6 Books Old House Lovers Should Own

Whether you’re dreaming about old houses, shopping for one, or in the midst of restoring yours to perfection right now, you’ll benefit from adding these to your shelf. Old house lovers worth their weight in wavy glass should have an itty-bitty background in urban planning, an understanding of the domestic architectural styles surrounding them, and some sound advice on decor and styling a place to perfection. These 6 will get you there in no time. This post may include affiliate links to the recommended titles.


1.  The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs


Start from the beginning. Jane Jacobs was an urbanist and activist who legendarily championed a community-based approach to city building. She stressed the need for lively, tight-knit communities that foster a “web of public respect and trust,”  mixed-used properties that activate streets throughout the day, the importance of sidewalks, and more. In other words, she took a close look at what a city needs to make it worthy of inhabiting.  Her insights on how urban planning can facilitate healthy, balanced lives for urban dwellers is still relevant today – maybe more than ever. Certainly a must-read for anyone with (or on the hunt for) an old house, whether urban or rural.



2.  A Field Guide to Great American Houses by Virginia Savage McLester


Familiarize yourself with what you’re looking at, and you’ll learn what you’re looking for. You’ve probably heard of this one – it’s *the* handbook for identifying American house styles and typologies. It’s a must-have because the better you become at identifying styles, the easier it will be to put a name to the dream house living inside your head. Love a mansard roof? Maybe you’re looking for a Second Empire. (I am!) Start using this chronologically ordered, very helpful guide to identify homes regularly and you’ll develop the ability to identify both style and approximate age of a home over time.



3.  Get Your House Right: Architectural Elements to Use & Avoid by Marianne Cusato + Ben Pentreath


Restore an old house without making any McMansion-y mistakes. A definitive guide to what makes a house look and feel right. This one walks you through traditional architectural principles like structural common sense, the aesthetics of form, neighborhood appropriateness (and why that matters) and sustainability practices. If you’re looking for dos and don’ts, you can trust the answers outlined here. An indispensable resource.




4.  The Decoration of Houses by Edith Wharton + Ogden Codman, Jr.



Published in 1897 and proof that common sense never goes out of style. Your old house will ideally be the perfect expression of your individuality *and* pay respect to its architectural style and era. Though the language may seem know-it-all and severe by now, the design principles are still sound. An Architectural Digest article compared the classic to the King James Version of the bible – often imitated but arguably never outdone. Spot on, I’d say.




5.  Farrow & Ball – Decorating with Colour by Ros Byam Shaw


Choose the right paint for the right place. Farrow & Ball set the standard when it comes to sophisticated, highly-pigmented paint colors. In addition to a book full of inspiring interiors that have been elevated by a smart use of color, 10 defining decorative principles are covered – and how to put them into practice in your space. There is also a very handy glossary of F&B’s popular neutral palettes and tips on choosing the right paint.




6.  Decorating with Antiques by Caroline Clifton-Mogg


A reviewer summed up the beauty of this one perfectly: “A book that tells you how, not what.” There are several bits of sage decorating and styling advice communicated in this one. The most important lessons include, a) you don’t need a lot of money to achieve the style and mood you’ll love with dedicated flea marketing and attendance at estate sales and auctions, and b) it may take *several* years to finish your home. Be patience and don’t compromise. 



Looking for more recommendations? Check out the other volumes we’ve reviewed lately on Instagram.

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