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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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House Parts We Love – Granite Steps, Granite Posts and More

The latest installment of House Parts We Love is all about granite – and I’m not talking about shiny granite counters – which I know many people, but not me, love. No, I’m talking about old granite – granite steps, granite hitching posts, granite foundations, even granite houses and buildings.

Vintage granite steps in Cambridge

Vintage granite steps in Cambridge

In the 1800s granite was quarried in many New England towns.  In Massachusetts, Rockport, Braintree, Quincy, Chelmsford, Tyngsborough, and Westford were among the towns with granite quarries. 

I wish I could remember the Massachusetts town I visited several years ago while showing real estate that had a wealth of granite house parts.  There was an inordinate amount of granite steps, walls, foundations, posts, curbs – everywhere I looked I saw granite.  It turned out that the town had a quarry many years ago and I think some of what I was seeing were houses and yards that had been embellished by quarry workers.

Many public or commercial buildings in Boston were built of granite including the Custom House, buildings at the Charlestown Navy Yard, and parts of Mass General Hospital.  For years, several granite houses along the main street in Marlborough, New Hampshire have been among my favorites.

Around Cambridge, Arlington and Somerville you can often spot old granite.  Older buildings, usually from the early 1800s, may have granite foundations.  In mid-Cambridge many of the houses have very beautiful granite steps like those pictured above. The slide show below includes an old granite post I spotted in Cambridgeport, and a wonderful granite and iron fence in Arlington Center. 

There’s something very appealing about old, weather worn granite.  Nowadays it’s possible to purchase reclaimed old granite to use for fence posts or entry steps or what have you. 

Here are photographs of my granite favorites from Cambridge and Arlington. Click on the triangle to view the photos:

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READ – Cambridge Bumper Sticker

I love bumper stickers! If I wasn’t a real estate agent my temptation would be to cover my car with them – if only to cover up the scars and nicks on my bumper that result from the game of bumper cars that’s played on Cambridge streets.  But bumper stickers are good for more than camouflage – they allow us to put a bit of our selves out there for all to see, to take a stance, make a proclamation.

In Cambridge the messages proclaimed on bumpers are varied and fascinating.  While I’m out on Cambridge real estate tours or just out taking photographs (my new pursuit launched in an effort to spice up these pages) I can’t help but snap pictures of some of the bumper stickers I come across. So began the Bumper Sticker Seen Around Cambridge collection.

READ bumper sticker spotted in Cambridgeport

READ bumper sticker spotted in Cambridgeport

Reading happens to be one of my lifelong loves so I was tickled to spot this bumper sticker.  Actually do you call these bumper stickers?  These oval stickers, often with inscrutable acronyms, are a subset of sorts of traditional bumperstickers.

Like my last featured Don’t Litter bumpersticker this “READ” bumpersticker isn’t quite what it appears – or rather more than it appears.  I chuckled when I noticed that it was on the truck of a painter with the last name Read.  It was fun – and good marketing – since weeks later I still remembered his name despite my inability to remember names on most occasions.

And in the marvelous, serendipitous way of the internet I was able to find Nicholas Read’s painting website online.  As luck would have it he does oil portraits of houses – and pets too.  His website is really worth checking out – his work is beautiful and has a fun local angle as well.  Read showcases some of his paintings of Cambridge and Somerville houses on his site.  It’s a tough call – when I save up my money – do I get a painting of my house or of Champ my cat?

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Decoding Massachusetts License Plates

Decoding Massachusetts License Plates  Here’s a bit of mindless fun that just might come in handy someday – if only to keep the kids (of any age!) occupied during road trips.

This license plate sign for a Cambridgeport insurance agency is a long time favorite of mine.

This license plate sign for a Cambridgeport insurance agency is a long time favorite of mine.

One of the other real estate agents in my office turned me on to this trick.  We had both always been under the impression that the police were reading those little sticker tags on license plates to determine if a car had an expired registration.  There’s actually a better way – a method to the madness of the seemingly random string of digits and letters on Massachusetts license plates.

It turns out that the last digit on your automobile license plate – wherever it falls in the six character string – corresponds with the month that your registration expires.  Granted you may be off track because you reregistered late one year but this works for the original registration month which I think is typically your birthday month.

Here’s an example – If your license plate reads “F98 HEV” your registration expires in August – the 8th month – and the upper left corner of your plate will say “AUG”.

Or your plate might read “JK3 M92” – you have a plate that expires in February– and sure enough there’ll be “FEB” in the upper left corner of your license plates.

It doesn’t matter where in the string the number falls – just that it’s the last number.  There could be just one number followed by five letters (theoretically – I really don’t know the meaning, if any, of the letters) and that one number – which is both the first number and the last – would match the month.

Once you start checking on this as you drive or walk down the street it’s hard to stop.  Trust me – it’s not easy to do while you’re at the wheel unless you’re stuck in traffic.  But it does become almost irresistible. Anywhere there are cars you can play the game.

A few caveats – the system seems to have been put in place with the launch of the license plates with red lettering.  The old green plates that are being nursed along by their owners don’t follow this pattern.  Neither do vanity plates or the highly coveted low number license plates.

A hole in my understanding of the code is the method used for November and December birthdays.  I’m still assuming that registrations typically correspond with your birthday month. The code works for the first through tenth months – January through October. October license plates have a zero as the last digit.

But what about November and December?  My “research” reminded me that all commercial plates expire in December. I have a vague memory of learning this one year when I went to the registry in December for some reason (I’m a January myself) and the long lines were all commercial registration renewals.  The commercial plates all have “DEC” in the upper left corner but no corresponding number pattern that I’ve discerned.  And for the life of me I couldn’t find any “NOV” plates.  I’m still looking.

If you have a November or December birthday and can fill me in let me know.  Until then I’ll keep looking.

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Decoding Massachusetts license plates is my hobby.  My work – and my passion – is selling real estate in Cambridge and nearby.  Let me know if I can help.

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The Saltbox Architectural Style – Houses in Cambridge and Arlington

The Saltbox – Architectural Styles in Cambridge.  The saltbox is a quintessentially New England house style.   Usually formed when a lean-to was added to a one-and-a-half or two-story house, the saltbox features a short high roof on the front of the house and a pitched roof that slopes to a one-story height at the back of the house.  Saltboxes usually have a large central chimney.  The name comes from the house’s resemblance to the early American wood box with a hinged sloped lid that was used to store salt.  The style dates from the 1600s through the early 1800s and remains popular today.   Reproduction saltbox houses – and surviving originals – can be found all over New England.

A Cambridge Saltbox - the Cooper-Frost-Austin House

A Cambridge Saltbox - the Cooper-Frost-Austin House

Saltbox Houses in Cambridge and Arlington

Though one would imagine the saltbox was a common style at one point in Cambridge’s history the only early example I am aware of in Cambridge is the Cooper-Frost-Austin House on Linnaean Street.  This is the oldest house in Cambridge with the earliest part of the home dating from 1681.  The house is now owned by Historic New England (formerly SPNEA, the Society for Preservation of New England Antiquities) and will next be open to the public on August 9, 2009 from noon to 4 pm.

With its prominent location and the spacious (by city standards!) side yard, the Cooper-Frost-Austin house provides a very visible example of the saltbox style.  The trademark sloping roofline is best viewed from the corner of Agassiz and Linnaean Streets.

The Jefferson Cutter house in Arlington is a saltbox. See the side view in the slide show below.

The Jefferson Cutter house in Arlington is a saltbox. To see the saltbox side take a look at the slide show below.

In an even more prominent location, the  Jefferson Cutter  house in Arlington Center provides another unimpeded view of a saltbox’s distinctive roof line. On Mass Ave and across from the bikepath entrance on Route 60, the house, built about 1830, was moved it’s current location in 1989. It is now home to the Cyrus E. Dallin Art Musuem.  Dallin was a sculptor who lived in Arlington from 1900 until his death in 1944.  The location of the Jefferson Cutter house, set back in Whittemore Park, provides views of all sides of this saltbox style house.  It is possible to easily view the back of the house where you’ll see that the back facade looks very much like a Cape.

 

Do you know of any local saltboxes – old or new?  Let me know if you do.

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Front Entry Benches – House Parts We Love

Massachusetts house with benches flanking the front entry

Massachusetts house with benches flanking the front entry

One of my very favorite house features are the built-in benches you sometimes see flanking a house’s front entrance.  When I lived in New Haven Connecticut I used to walk each evening through the very beautiful neighborhood where I was renting.  Many of the large, handsome homes (they were gorgeous – I have two photo albums of the houses I passed on my walk. Some people have photos of friends, family or vacations – me? I have photos of my favorite houses.) had these benches outside the front door.  I’ve found some in Cambridge but, unlike New Haven, Cambridge isn’t a hotbed of front entry benches.

The photo above is actually of a house in Newton Massachusetts that I took while attending the Newton House Tour recently.  Newton is filled with absolutely lovely houses – so I took lots of pictures of course!

More House Parts We Love:

House Numbers Don’t Have to be Boring

Decorative Metal Doorknobs

Cutout Shutters Add Instant Charm

Arlington Porches with Curved Balusters

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As a busy Cambridge real estate agent I get to see a lot of houses.  I’ve taken to carrying my camera with me so when I spot a beautiful stained glass window, a rose covered arbor, a handsome set of granite steps – I snap a photo.  Check back often as I continue to share my favorite house parts.  And if you’ve got house parts you love – tell us about them!

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Comments: Please leave a comment. Your opinions welcomed.

Porch Railings With Curved Balusters – House Parts We Love

Arlington Multi-Family House with Curved Porch Balusters

Arlington Multi-Family House with Curved Porch Balusters

Some people look at the whole – others are taken in by the parts.  With houses there are all sorts of unique, charming or unusual details that attract me.  Don’t ask me why but I really love curved porch balusters.  I don’t see them all that often but for some reason there are a number of houses with curved balusters lining the porches in Arlington near the Capitol Theatre on Mass Avenue and the nearby side streets. 

The Arlington houses are two-families built, I would guess, around 1910 or so.  Often there are front porches on the first and second level. The curved balusters lines the porches on both floors. I just love the look and have coveted those multi-families for years. The Capitol is a super movie theater and the surrounding neighborhood with its leafy streets lined with handsome houses is a very popular location for Arlington real estate buyers.

I don’t know anything about the history of these houses – perhaps one builder – who really liked porch railings with curved balusters too – built all of them.  If I find out more info I’ll add it here or if by chance you know something about these houses please let me know.

SEARCH FOR ARLINGTON REAL ESTATE

More House Parts We Love:

House Numbers Don’t Have to be Boring

Decorative Metal Doorknobs

Cutout Shutters Add Instant Charm

*****

Porch railings with curved balusters are just one of the many features to love about houses in our area. As a real estate agent I’m always on the lookout – with camera in hand – for the special parts of houses that catch the eye  and make you say – that’s the one! That’s my house!

 

 

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Wisteria on Cambridge Street

wisteria-on-greek-revival-cambridge-st1

Every spring I look forward to this gorgeous display on Cambridge Street near Harvard Square in Cambridge – the wisteria draped porch on this Greek Revival

One of two matching large Greek Revivals built in 1845, this house like its twin, was built as two townhouses or “connected dwellings” as it was called when they were built.  Nowadays we Cambridge real estate agents call it an “attached single family”.  Both are quintessential Greek Revivals with the porch lined with Doric columns, the floor to ceiling windows on the first floor, and the sidelights flanking the front door.

One of these townhouses sold for $1,550,000 in 2008.  It was renovated and had four bedrooms and 3.5 baths.  What a lovely sight to come home to!

greek-revival-cambridge-st-wisteria

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