Most of the book is devoted to descriptions of hundreds of books and periodicals containing original designs for domestic structures. The earliest title described is Colen Campbell's Vitruvius Britannicus (1715), an important Palladian manifesto and the first book to illustrate a series of the author's own executed designs for dwellings, intended to redirect and reform British architectural taste, and the latest title is Supplement (1842) to John Claudius Loudon's Encyclopedia. Related materials on agriculture, landscape design, drawing, and perspective also are covered. Each entry includes a bibliographic description of all known editions and a commentary that describes and analyzes the text and plates, focusing in particular on the author's ideas and approaches to design issues.
Appendixes to the principal entries provide a checklist of additional handbooks and manuals by important authors such as Crunden, Halfpenny, Langley, Nicholson, Pain, Richardson, Salmon, and Swan, and books showing domestic interiors. There is also a valuable short-title chronological list, and a list of printers, publishers, and booksellers.
In a lengthy introductory essay, Archer discusses architecture and the book trade, the format and content of the books, and aspects of architectural theory and design-including ideas of "character" and "retirement," dwelling types such as villas, cottages, and row houses, model housing for laborers, and town and village planning.
John Archer is Associate Professor in the Humanities Program at the University of Minnesota.