In my upcoming book, I contend that we have lost “the art of building” and need to learn how to build timelessly again. This re-learning, starts with books and it is the reason I think builders and craftsmen should invest and build working libraries. Part one of this post is geared for craftsmen and builders. Part 2 (next week) will focus on the homeowner’s library.
That you should have a library, I hope is not in question. If you hope to make a name for yourself in this business than building a library is key as it will inspire, teach and provide a foundation (pun intended) for future design and building decisions. This list is just a start, I believe a minimum goal should be 100 books.
1. Get your House Right, Marianne Cusato. Marianne’s book is filled with countless tips and techniques for building timeless and traditional houses. The basis for these tips are grounded in classical and new urban ideals. She clearly teaches proper precedents for building size, spacing of windows, proper use of columns, etc. This is a great book.
2. Traditional Construction Patterns. Stephen Mouzon. Full of pictures and details which show the wrong and right approach for various construction elements; cornices, porches, railings, etc. This book is a great reference tool that makes it easy to explain to framers and craftsmen how proper details should look. This is a fun book to peruse and study.
3. Audel’s Carpenters and Builder’s Guide -1926. 1926 is the first year of publication for this classic 4-volume set of books on building and construction. It is a fascinating and informative guide that highlights what a carpenter/builder was expected to know 88 years ago. You will notice that things have changed a great deal; for example, we no longer need to know how to sharpen our saws. In your search you will find later editions after 1940. I encourage you to hunt for the 1926 editions as they have more information on timeless building techniques. I found a set recently on Amazon.
4. A Field Guide to American Houses. new 2nd edition. Virginia McAlester. I have just had the pleasure of looking through Virginia’s long-awaited 2nd edition to her classic book. I’m happy to report her book is still relevant and equally valuable to any one interested in understanding the details of America’s vast and varied architectural styles. The 2nd edition now includes houses built after 1940 as well as clues for identifying neighborhoods. This was one of the first books I ever read on house styles and I have handed out at least 8 copies to clients and employees alike. It is the bible of American architectural identification.
5. Any historic trade catalog before 1930.This isn’t a cop-out on my part because I can’t name a 5th book. Instead, it is a challenge. As I look through my library, I see countless books that each hold special nuggets of information. To build timeless houses, we must understand the details and methods of timeless building. Go on eBay, go to books and manuscripts, and then search for millwork, or house plans, or plumbing, or whatever your field of interest. Begin bidding and collecting and building your library. You should have a minimum of 50 historic trade catalogs. They are invaluable.
As a timeless builder, you will need a mix of historic books as well as new books. There is great information in both eras. Good luck and have fun building your library.