The Great American House

The Great American House

A guide to restoring classic older American homes while retaining their character.


When it comes to restoring an older home, the challenge is to retain the home’s natural classical appearance while making it a comfortable place for people to live in the present. Blending a home’s historical character with the modern lifestyle is not easy. The goal of Gil Schafer‘s The Great American House is to teach readers how to do this, or more specifically, the author’s take on how to do it.

One area in which older home-design often conflicts with modern needs is in the area of kitchens. The author points out that houses used to be built with tiny kitchens but immense living-rooms because kitchens were solely for the servants. Servant-less modern homeowners, however, may want more spacious kitchens but without losing any of the home’s historical charm.

Author Schafer is an architect with a love of older homes. He states this in his introduction to the book and points out that his love for older homes was started in his childhood. Schafer‘s childhood allowed him to view multiple home-designs and helped to forge his tastes in architecture as an adult. He stated that it was in his childhood that learned the value of such aspects of a house as landscaping and interior decoration.

Schafer covers the elements that make for a great house, these include an update that melds perfectly with the home’s character. The author describes work that his firm has done such as utilizing outdated parts of a home like servants’ quarters and eliminating dining rooms to make for larger living rooms. He has used both long passageways (“enfilades”) and stairways to remove the disconnect between the formal front parts of a house and the informal back areas.

Overall, the book is a guide for those with larger, older homes to renovate them for modern use; it comes with lots of photographs to provide inspiration.