Museums are great. I was once lucky enough to visit the Museum of Modern Art in New York City while they had an exhibit of works by Vincent van Gogh. It was a powerful experience. I walked out feeling transcended, then directly into a room exhibiting hundreds of toilet brushes. It was a different experience. My initial reaction was eventually replaced by the realization that every manufactured item starts with a design. Your toothbrush, hangers, electrical outlets, post office box key and, yes, toilet brush, were all envisioned and designed.

Currently, there’s not much opportunity to visit museums. We lack the abundance of street art found in Miami, so no walking out the door to enjoy that. What we do have are houses. A walking architectural tour of your neighborhood is something you can do today.

“A Field Guide to American Houses,” by Virginia and Lee McAlester, is a wonderful companion for a walking tour of your neighborhood. Field guides work by helping make sense of what you see. They do this by honing observation skills. Instead of walking down the street and saying, house, house, house, focus on elements. You may see a unique dormer with a curved shape that blends into the roof. You can flip through the guide in search of homes exhibiting similar elements or head to the pictorial key. There you’ll find that those low curved dormers are called eyebrow dormers and are most prevalent in the Shingle or Richardson Romanesque styles. See what looks like a metal fence planted on a roof ridge? In the pictorial key you learn that that’s called a metal roof cresting and is most common in the Queen Anne and Chateauesque styles.

The book is arranged chronologically, from native dwellings to the modern movement. It’s full of excellent drawings and well supported with photographs of houses illustrating all the styles. It shows the evolution of design and mentions the innovations that allowed them to take place. The shift from fireplaces to stoves, to central heat. The advent of balloon framing in the 19th century. The rise of the automobile and the shift from carriage house to integral garage. Its focus is on the exterior of everyday residential houses — the homes you’ll see as you walk your neighborhood.