This is an object lesson in not judging a book by its cover, writes Julian Holder . The ravishing images, the format, size, and the title all suggest that it is yet another coffee-table offering. It could sell on the strength of Martin Charles' photographs alone.
But the book offers much more. Wendy Hitchmough sets out to recover the 'meaning' of Arts and Crafts houses as they were used, examining the changing social mores of the age that produced them through evidence such as contemporary descriptions, letters, and advice manuals. It is a very specific book rather than the general one its unqualified title proclaims. The text is as enjoyable as the photographs, and the idea - 'to reinstate the client as an animating presence'all too rare. Of the seven chapters each deals with a different aspect, or room, in the house - from hallway to kitchen.
Perhaps the author sets herself too many goals along the way, while anecdotal evidence, rather than a more rigorous relationship of documentary sources and houses, is preferred.
Given the individuality of Arts and Crafts architecture, attempting to generalise from a very small sample (Standen, Glessner, Gamble, The Homestead) about all houses of the Arts and Crafts movement is highly questionable. So too is the applicability of household advice manuals to houses which, being grand holiday homes, were anything but the norm.
The re-creation of the meaning of room-use is a historical minefield. Despite methodological shortcomings, Hitchmough should be congratulated for this stimulating general introduction to the topic. We need studies like this for a fuller social history of architecture, but we need them to press home their argument more.
Julian Holder is co-ordinator of the Scottish Centre for Conservation Studies at Edinburgh College of Art