A Love Letter To Shingle Style Homes, By Architect Thomas Kligerman


A Shingle style home in Rhode Island painted by Thomas Kligerman.

When I close my eyes and imagine a house, I picture the sounds it makes: footsteps on the staircase, slamming screen doors, faint voices from downstairs while falling asleep. If someone asked me where I’d choose to live out my days, I’d say a Shingle style home because they reverberate like a drum.

My connection to buildings has always been visceral. By the time I left for college, I had lived in 10 houses— saltboxes up and down Connecticut; apartments in New York, London and Paris; an adobe in New Mexico. My father’s work moved us often, but summers were always for sailing in Rhode Island, which is where my love for shingled homes cemented.

Shingle style architecture emerged in Newport in 1876, combining the simple forms of early Colonial buildings with the quirks of Victorian Stick style. The 1880s were fascinating years—everything was brave and new. During this time, rooms grew from small, symmetrical boxes into episodic progressions with abstract shapes and enormous doors that opened onto terraces. These homes weren’t trying to be Italianate villas or French chateaus. Here was an American style.

I’m grouped with classical architects, but I’m a closet modernist who is always pushing to see how modern traditional homes can become—yet I never want to lose sight of what people love about them. Shingles are a medium that encourages daring design because they’re so lightweight. You can have soaring cantilevers and chimneys that look like great blades dropped from the heavens. With shingles, you can make a home look like the sail of a boat filled with air.

Have you ever sat on the porch of a shingled house in the rain? There’s this wonderful, cozy scent from the cedar that brings comfort like a favorite sweater. That’s the thing; no matter who you are, whether you live in Santa Fe or Seal Harbor, the draw of home is strong for Americans. And Shingle style buildings don’t look like houses, they look—and feel—like homes.

As told to Grace Beuley Hunt