Vancouver’s architecture is often difficult to distinguish as many of its homes are adaptations or amalgamations of more recognized styles. By cataloguing them, we gain an understanding of our homes and neighbourhoods, which gives us all a sense of pride in our city. With this is mind, the Vancouver Heritage Foundation provides Scout with an exclusive series that we call The Roof Over Your Head.
In North America, the period following World War I was a time of cozy, entrenched traditionalism. The “new” domestic architecture of the 1920’s-30’s unfolded at the height of the influence of the Hollywood movies, which had always depicted the exotic, the rare and the distant. This also led to widespread acceptance of the exotic and the picturesque.
As the economy improved after the War, more people had an appetite for a sophisticated approach to the picturesque. Bungalows were reinvented with whimsical elements such as Tudor half-timbering and multi-paned windows. Characterized by steeply-pitched gables and gothic-arched windows, the Storybook style is inspired by historical motifs but embellished with romantic elements.
The massing of Storybook houses is nearly always asymmetrical, with striking character-defining rooflines which are usually tall, and steeply gable. Everything from the clipped edge ‘jerkinhead’ roofs, to ‘Dutchweave’ eaves found on ‘Hansel and Gretel’ cottages, to the French Norman influence of turrets can be found on the Storybook home. Many Storybook houses adapted a one and a half storey massing to reinforce the doll-house look, with the roof hovering close to the ground.
The front entry is often arched and outlined with brick or stone. Pointed, rounded or shallow arched windows are common. Other windows are deep-set with leaded muntin-barred windows, dressed with shutters and window boxes. Side yard gates were often attached to the front plane of the house reinforcing the asymmetrical “cats-slide” roofline (where one side of a pitched roof angles towards the ground in a sweeping curve).
Storybook homes in Vancouver are few and far between now. Their whimsical styling was only popular for a few years and many were demolished, with a few notable exceptions. The homes lovingly referred to as the “Hobbit House” on King Edward and 3979 W Broadway are obvious starting places (both were designed by Brenton T. Lea.). However these character homes can also be found in Dunbar and around Point Grey.
Vancouver Heritage Foundation is a registered charity supporting the conservation of heritage buildings and structures in recognition of their contribution to the city’s economy, sustainability and culture. VHF supports Vancouver’s built history by offering educational tours, talks and lectures, courses, and special events. Launched early in 2013, the Vancouver House Styles Architectural Web Tool is a free online reference cataloguing Vancouver’s common architectural styles.