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As a Cambridge real estate agent, the city squares of Cambridge, Somerville and Medford and the town centers of Arlington, Watertown and Belmont, Massachusetts are my home turf. And as a lifelong New Englander who’s lived within twenty miles of Boston most of my life, I can introduce you to other nearby towns as we search for your new home. If you’re planning to sell your home in Cambridge, MA or nearby you’ll find plenty of info about the home selling process here too. Questions? Send me an email or call me at 617-504-1737.

Architect Royal Barry Wills in Cambridge

 

Houses for Good Living by Royal Barry Wills

Houses for Good Living by Royal Barry Wills

Royal Barry Wills has been one of my favorite architects since I was a child.  His historically accurate reproduction Capes, Saltboxes and Colonials warm my heart.

Growing up, my parents had a couple of his books – Houses for Good Living and More Houses for Good Living.  I would pore over these books – the classic New England houses pictured inside were my favorite house styles.

One day when I was about 10 or 11 we went for a family drive.  I’m not sure where we were – maybe Weston, or Wellesley or some nearby town – when I yelled “Stop the car!”  Down a long driveway I had spotted a Royal Barry Wills house I recognized from one of the books. Sure enough – when we arrived back home I leafed through the book and there it was.

Royal Barry Wills Architecture

Royal Barry Wills understood that it was the details that made the difference – that made a newly built Cape look like it was built in 1760, not 1960.  Some of those details he got right included:

  • Large central chimney
  • Correct pitch of the roof
  • Graduated clapboards
  • Windows with 24 to 36 individual lights (panes)
  • Clapboards set close to the ground

We are fortunate in Massachusetts that Royal Barry Wills is a native son.  Wills grew up in Melrose, attended MIT in Cambridge, and established his practice in Boston where he worked until his death in 1962.  There are houses designed by Royal Barry Wills in many Massachusetts towns.

Royal Barry Wills in Cambridge

There are two Royal Barry Wills houses in Cambridge that I know of but I was disappointed when I set out in search of them.

20 Coolidge Avenue is undoubtedly a beautiful house but it’s almost impossible to see from the street with a high fence and a garage blocking the view.  There are lovely interior photographs and a floor plan of the house in More Houses for Good Living.

Royal Barry Wills House in Cambridge MA

Royal Barry Wills House in Cambridge MA

I was really sad when I walked by 19 Old Dee Road, a handsome Garrison Colonial that Wills designed in 1940. It’s a classic house with its massive corbeled chimney and large decorative pendants at the overhang ends.  The house is undergoing renovation however- the windows have been replaced (ugh!) and French doors installed to the right of the front door (double ugh!).  While I’m sure the refurbished interior will make somebody very happy for a traditionalist the house’s current state was a disappointment.

In Search of Royal Barry Wills

It’s not easy to locate Royal Barry Wills houses from his books (despite my luck as a ten year old!) since houses are often identified only by owners’ names.  Houses by Wills are regularly noted in real estate listings though sometimes I think agents use his name almost as a generic term when describing a classic New England style house.

I’m always interested in seeing more of these picture perfect houses.  Do you have any Royal Barry Wills favorites in your town?  Let me know!

SEARCH FOR ROYAL BARRY WILLS HOUSES FOR SALE

 

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  1. Joanne Roy

    I grew up in a Royal Barry Wills Cape. I loved that it! I currently live down the street from it and believe the house behind mine is a one, as well. I live in Holden, MA.

  2. Martha

    I noticed a few in Augusta, Maine & Yarmouth, Maine when I lived in those 2 communities. Particularly, in Yarmouth, the Royal Barry Wills gambrel was built in 2 (known) locations & were well kept in their original design…..one of which sold a few yrs ago, priced in the $600,000 price range. If one drives between Yarmouth & Falmouth (Maine) on Rte 88, there may be others!

  3. Elizabeth Bolton

    Hi Joanne ~ I started to pull together a list of all the Royal Barry Wills house addresses I could find that had been on the market. Looking at all the photos of the houses – inside and out -really makes you appreciate how charming they are. What a treat to grow up in one! The quality of the detail, and all the charming features (there’s that word again!) is just what I love in a house.

    Hi Martha ~ They’re such fun to find. It seems he was an influence on other architects and builders because in some neighborhoods you can find a number of houses that were built that really pay homage to the originals. I figured out how to get a search to show with all the Royal Barry Wills houses on the market – you can click on it above. When you see a lot of them toghether you really start to appreciate the RBW characteristics.

    Liz

  4. Charles Grunder

    I came by this site mostly by chance and have enjoyed reading the various comments and other materials regarding RBW designs. Martha is right, there are quite a few of his houses along Rt. 88 north of Portland, Maine in the towns of Falmouth Foreside, Cumberland Foreside, and Yarmouth. There are several more just south of Portland, especially in Cape Elizabeth. I live in the midcoast area and have often admired an example in Camden of the home featured on page 101 of “Living on the Level.” There are actually a lot of RBW designs in Maine which probably shouldn’t be too surprising since there is RBW office in Newcastle. There is also at least one builder up here who has specialized in faithful reproductions of these designs. Thanks for an interesting site and dialog!

  5. Elizabeth Bolton

    Hi Charles ~ I think it was the holidays that caused me to miss this when you posted it. Thanks so much for the info about Royal Barry Wills houses in Maine. I’ll have to add Living On One Level to my book wishlist and check out the house you mentioned. And I’ll certainly keep my eyes peeled when I’m up by Portland. I make it a point to try to see any RBW houses that are on the market and they’re such a treat – it’s one of my favorite periods of home building and the details are just super. If you scroll through the pictures of the houses that are for sale you really get a sense of how charming they are.

    Liz

  6. jim c

    in the mid 1930’s a storm off the maine coast brought down a large number of cedar trees creating a fire hazard. walpole woodworkers inc. in walpole, massachusetts hired mr wills to design a cedar shed that could be mass produced to utilize this resource and they still produce the same design. the cedar from this era was old growth and high quality and many of these sheds still exist in the boston area today.

  7. Elizabeth Bolton

    What an interesting story Jim! It wasn’t the Hurricane of ’38 was it? Now I’ll have to look through my Walpole Woodworkers catalog and be on the lookout for RBW sheds. Thanks for sharing this.

    Liz

  8. jlennon

    Very interesting chat here! I googled Royal Barry wWills because I am interested in finding copies of Houses have Funny Bones copy right,1951 the Bond Wheelwright company. I want to give each of our children a copy. Their grandfather was Mr. Wills’ right hand man, Tony Laugelle. Mr. Wills “found” Tony in Cohasset,where he built numerous homes. They worked together until
    Mr. Wills’ death. Tony continued working for Mrs. Wills and sons Charlie,a developer, and Dick, an architect. Mr. Wills relied on Tony to provide every subcontractor from framing to painting. When I was lucky enough to marry into Tony’s
    family in 1971, I began to hear great stories of the homes they built in Cohasset and many in Boxford and Lynnfield, a few in fact,were for Boston Bruins.
    When my wife and I built our first home, right after the blizzard of 78, Tony was the building super with a Wills plan.
    I could ramble on but really should get back to the issue of finding copies of the aforementioned Houses have Funnybones.
    Who wouldn’t want his children have a copy of a book where their grandfather was described this way; ” So he joined us,’twere inexact to say we hired him, with the familiar eight to five implication, for he seemed more like a family retainer. He made our problems his problems, was not only our expert gardener but served as butler, chauffeur, handyman; was plasterer, cement mixer, carpenter, painter and friend.”

  9. Maggie's Farm

    Architect du Jour: Royal Barry Wills…

    If you live in a Royal Barry Wills (1895-1962) house in New England, you are lucky.
    Wills was a Boston architect who specialized in accurate reproductions of Capes, Saltboxes, and Colonial houses – the sorts of homes which might be bungalow…

  10. Dan Kiley

    I own a custom built WBW’s colonial in Haverhill. It is a beautifully designed home with lots of charm. I was talking to the son of the original owner and he told me his mother had a disagreement with RBW on a second chimney that she did not want.It would have balanced the house and given it a georgian look. RBW took it out and told her he would not put the house in his book and he didn’t. The house was built in 1949.

  11. Martha

    Liz:
    Thank you for this website! Having one for finding RBW’s houses is great! Is there a way to modify the search by state for RBW homes for sale? Also, not having one of his books of house plans, I cannot locate a house plan that has a gambrel front with an exterior saltbox roof on the back of the house. There is one such house on the corner of Main St in Wethersfield, CT. It may possibly be a small replica, but am not sure. If you come across such a house plan, please let me know. Your website is great!

  12. David

    We just put an offer on a beautiful Royal Barry Wills cape (circa 1950) in Nashua, NH, big chimney and all. Unfortunately it hasn’t been kept up very well and there is some water damage, but we hope to restore what we can. Our biggest concern is reviving some of the kitchen and bathroom fixtures, appliances and hardware – we may not be able to find suitable parts or replacements.

  13. Carol

    We have a RBW cape built in 1949 in Westwood. We have the large chimney which seems to be covered with lathe and plaster and painted white with the black band at the top. It it peeling. Does anyone know a Boston area contractor who could repair it? thanks

  14. Ginger

    I live in a Royal Barry Mills cape in Niskayuna New York (almost the exact replica of the cover of his book). I fell in love with this house the moment i saw it’s listing when i moved from DC a few years back. I bought it the day I saw it. The house is filled with beautiful built in bookshelves, and amazing windows. I am in the process of trying to find someone to replace or repair the windows. Does anyone have any suggestions? Thanks.

  15. jo

    Hi! Found your site quite by accident and was so excited. We have lived in a 1947 Royal Barry Wills cape in Holden, MA for the past nine years. I would love to find out a little about the history of my home but I don’t know how to go about it. Any suggestions? We are doing some remodeling and would like to keep it as close to the original as possible. Thanks.

  16. Chris Wilson

    Hey a fellow real estate professional (in NYC) and Royal Barry Wills fan here. I too became aware of his work while growing up in the Boston area, and summering on the Cape. My dream is to find a small one near the water to retire to some day. By creating a showcase for RBW homes for sale, you’ve made my search so much easier!
    Very encouraging to read posts from RBW homeowners who are aware of what they have and seek to preserve it. While the Cambridge house you feature may be the most egregious example, many of the homes for sale seem to have been insensitively, or perhaps just over-renovated. The more intact, the closer to original condition the better, for me!

  17. James Paker

    My father, Nicholas L. Parker was an Architect that worked at the Royal Barry Wills firm the 60’s through the late 80’s. I too grew up reading all the RBW books and my brother and sisters and I used to take turns periodically tagging along with my father when we were kids while he inspected homes he designed during construction. I enjoyed reading the comments above and it brought back a lot of great memories of my Father.

  18. Rochelle S.

    We live in a wonderful Royal Barry Wills home in Sharon ( one of two in the town). We were fortunate to have the Royal Barry Wills firm design our breezeway addition and kitchen remodel. The firm was wonderful and both remodels are so in keeping with the original house that most individuals do not realize they are additions.Our contractor specializes in older homes. He and his crew took great pains to match floorboards and trim. These homes are so special- details and warmth abound!

  19. Matt

    My aunt lives in a center hall cape built in the late 1950s in Upstate New York. Others in the family had always admired the house for quality of design and construction. There is very little evidence of the era it was built in – save for the kitchen and bathrooms. The details – such as the federal mouldings, pegged wood floors, carriage-style garage door, and cedar roof – combined with a thoroughly replicative colonial exterior, makes the house stand out against the other homes built in the neighborhood. Recently, I learned about Royal Barry Wills, and I immediately made the connection. Is there any way to confirm or correlate houses with the original Royal Barry Wills plans? My aunt and uncle have always taken pride in maintaining the house with the original owner/builder’s intentions – I think they would appreciate to know if it was part of this movement.

  20. Eleanor Abbott Pierson

    I grew up in a Royal Barry Wills house which was built for my parents as a wedding present in about 1930. It was built for Mr. Robert Abbott in Winchester, Mass. at 75 Arlington St.They raised three children there and we lived there until we all graduated from college.
    About eight years ago the house was bought and the new owners divided it into three parts and moved it to Woburn Mass. where it sits beside a Catholic church the priests of that parish live in it.
    It was a wonderful house and we were all glad that it was not torn down.

  21. Winthrop Smith

    FYI
    My mother is selling her home – perhaps the last house built by Royal Barry Wills (from what we were told by the previous owners).
    The house is a cape. The house is listed by E. J. Murphy Realty in Litchfield CT.

  22. Barbara

    We currently live in a RBW cape in Kingston, MA. Sadly, we’ll be putting it on the market soon — we’ve been here since 1987 and love our house and its charming details!

  23. David Banagis

    I reside in Royal Barry Wills gambrel roofed cape which was built in 1941 in South Weymouth, Mass.. The house has undergone some renovations which were done in a manner which did not detract from it’s Royal Barry Wills architectural core. It has been said that Royal Barry Wills actually supervised the construction of my home, I have been unable to validate the claim, but there is some credence to it since it was featured in a national home magazine in the 40″s or 50’s. I contacted Royal Barry Wills Associates in an attempt to locate a copy of the article, but they were unable to help me.

    I wish you good results in your Royal Barry Wills research. His architectural recreations are a wonderful blend of the old with the new and are a true American treasure.

    Best regards, Dave Banagis.

  24. John McMarlin

    In New Seabury, Mass for Century 21, I recognized a Royal Barry Wills house for sale on realtor.com. It has been badly remodeled but the bones are still there. 169 Gleneagle Drive, (MLS #21101084) I think it is from the late 60s but the ad says it is from 1976 but that is incorrect. I have the house on the cover of a Better Homes & Gardens house plans magazine from a 1969/1970 winter/spring issue that I purchased as a young boy and still have today.

  25. winthrop taxi

    winthrop taxi…

    […]Architect Royal Barry Wills in Cambridge | Centers And Squares[…]…

  26. barb tognoli

    I live in a RBW home in Augusta Me. There are several RBW homes in my neighborhood. I have the original blueprint of the house but it is in pieces. Does anyone know where I can get originals?

  27. Pamela Stowe

    In Auburn Maine there is a fabulous neighborhood designed for and around a couple dozen RBW homes. These homes were built about 1960.

  28. Chance Langton

    I want to buy a RBW cape in Cohasset, Scituate, Hingham, or even further down the south shore of Mass. I think they’re the greatest.

    Chance Langton
    617-328-4471

  29. Bruce Holmes

    I have an original set of RBW’s architectural plans. What are they worth?

  30. Noreen Sullivan

    There is a lovely one in Winchendon, MA that has been on the market for some time. They are now down to $315. It is on 6+ manicured acres. I am not a broker. I live in the town and it is my favorite house! If I could sell my cape on 50 acres I would buy it. The grounds are like a gold course lined with Lilac bushes.

    http://www.isoldmyhouse.com/index/Winchendon-MA/144976

  31. Chance

    I am looking to buy a RBW Cape or Colonial from Hingham, Cohasset, Sctiuate, or further on down on the South Shore of Massachusetts.

  32. Donald Shaw

    We are about to market our RBW cape in Lunenburg, MA. We have lived here for 31 years, raised our family here, and are regretfully at a point in our lives when we must “right-size.” Our house was designed and built by Mr. Wills in the 1930s. It was renovated, and a sizable addition was built-on the original cape in the mid-1960s under the direction of Charles Darling, a local architect who had worked for Mr. Wills. The addition, therefore, incorporated all of the quality, craftsmanship, and charming details of the original structure. With 4 bedrooms, 3 1/2 baths, 3 working fireplaces, and a cathedral ceilinged family room, this 10 room home sits on 3.6 acres in the center of Lunenburg, is a landmark property in the town, and a joy to own and live in. If interested, look for the MLS listing soon.

  33. Valerie

    Found one!

    http://www.zillow.com/homes/for_sale/Easton-MA/56832886_zpid/45065_rid/days_sort/42.113123,-70.956917,41.967276,-71.266251_rect/11_zm/

  34. debbie

    Your window replacement horror story was just repeated in my neighborhood in Lenox, MA. We are carefully (and virtuously!) restoring the original wood 12-over-12 double-hungs from 1962 in our gambrel cape. Also ordering very high quality two-track storms to replace the original aluminum triple tracks. Lots of research, craftsmanship, and (I don’t have the bill yet …) money. Simultaneously our neighbors pulled their windows out and replaced with white vinyl 6-over-6. To my eyes their house looks terrible and has lost value, but that’s really their business. I only regret that I didn’t know they were about to do this. I would GLADLY have purchased windows or parts from more protected areas of their house to replace our most weathered windows. These houses don’t qualify as “historic,” but they certainly have architectural integrity worth preserving.

  35. Elizabeth Bolton

    It’s so sad – when the windows are taken out almost always they’re discarded despite the many years of life in them left.

  36. Natalie Cohen

    My grandmother had a wonderful eye for design. In the 1950’s when she and my grandfather decided to down size from their big victorian on Tower Hill in Lawrence, MA they built a Royal Barry Wills in Andover.
    I always loved my grandmother’s houses. She had a wonderful sense of scale and harmony.
    So it’s really no surprise that I ended up living in a
    Royal Barry Wills cape myself. My house is on a private road in
    Scituate, RI. I’ve been told that this design is called “The Christmas House” We have recently begun to replace windows and have found that Renewal by Andersen has exactly copied our 12 over 12’s. They have given us the look of historic windows that are easier to clean and don’t require ugly & annoying storm windows over them, as they say “you get what you pay for” they aren’t cheap.

  37. Julie Horwood'

    Hi!
    Just came across your site. Are you still out there? My husband and I live in “the Christmas house”. I love showing it off. Let me know if you want pictures.

  38. Martha Wills Rausch

    All you RBW fans should know that RBW’s granddaughter and her husband are architects who continue to operate Royal Barry Wills Associates in Wellesley, Massachusetts. Think of them first when you want to build or renovate your RBW homes!

    http://www.royalbarrywills.com
    email: [email protected]
    318R Washington Street
    Wellesley, MA 02481
    T 617.266.5225

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