Sarah reads house books

Book review: Ten Famous Houses in Fiction

I finally found it. I have been looking for this book for about 20 years. And I finally found it on!!!! Thank you to the Gods of Amazon, because this is THE book I have been wanting to hold in my hands since I was about 14 years old.

Yes, I first signed this book out from the little community library where I grew up in Canada about 20 years ago. I read it cover-to-cover and enjoyed it so much, I signed it out again and again. In fact, when the library “retired” the book, my name was the only name on the card (so I’m told). I had not seen hide nor hair of the book since.

Until now!

I hold in my hands the most insanely entertaining book that a house/art/literature lover could ever dream of!

Literary Houses

Literary Houses: Ten Famous Houses in Fiction (1982) is a book written by Jamaican/Canadian/Englishwoman Rosalind Ashe (a pseudonym for Rosaline Dale-Harris) and illustrated by a collection of talented artists.

As the title suggests, ten houses from classic literary works are profiled and illustrated in great detail – complete with imagined floor plans!

True house nerds will share my enthusiasm about this book; everyone else will be like, um, what?

So for those who enjoy pouring over fictional floor plans and being lost in the pages of Victorian era novels, read on.

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Book review: Creating The Artful Home – The Aesthetic Movement

The greatest achievement of the Aesthetic Movement in America was the home, especially the middle class home.

from: Creating The Artful Home: The Aesthteic Movement (p. 155)

As the overwhelmed owner of an old house, I often wonder how I am supposed to decorate my house in the era of glossy shelter magazines and designer house shows. All the images I see compel me to keep up with the latest trends, but I also want to be true to my old house’s identity – and my own artistic whims.

My house was built in sometime between 1874-1882. That places it squarely in the time period of the Aesthetic Movement.

What is the Aesthetic Movement?

I had heard of it before, but never really knew much about it until I read Karen Zukowski’s book: Creating The Artful Home: The Aesthetic Movement. (2006 – Gibbs Smith, Publisher)

One of the most influential decorating, design and artistic movements in history was the Aesthetic Movement. Creating The Artful Home takes the reader on a comprehensive tour of the Aesthetic Movement from its early roots in the 1850’s to its applications for modern home design and decor.

For people who love researching and looking at authentic historic interiors from the late 1800’s, this is a ‘must read’ and a ‘must-keep-on-your-bookshelf-for-future-reference’ book.

Creating The Artful Home – the Aesthetic Movement is of the highest quality in design, production, writing and photography.

The author is clearly fluent in and passionate about her subject matter. Karen Zukowski is literally an expert on the Aesthetic Movement; she is a faculty member in the Museum Studies Department of New York University and in the Cooper Hewit/Parsons MA program in the History of Decorative Arts and Design. She is also a consultant for several historic house museums.

This book is no light summer read-at-the-beach. Rather, it is a meticulous study of the Aesthetic Movement from its evolution to its decline and how we can see modern interpretations in today’s art and architecture.

I found reading this book was like taking a university course on the Aesthetic Movement. As a reader, I became extremely focused and immersed in the minutia, the language of art history, and the design intricacies of the Aesthetic Movement – a decadent era when it was believed that “beauty could elevate the soul” (p. 20)

I stayed up late at night reading this book; I took notes, I looked up words, I studied the pictures very carefully. Apart from enjoying the book and it’s subject matter of “art for art’s sake” I also feel I learned a few things about history, art and architecture – my three favorite topics.

A few things about this book that stood out to me:

1) The author explores how women, in particular, were involved in the Aesthetic Movement and also, how social class standing played into the movement.

2) The author emphasizes the Aesthetic Movement’s interconnectedness and interdependence with architecture and the decorative arts.

3) And lest the reader should become overwhelmed by the scholarly language or historical references, the author makes the book more accessible by introducing an imaginary every-woman character, “Mrs. Kenner”, who walks with us through her 1880’s life experiencing, learning about, and living the Aesthetic Movement.

Much to my delight, we even go house-hunting for a Queen Anne with Mrs. Kenner!

The book goes into great detail about period glasswork, textile design, furniture, millwork, tilework, etc. Almost every page in the book features some type of visual aid including photographs, historic paintings, trade cards, wallpaper samples and photos from the author’s own impressive personal collection of Aesthetic Movement items.

More than just a guide book or a photo book, Creating The Artful Home – The Aesthetic Movement is impeccably researched and will appeal to readers who have a serious thirst for knowledge about the design period of the late 1800’s (otherwise known as the Victorian era).

You can purchase your copy of Creating The Artful Home – The Aesthetic Movement here.


Architect-designed houses were set out in the landscape like a smorgasbord from which others could nibble.

– Author Karen Zukowski on the homes of the Aesthetic Movement (p. 136)


Book Review and GIVEAWAY: the cottages of Venice California

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I just finished reading this amazing coffee-table book which profiles 28 of the historic bungalows in Venice, California.

My blog has featured Venice homes in the past including Nely Galan’s colorful house and Lynn Hanson’s coastal cottage, so I was thrilled to find a book that gathers a whole bunch of Venice house goodies all in one place.

Venice – west of Los Angeles right on the Pacific Ocean – is of course renowned for its famous canals and walk streets. The community was conceived and founded by tobacco millionaire Abbot Kinney in 1905. In the early 1900’s Venice California became a popular tourist attraction and weekend destination. It quickly filled up with small vacation cottages on tiny lots.

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Due to public health concerns (swampy water in the canals) most of the canals were tragically paved over in 1929. The community fell into disrepair and became known as “the slum by the sea”. Starting in the 1960’s and right up to the 1990’s, artists and creative types began buying up the tiny cottages and revitalizing the neighborhood. Today Venice is a desirable, pricey real estate area that is a mix of vintage bungalows and contemporary new builds.

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Cottages in the Sun: Bungalows of Venice California written by Margaret Bach and photographed by Melba Levick, takes an up-close look at some of the remaining historic cottages.

The photos are vivid and plentiful; the text is rich and detailed. I read this book cover to cover and savored every moment of it.

The homes featured were all small historic bungalows (heavenly) but the book also highlighted the cottage owners and their personal decorating styles.

Creativity and eclecticism are on full display in the homes of Venice. The exterior spaces – gardens and decorated patios – were also prominently featured.

Cottages in the Sun is a visual buffet for the cottage-loving reader. The homes (and their peaceful lifestyles within) are – dare I say it – inspirational. Maybe even transcendental.

A credo carved on a sign outside one of the Venice cottages:

This house is a Temple engaged in the celebration of life.


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Here’s the giveaway part:

You can win a copy of this gorgeous book simply by leaving a comment on this blog post!

I will randomly choose one lucky winner and notify you by email. I’ll mail the book directly to the winner!

You have until next Wednesday – one week – to leave a comment. Good luck!



Book of the month: “The Houses That Sears Built”

I’ve been working on reading this one for a while now… not because it was hard to get through, but because I am a slow reader, and when there are pictures involved, it slows me down to a snail’s pace (since I love to linger on every visual detail).

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This book was actually recommended to me by a reader and I am happy to report that I thoroughly enjoyed it. The Houses That Sears Built – Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Sears Catalog Homes, was written by Rosemary Thornton (latest edition published in 2005 by Gentle Beam Publications).

As you might be able to tell from the cover, Rosemary (Rose) is obsessed with Sears kit homes. The book is a dizzying compilation of facts, trivia, photos and history of everything Sears home related. If you suspect you live in a Sears kit home, or know someone who does, have family who did in the past, or are just curious about Sears kit homes, then this is the book for you.

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‘Converted Into Houses’ book

I have a fascination – nay, obsession – with structures that were built for different (usually commercial) uses, that have now been converted into residential spaces. (As evident in my Friday blog series: Rezoned and Repurposed).

So when I found a book called “Converted Into Houses” on, I had to purchase it. Nevermind that it was published a year before I was born (1976!) and is, understandably, dated.

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~ House Crazy Sarah ~

Sarah Felix Burns

"So many houses, so little time"

My first novel

JACKFISH - The Vanishing Village

My second novel

Song Over Quiet Lake