Royal Barry Wills and the Great American CapeJuly 16th, 2012 | Posted by in Uncategorized
The architecture and style of Royal Barry Wills and its impact on real estate and housing trends in modern America is with out peer. Wills career and impact spanned the mid section of the twentieth Century starting in the 1920’s boom years and running into the early 1960’s. Housing trend varied widely through-out that time period due to economic and social changes all too numerous to mention through out those years but the clean simple lines of Wills designs and his focus on the traditional Cape style home and its flexible and elegant design are both consistent and unique.
Cape style home take their name from the Cape Code region ofMassachusettswhere these dynamic little homes first appeared as such in our country. Capes first appeared in the seventeenth century and where vaguely patterned after English farm houses but with several modification that make the quite different. Capes were and are built with low profiles which early settlers learned by experience was the best way to reduce wind damage in Cape Cod’s windy weather, much lower than a traditional English farm house. Capes while typically built with a post and beam construction like an English Farm House but were built with the timbers inside protective clapboard siding rather than with exposed beams and wattle & dub or stucco walls as in England. This is due again primarily as a result of the significant weather differences between New England and Old England. Early settlers realized immediately that their homes would both last longer and be much warmer in winter if they enclosed the structure in subsiding and clapboard. (It is interesting to note how practical early builders of Capes were in New England. Older Capes subsiding is typically straight cut lumber where you can see that the tree was not squared up but simply sliced and laid in courses reversing the direction with each board so they fit together.) The clapboard exteriors provide greater insulation than the solid stucco walls of English farm houses because of the dead air space between the exterior clapboard and subsiding and the interior split lath and plaster. (Split-lath is typically made from a sheet of walnut that is nailed and split into a “Z” pattern with plaster laid over it.) The bottom of interior walls typically had wainscoting installed to provide yet one more layer of insulation at the bottom against the often heavy winter snows.
Royal Barry Wills began his architectural career in Boston providing advice and writing newspaper columns in the Boston papers. Wills saw the efficiency and flexibility of the Cape design at that time which had long fallen out of favor with Americans as the style was viewed as an “old fashioned farmer’s house”. Wills changed this by completing designs that incorporated modern features and designs that were both modern and creative. His signature on a design was typically a large center chimney that raises the eye up and to the center of what might otherwise appear to be a rather low lying building. By adding box dormers to the front he was able to visually crenelate and break the roof line while adding light to the interior second floor rooms and by adding shed dormers to the back he was able to use the second floor space in a much more comfortable way for modern living and furniture. Hyphenating additions and garages with breezeways was another typical design technique that we take for granted today that was a Wills creation as well as his use of telescoping designs that used one or two apparent additions of increasingly smaller capes across the front that allowed the building to add space while not adding to proportions or building mass.
The great American Cape as we know it today is largely a gift of Royal Barry Wills efforts to create visually appealing housing designs that are both creative and inexpensive to build that allow well proportioned interior space that draw upon traditional American home designs.
By Dick Thackston CRB, ABR, ABRM
Broker NH, MA & VT