Dallas Author and Preservationist Teaches Fort Worth Realtors About Architecture

virginia and seth

Do you know why white stucco was so important to architects for new homes after World War II?  What negative effect did the Federal Housing Administration have on the design of homes?  What was one of the inspirations for the ranch home?  How did owners of a Victorian home show they had a certain amount of wealth?

All these topics and many more were discussed when renowned Dallas author Virginia Savage McAlester visited with the real estate agents of Williams Trew Real Estate in Fort Worth.  McAlester is the author of A Field Guide to American Houses, the preeminent book for anyone and everyone who wants to know about styles of homes.

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Revised edition of book contains updated styles and terminology

“Realtors are the key to saving many older homes,” said McAlester.  “You are responsible for educating your clients on architectural styles and historic areas of your town.  Without Realtors many homes in older neighborhoods would be torn down.”

Edition I of the book that she co-wrote with Lee McAlester was published in 1984.  In 2015, an updated and revised book was published to include newer styles and terms for architecture.

Even with new styles and tastes, McAlester told the crowd of Realtors that most homes and styles in America fit into four basis categories:  Ancient Classical, Medieval, Renaissance, and Modern.  Almost as if there were the four primary colors, those basic styles are often used and combined with other elements to create more and unique styles of homes.

“Styles of homes are similar to the fashion and design industry,” stated McAlester.  “In fashion it all starts in Paris and you have these crazy, strange, expensive outfits that no one really wears but then those trends and elements of fashion trickle to New York where they are refined a little and now are a little bit more affordable and practical.  Finally the New York version spreads across the country and is more like J.C. Penney or Sears for the masses, where the clothes now make sense, are affordable, and accepted by many.  House styles are the exact same way.  What is created in Europe eventually makes its way to the United States and has certain elements of the original design but is modified to be affordable and accepted by the masses.”

McAlester spoke for about an hour, motivating the Realtors to learn the different styles and vernacular, not to just call a home a Modern when it is really more Contemporary or Shed in design.  (This might take a while but sure could impress clients.)

The visit ended with McAlester being upbeat about areas in Dallas and Fort Worth that have done a noble job of preserving older styles while new homes are also being built using classic principals of design and architecture.  She was pleased to see some builders in the area at least attempt to re-create styles of the past and not completely throw out good architectural styles and principles.

If you attempt to be an aficionado or a nerd when it comes to homes and styles, (like me) I highly recommend picking up an updated version of this book.  It comes in paperback and hard cover and weighs about seven pounds, so it also makes for good exercise equipment if you’re in a pinch.

And to answer the questions from above:

After World War II, architects didn’t want to incorporate geographically unique materials for fear of creating animosity, so white stucco was used because anyone can build with white stucco no matter where you live.

The FHA didn’t like modern architecture and wanted more traditional styles, so they wouldn’t loan on a Modern home.

The automobile greatly influenced the ranch house with attached garages, circle driveways, deeper front setbacks.

Finally Victorian homes had handmade spindles that were very expensive to produce.  If someone had a “12-spindle home” that was less expensive than a “24-spindle home” which meant there were 24 handmade spindles in the home.  It was a way of subtly showing off.

See why you need to buy this book?

That’s all from Tarrant County this week Dirty Readers.  Remember, if you have comments, questions, snide remarks or ideas for future stories–I’m always here to listen!

Seth Fowler is a licensed real estate sales professional with Williams Trew Real Estate in Fort Worth.  Statements and opinions are his own.  Seth has been involved in the home sales and real estate business in DFW since 2004.  He and his family have lived in the Fort Worth area for over 14 years.  Seth also loves bow ties.  You can reach Seth at 817.980.6636 or seth.fowler@williamstrew.com.