Book: Get Your House Right

This is the book I’ve been searching for! Get Your House Right: Architectural Elements to Use & Avoid, by Marianne Cusato, Ben Pentreath, Richard Sammons, and Leon Krier. I’ve been on the hunt for a guide to explain proper historic proportions and details but most the books I came across were too heady or just an overview.

Marianne Cusato architect and author is the brains behind the project, The New Economy Home; a concept home unveiled at the 2010 Builder’s show as a reflection of the current housing downturn. The new concept is smaller, more efficient with adaptable spaces and removes wasted space found in popular American McMansions. The architecture and floorplan feels more like a historic home—older homes out of necessity had to be efficient.

Ben Pentreath co-author (and my new design crush) based in London bares mention. Literally everything this man designs I love. I think I’m most drawn to his work but he’s a geek for proportions and classicism. Symmetry just works and always feels flawless.

This book is not an overview for wanna be old homeowners. It gets into the nitty-gritty of classic design with “nearly 1,000 meticulous line-drawings illustrating errors to avoid and correct approaches to use”. Design vocabulary is defined educating homeowners to speak the language; explaining what is authentic and commonly used a modern fakes. This is key for me, I have a good eye but I don’t know all the terms to communicate those elements to my contractors.

My house has been altered significantly overtime. The old windows were ripped out in the 1970’s and replaced with new frames. Strange additions have been added without any real thought to design—at times I find these stuck on spaces charming and realistic to New England architecture over the past 250 years. I’ve been struggling with figuring out what is correct or appropriate. The theories discussed in the book are classic examples of historic architecture. Whole chapters are dedicated to exteriors doors, windows, chimneys and interior details.

The main square footprint of my house dates back to 1750. We’ve been working on stripping away any obtrusive modern elements in hopes of preserving the home’s historic character. My renovation is not meant to be a museum quality interpretation of an 18th-century home but a building that feels cohesive while retaining its historical elements. Tight stairs wells and narrow doorways are not at all practical for modern living but if I ripped them out will their be any evidence left of a 1750 home in another 250 years?

Come Spring we’ll be doing more exterior work: replacing rotten clapboards, rotten window frames, corner boards, and rebuilding a frame around my front door that feels like the original—a drunk driver hit and ripped out the front corner in the 1980’s. I’m hoping this book will be great source and guide for all of those upcoming projects.

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17 Comments

  1. Thanks for posting about this book – I could really use this about now! We are currently pricing windows and clapboard siding for our traditional farmhouse in East Hampton. Even the “lite” configuration within the window sash has such an impact – I would love to hear what this book has to say about windows. My search for the perfect window type has also been clouded by rants/raves about every major manufacturer every where I look. It feels like it is hard to get a straight answer sometimes. I tried calling the local bookstores in East Hampton and Sag Harbor but this book was out of stock at both stores – maybe I can order online. Thanks for your bringing this book to my attention, perfect timing!

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  2. i just spent all of last evening going through ben’s inspiration blog. LOVE his life, work, style. his shop is delightful.

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  3. Dear Katy, I’ve been reading your blog for over a year and I thoroughly enjoy it. Congratulations on getting the roof finished, I am so happy for you. I am also eager to see the den painted. I am originally from Iowa, but have lived in New England for 8 years. I feel like I was born here. Your blog helps to summarize what I love about New England. Another book I’d like to recommend is A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander. This was a go-to resource for my friends that lovingly restored an old farmhouse in Haydenville, MA. Take care and stay warm, Gillian

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  4. I would like your recommendations for restoring/replacing windows for a pre-1900 cottage in coastal Maine. Wood or aluminum sash? The remainder of the window is wood. Thanks, Maria

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  5. You have to do what you can to live in your house, the way that’s the most comfortable for you.

    My parent’s 1700s house had a birthing room – it would be authentic to have kept it, but realistically, not a strong selling point ;-)

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  6. Katy,
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts about Marianne Cusato’s book, Get Your House Right. So glad you enjoyed it. Our firm, IWPR Group, represents her work and how it fits into the work of other leading thinkers like Andres Duany, Galina Tachieva, and Sarah Susanka. She works diligently every day to educate those who have a stake in or say in how we design our built environment. We’re proud to say Marianne Cusato is emerging as an important voice in getting it right. Two new books to keep your eye out for in March — Ross Chapin’s Pocket Neighborhoods and Mike Litchfield’s In-laws, Outlaws and Granny Flats.

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  7. OK, I have to know–how do you do all you do??? I guess it helps not having a toddler—I’m assuming. Your blog is super impressive, the best I’ve seen. Your pics are amazing, and your content is so well researched! It’s really fun to read.

    My husband and I stripped one side of a door in our 1700s Salem house last weekend. It’s still sitting up on sawhorses in our downstairs apartment, and is a reminder of people who came before us. We finally got through some ink covering writing on bare wood–found out the door came from 19 Essex St in Boston from “Cohen,” don’t know who they are yet. Lots of salvage stuff in our house.

    Thx for the book focus–don’t think we have it yet. Right now, we’re reading, “Treasure Chests; the Legacy of Extraordinary Boxes,” by Lon Schleining, and “Kitchens that Work; the Practical Guide to Creating a Great Kitchen,” by Martin Edic and Richard Edic, since we are on the way to a built-in bench in the shape of an “L” for our kitchen. In our old house, we must capitalize on all space possible. We’re opening up a pass-through hallway, losing a pantry we built when we moved in, and need that storage space in the “L” shaped benches. Not ideal, but anywhere we can get space, we get it!

    Have a great day working hard as usual!
    Jen

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    1. The book is not broken up by date but by elements. It depends on what style your house is. The book leans towards classical traditional elements like you see in New England. You could build a brand new house, condo or apt with this book or use it as guide to update elements lost in an older homes like mine or a classic revival.

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  8. Not only is that a great resource, it’s nice to see that there are people who care to make their house “right.”

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  9. I really like your blog and I usually just lurk. Thanks for sharing this book. It sounds full of helpful information. My husband and I hope to build our forever home in the future and want it to be something that stands the test of time and trends. We’ve been researching and trying to learn what we should and shouldn’t do to achieve that. The Not So Big House is something that interest us a great deal. I think our challenge will be finding a builder who understands our vision.

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  10. This looks like an amazing resource. Do they happen to discuss historic urban buildings like townhouses and apartment buildings, as well?

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