My very first experience with fantastical architecture had to be from fairy tales. I used to get lost in the illustrations rather than the stories themselves. Fairy tales illustrations must have played such an influential role in furthering kids’ imagination and fueling their dream state. Never underestimate the power of fairy tales in an architect’s earliest education- at least, for me, they meant a whole new world of possibilities in a realm of magical environments.
Fairy tales have their shares of distinct buildings and building types. The grandest that comes to mind is Sleeping Beauty’s castle and thanks to Disneyland, Neuschwanstein Castle became the prototype where Prince Charming awoke his slumbering intended.
The tallest would be Rapunzel’s tower accented by a cascade of golden hair. We found the most eccentric building in the Shoe House and the cutest in the Hobbit’s house. Then there were vague descriptions of houses of witches, dwarves, and such delightful characters as the Red Riding Hood’s Grandma and a Mad Hatter. The most edible prize went to the ginger bread house in Hansel and Gretel. The most described interior fell onto the three Bears home in Goldilocks.
Real houses that were inspired by fairy tales could take from a most literal adaptation to a conceptual embrace of everything cute and whimsical. Small cottages sometimes fell into the category of story book houses just by being too adorable that they could only have come from a fairy tale.
I found the least successful of fairy tale houses in the small castle. One just couldn’t resolve the dichotomy of a castle look being imposed on small diminutive and humble abodes. To take on a castle look, one must start with a sizable mansion to pull it off. The common language for this type sports the obligatory tower, the undulating crennelation and the constant stone facing.
The ginger bread house could be seen in Victorian houses where lots of fretworks and fancy trims were used. On the other hand gingerbread houses as in Hansel and Gretel’s were quite different than their Victorian offsprings.
The Shoe House had to be the most whimsical with the shoe shape being quite literal.
The Hobbit house made popular by the Lord of the Rings films were delineated quite well in the movies. The common features were round doors under a bermed roof.
Other less described fairy tales houses were put into the category of tiny whimsical story book houses. This was where we could apply all kinds of design exercise and juggling of architectural elements to create the cutest story book houses.
Roof design was the most critical element for a story book house since from there, the shapes were determined and cuteness ensued.
The steep roofs, reminiscent of a witch’s hat, required no effort as they in themselves were quite spectacular.
Thatched roofs with curling and hugging eaves evoked the old cottage feel. It was too bad they were not your Class A fire resistant kind of roof but they certainly exuded comfort and coziness.
Curving shingled or shake roofs were excellent substitution for the fire prevention conscious dwellers. Dreamy after all didn’t have to be impractical!
Then there were roofs that were comical and unique. In the world of fairy tales, all shapes were allowed!
Next to roof shapes were the half timbered details. They took on from the simplest shapes to the most undulating curves.
Doors were important as they hinted of a world of witchcraft, dwarf living or that of a lost princess playing homemaker beyond their threshold.
It would be remiss if stonework of the most uneven kind were absent. One found them on low wall, chimney or entire walls.
The turret – A remnant from castle architecture but also a result of romantic occurrences made that much more dramatic when happening in a remote tower or highly perched turret.
Dormer galore. No story book house was complete without the obligatory dormer. It went with the low plate height and attic rooms more suitable for step daughters and poor relations.
The success in a convincing story book house came from morphing and melding so many shapes into a lump of a house. From the look of the exterior, one pondered what small creature lived in those cramped rooms and low ceiling spaces.
Then there were those small ordinary cottages. Their small sizes just screamed story book because who else but dainty maidens and sweet old grandmas could live there happily – even if they eventually moved to castles to settle happily ever after?
And now that story book houses are quite a thing of the past, and that no homeowner would want to build a new story book house because it wouldn’t do to have low ceilings and tight spaces when mcmansions are de rigueur, one can always go back to those books and dream away…
The tower with the golden “rope”.