Hull (Traditional American Rooms, 2003) celebrates the lost art of thoughtful home construction.
We don’t build houses like we used to. The craftsmanship central to generations of construction is largely absent in modern homebuilding, which has become more concerned with creating a mass-produced product at a predetermined price. Hull takes readers through the evolution of our views on home construction: what was once valued, what is valued now, and what things most people don’t ever think about. The book includes explanations of the shifting architectural trends in residences, from Enlightenment-era builders finding inspiration in antiquity to European-style houses in America to Levittown and the rise of production building. He also explains the processes of home design, from fire-safety concerns and framing to theories of ornamentation. He concludes with an “Illustrations and Applications” chapter to guide those who wish to implement what they’ve learned. Yet this book won’t actually tell readers how to build a house; rather, it looks at the way homebuilding was approached (aesthetically, philosophically, commercially) in Europe and America in the last few centuries and how we have arrived at our current homebuilding culture. His argument isn’t based on bleary-eyed nostalgia: it appears that houses really were objectively better in earlier eras, and if people demand as much, they can be better again. This seems like a book for the times: as people become ever more interested in “artisanal” everything, Hull reminds us that the ultimate embodiment of craftsmanship and rustic know-how is a well-built house. A construction veteran of the world of historic restoration, Hull is also a gifted writer of (better than) workmanlike prose. His narrative voice is clean and accessible; a more inspired, lyrical language sometimes arises when he broaches a topic (such as the Derby Summerhouse) that truly excites him. Part call to action, part exploration of technique, the result is a persuasive and enjoyable reminder that our homes are reflections of ourselves. As Hull says, “We need to wonder if building cheap homes doesn’t cause us to become a cheap culture.”