parallel to ours here in Salem, has long fascinated me. It was built on a swath of land that was devastated by the great Salem fire of 1914, I think shortly afterwards, both because it was the city’s policy to rebuild as soon as possible, and the appearance of similar (but not identical) structures in building periodicals from the World War One era.
A Salem cottage, and its inspiration? Rendering from Richardson Little Wright’s Low Cost Suburban Homes; a Book of Suggestions for the Man with the Moderate Purse (1916).
This next house is right around the corner in the same Salem neighborhood, but it fortunately survived the fire. The main structure dates from the 1840s, but a very fanciful wing was added at some point after the turn of the century. The entire composition is really charming, as you can see: even the fence.
The towns that line the coast just south of Salem, heading towards Boston, have rich inventories of older houses, many with whimsical details. These next two houses definitely date from before the storybook era (if indeed there is one): they are essentially and eclectically Victorian. But how can I resist including Moorish and Norman “castles” in this company?
Storybook Victorians in Swampscott (top) and Lynn (bottom), Massachusetts.
Storybook intersects with all of the other architectural styles of the first decades of the twentieth century: Arts and Crafts, Cottage, Tudor Revival, among others. These last two houses, in Swampscott and Nahant respectively, illustrate this assimilation. The first house, with its spectacular slate-tiled roof, looks like an embellished bungalow, while the second is (unmistakably) an all-American Tudor. But both have that fairy-tale feel, accentuated by their settings.
Swampscott and Nahant cottages, and a photograph from Wright’s Low Cost Suburban Homes (1916).