After seeing Versaci's house plans online, I was excited about the potential for this book to be a great resource for traditional design ideas. Yes, there are beautiful houses in this book. Unfortunately, I was disappointed to find that the writing was simplistic & repetitive, and the ideas presented would only be attainable for the very wealthy. Perhaps as an architect, I am biased in favor of the idea that intelligent and soulful building design can happen today even on an average budget. If you fall into this category, look at examples like the houses in the Prairie Crossing development outside Chicago, where the designers draw heavily from vernacular forms without being enslaved to only "authentic" material choices. Many traditional forms developed as a response to a particular climate. Those home builders of yesteryear would kill to have access to some of the materials of today. I take strong issue with the idea that new (pre-1930?) building technologies make "soul-less" houses. Honestly, even vinyl siding can be done well...which is what I was hoping to see in this book.
Speaking of "authenticity," what's with spraying your stone with manure to make it look old? You just spent thousands upon thousands of dollars on beautiful stone walls and now you want to cultivate mildew on them? Just wait 10 years! Owners of REAL old homes have to spend money trying to get rid of mildew, so this strikes me as slightly insane. Other annoying aspects:
-Over and over again, he was describing in minute detail the various (imaginary) additions and renovations that the houses had been through as if they had really happened. This is hard to read and confusing.
-There are ZERO examples of urban houses and when discussing siting the building he always says to do it with lots of trees behind so that it looks as if it's "always been there." If the average suburban tract house had this treatment, it would look 10x better too. I'd like to see one of these houses work in a subdivision.
-Million-dollar homes with THREE bedrooms?! Guess what? People that lived over 100 years ago built big houses too. The designers of the houses in this book spend so much time and money on small buildings with fake additions that there's no room for more than 3 bedrooms. What about the classic American Foursquare and so many others that had gracious proportions and ample space from the get-go? His advice is to read stylebooks from those periods without providing any meat on what makes those houses work.
-The whole point of the arts and crafts movement was to champion true craftmanship and architectural honesty---I would venture to guess that this does not include building double exterior walls with a cavity between just to "mimic" the thickness of stone walls. Is this Disney approach really superior to the stylized facades of suburban houses that he is so disdainful of?
-Why does he propagate the idea that kitchen appliances from the 1930's are more presentable than those of today? Interestingly, the book doesn't include that many pictures of kitchens.
I would say that reading magazines like "This Old House" are substantially more helpful in understanding what makes old houses work and give insight into which design decisions are crucial when attempting to create a house with soul. If you get the overall form right, that goes a long way toward setting the building apart from the work of developers. Check out Sarah Suzanka's series about not-so-big houses. If you put that kind of thought into creating a home that nourishes and supports your daily activities, I guarantee you that it will age well.