Royal Barry Wills archive is donated to Historic New England

royal barry willsNicely done, Royal Barry Wills Associates: The architectural firm launched by famed architect Royal Barry Wills, and which is still run by his son Richard Wills today, has donated the Royal Barry Wills’ archive to the regional heritage group Historic New England. Royal Barry Wills is my all-time favorite 20th century architect — I have written about him quite a bit, see all my stories here. A prolific residential architect, he is considered the father of the 20th century Cape Cod house revival. I consider him the East Coast dialectic counterpart to father of the West Coast ranch house, Cliff May. Here’s how the dialectic worked: As the two competing designs — Cape Cod and ranch — evolved inward from both coasts after World War II, there was a great big wonderful Mid-Century Modest mash up of both architectural styles. Hey: I think I have now declared both men grandfathers of Mid-century Modest!  Following is the news release about the donation, in its entirety.

BOSTON – March 2014 – Royal Barry Wills Associates has donated the firm’s archive, including architectural drawings, office records, project photography, book manuscripts, and news clips to Historic New England’s Library and Archives.

This nationally significant collection documents the history of the firm that was founded by Royal Barry Wills and became one of the most popular in the nation, producing some of the most quintessential examples of New England architecture, including the Cape Cod cottage. Starting out in a one-room office in Boston in 1925, Wills went on to design thousands of homes throughout the country, winning many competitions and writing best-selling books along the way. By 1946 Life magazine called him “the nation’s most popular architectural author.”

“Royal Barry Wills Associates continues to practice architecture by applying the principals expounded by our founder and mentor, Royal Barry Wills. We find ourselves adapting our designs, as he did, to fit modern concepts into traditional forms. Wills approached the planning of houses not according to what he thought people should have, but rather based on what they so clearly wanted. There was nothing stiff about his work.  It benefited from his lighthearted approach, sense of humor, and appreciation for the inherent flexibility of the vernacular tradition in New England,” said Richard Wills.

The Royal Barry Wills collection is a significant addition to the extensive holdings in Historic New England’s architectural records collection of documents from the design and construction phases of architecture: architectural drawings, photography, contracts, correspondence, personnel records, specifications, and other materials.

  1. Mike D says:

    When we moved into our cape cod style house in Melrose,MA in the mid 70’s we were told it was a RBW designed house,as it may help where we sell how can we verify it actually is. Thank you, Mike

    1. Pam Kueber says:

      Hi Mike D, I don’t know that there is an easy way. You could contact the company to see if they could verify the layout. Otherwise, there are various books with his patterns. Maybe Historic New England would let you look at their archives?

  2. Quentin says:

    Was the “House of Good Taste” Royal Barry Wills designed model home at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair moved off site following the Fair? It was quite a place!

      1. Quentin says:

        Yes, but the design was completed by his associates. The house was featured in the September 1964 issue of Better Homes and Gardens. I really hope it was saved!

  3. Scott says:

    The slogan “Better Houses for Budgeteers” is priceless, timeless, and so descriptive of what lucky folks like us almost always can achieve, even when we need to invest in new materials.

  4. Mary Elizabeth says:

    Here is a classic Wills cape in Woodstock, Connecticut (part of what we call the “Quiet Corner”). YouTube tour with music. Unfortunately, it’s already sold, but anyone looking for a Wills cape (or to replicate the look) can see other properties for sale by search on Royal Wills houses [your state].


    Some of the features I appreciate most about these houses are the built-ins, the wrought iron hardware on cabinets, fireplace mantels, etc.

  5. Nancy says:

    Pam –

    Love him! If I manage to travel to my favorite MA town this summer, I’ll grab a pic for you of a gorgeous RBW home in my old neighborhood. When I was a kid, my mom mentioned that he was the architect of this particular home and we always admired how gracious it looked and how beautifully it sat on it’s seaside lot.

    1. pam kueber says:

      Yes, please do! “Gracious” — what a wonderful word — and, yes, so true of his homes!

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