The History and Development of Storybook Style Architecture

Storybook Style Architecture… For years, quaint European village architecture has captured the imaginations of many.

This fascination eventually transformed into influence and style, as shown by the common ‘Storybook Style Architecture’ threads weaving their ways into our daily experiences.

Even in Santa Clarita, simple ‘Storybook Style’ attractiveness partially embeds itself into the city’s design guidelines and seems to be everywhere. But where does it come from? And with current environmental concerns, where is it going?

To begin, the differences between fashion and style must be understood. Fashion concerns that which is currently popular. Conversely, Style describes the characteristics of the way things are designed. So, fashion has style, but style may or may not be fashionable. Styles contain at least two categories: methodology (the way) and typology (the kind). “Storybook Style Architecture,” (SSA) is not merely a fashion but a style.

Historically, SSA has been known by different names, including French Provincialism, Cotswold, Hansel and Gretel, Queen Anne and Tudor to name a few. SSA Threads are seen in a distilled form in theme park fantasy areas, communities and cottages such as those seen in Kincade’s early paintings. Of those mentioned, the better SSA renditions include a contemplative consideration of the parts and the whole. Thinking that the individual ‘elements’ of a style (the kind) are the style (the way), architects and planners have at times made unfortunate choices resulting in an overall diminished aesthetic value. Just as walking into a garage doesn’t change one into a car, adding shutters to windows doesn’t fix the overall look of a poorly designed building.

Chronology of Development

Storybook Style Architecture (SSA) happened over many years and throughout various regions. To identify, we define it as, “… an exciting style of Architecture that contains organically whimsical shapes and forms, few right angles, indigenous use of materials, sustainable design principles, and has carefully considered ornamentation.” It is about thoughtful, considered, responsible and fun (!) living.

Historically, SSA began in Europe from necessity – people built only using local materials. Evidences are seen in Medieval European wealthy and peasant homes. Notable elements included thatched roofs, decorated tile floors, and stone hearths at the center of the home. The peasant homes were traditionally constructed using stucco, while the wealthy homes used natural stone and were thus more permanent. Manor homes had large halls with tall expanses of glass (not common to the poor) and most food was grown at the house… a self-contained and self-sustaining entity.

The Tudor Style, a clear ancestor of SSA, is known by dark wood exposed structure and infilled with a light colored finish, thus creating a distinctive pattern of dark and light. For structures larger than one story, buildings had a bit of a cantilever, allowing each additional floor to be a little larger than the one below it. The exposed structure was often carved in decorative ways. Roofs were thatched, although some were shingled with stone or wood. The buildings were either residential or commercial construction, or both.

So, these elements describe the style, but merely placing decorative items on a building does not transform it into good design, especially when the elements look disproportionate compared to the whole, lack balance in color choice and abounds in overused texture.

I have provided an affiliate link to a book: ( Storybook Style: America’s Whimsical Homes of the Twenties) that may be helpful to you in considering Storybook Style Architecture on a more detailed level. I haven’t read the book yet, but have seen a number of the places that it references. Note that should you decide to purchase from these links, I do earn a small commission from their sale, but at no additional cost to you.

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