American House Architectural Styles

Written by Posted On Tuesday, 01 March 2016 00:19

A guide to home buyers showcasing major and most popular architectural styles in housing is a daunting endeavor for an article of assigned brevity. Wikipedia lists no fewer than 97 pages in the House Styles category, and many houses present mixtures of style elements. As for pros and cons, assuming modern functional equivalence for each style, visual appeal is a matter of taste or opinion, about which, as the ancient Romans used to say, de gustibis non disputandum est.


Art Deco


The 1925 Exhibition Internationale des Arts et Industriels Modernes introduced this building style with decorative geometric elements in vertically-emphasized designs. This distinctly urban style is more common in multi- than in single-family structures.


Hollywood movies of the 1930s popularized this style. Flat roofs, metal window casements, and smooth walls mark Art Deco exteriors. Faςades are typically flush with stylized motifs. By 1940 the style developed curved corners, rectangular, glass-block, translucent windows, and boat-like looks. The style enjoyed a revival in the 1980s.




These narrow, rectangular houses of one story and a half started in California during the late 19th Century in adverse reaction to elaborate Victorian decor. The style migrated eastward across the USA and remained popular until the Great Depression. Bungalows have low-pitched roofs that slope in two or four directions and covered porches at the front entranceways. The style became so popular that Sears & Roebuck sold bungalow kits to order from the store catalog.


Cape Cod


Original, 17th-Century Cape Cod homes were shingled, one-story cottages without dormers. During the mid-20th Century, the small, simple Cape Cod shape became common in suburban housing developments. A 20th-Century Cape Cod is rectangular with steep, gabled roofs and may have dormers and shutters with clapboard or brick siding. Most are in northern states. Many have expanded over many years for additional interior space.


Standard Cape Cods have ground-floor kitchens, living, dining, bath- and bedrooms and a second floor with one or two small bedrooms. Cape Cod’s waste little space and hold their values well over time.




Colonial America encompassed a number of housing types and styles, but the Colonial Style usually refers to rectangular, symmetrical homes with second-floor bedrooms and double-hung windows of equally-sized square panes. Later builders refined Colonial Revival homes with central hallways and prominent cornices. Unlike the originals, Colonial Revival homes often have white clapboard siding trimmed with shutters.


These two-story houses have been residential architecture mainstays for many years. They are generally well-constructed, spacious, and elegant.


There are many variations of the Colonial Style. Recent examples may consist of basements partially finished, ground floors with a living room, dining room, eat-in kitchen, and a family room, and second floors with bedrooms and bathrooms.




These come with odd-sized and sometimes tall windows, lack of ornamentation, and mixtures of stone, brick, wood, and other exterior wall materials. Architects between 1950 and 1970 designed Contemporary Style homes in two versions, flat and gabled roof types, the latter often with exposed beams. Both tend to be of one story and to incorporate the landscape into their overall appearance. Many are sheathed in redwood or stained hardwood.


Once mostly visible in resort or second-home locales, Contemporary houses have spread to suburban areas. The most popular Contemporary style may be the A-frame. These houses fit into rustic landscapes. Many feature vaulted ceilings and decks around one or more sides of the house.




Once seemingly everywhere on the East Coast, Federal-style architecture dates from the late 18th Century coincident with renewed interest in classical Greco-Roman culture. Builders added decorative details to rectangular Georgian houses. The result resembles a more formal Georgian Style. Many Federal-style homes have arched Palladian windows above the front doors, which usually have sidelights and semicircular fanlights. The American Federal Style derived from the neoclassic style advanced by the Scottish brothers Robert and John Adam.


French Provincial


Balance and symmetry characterize this formal style of homes often of brick with copper or slate detailing, balanced windows and chimneys, high roofs that slope four ways, balustrades, rectangular doors in arched doorways, and shuttered double windows. Second-story windows may have curved tops breaking through cornices.


The style originated with French rural manor homes or châteaux during the reign of Louis XIV in the late 17th Century. The French Provincial Style had popular revivals in the 1920s and 1960s.




Named for the four English King Georges, Georgian houses with paired chimneys and decorative crowns over their front entranceways dominated the British American colonies in the 1700s. Most surviving Georgians are two to three stories high of masonry construction with gabled roofs. Georgian homes usually display an orderly row of windows across the second story. Modern builders sometimes combine Georgian features with flourishes from the more formal Federal Style.




The 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago showcased classical buildings that architects adopted for their residential designs. The Neoclassical style was popular through the 1950s in single-story cottages and multi-level mansions alike. Ionic or Corinthian columns often reach to the full height of the house, sometimes supporting entablatures. Also typical are elaborate, decorative designs above and around doorways and rooftop balustrades.


Queen Anne


Revived by English architect Richard Norman Shaw, the original baroque style developed during the early 18th-Century reign of its namesake. The Queen Anne became popular in the USA after the Civil War and spread rapidly in southern and western states. A sub-style of the late Victorian, the Queen Anne is a collection of eclectic materials. Steeply-gabled roofs, towers, and vertical windows are all typically Queen Anne components. Inventive, multi-level floor plans often show projecting wings, multiple porches and balconies, and chimneys with decorative pots.


Wooden gingerbread trim in scrolled and rounded patterns grace many gables and porches. Massive stone foundations typify Queen Anne houses.




Originating in California during the 1930s, the ranch house became one of the most popular American styles in the 1950s and '60s, when the automobile replaced earlier forms of transportation, and mobile homebuyers could move to big suburban homes on large lots. The style is of one-story, pitched-roof construction, integrated garages, wood or brick siding, picture windows, and sliding glass doors to patios.


This house style features life on a single level. There may be a full or partial basement and a garage built into a side of the house. Ranch houses are often easier to maintain than are multi-levels. The most popular floor plan is straight side to side.




This New England Colonial style got its name from the sharply sloping roof resembling salt storage boxes. The roofline often plunges from two and a half front stories to a single rear story. In colonial days, residents often used the lower rear portion as a shed oriented northward as a windbreaker. These homes typically have large central chimneys, double-hung windows with shutters, and clapboard exterior walls.




This American style started in cottages in Northeastern coastal towns of Cape Cod, Long Island, and Rhode Island in the late 19th Century. Never as popular as the Queen Anne, Shingle houses have similarly wide porches and asymmetrical forms. Unadorned doors, windows, and cornices, wood shingles, steeply pitched roof lines, and large porches are frequently common features. Rudimentary towers are usually just roofline extensions.




Architects created the Split-Level Style to offer a multilevel alternative to the omnipresent Ranch Style of the 1950s. The lower levels were for garages and TV rooms, the mid-levels for quiet quarters, and the area above the garage was for bedrooms. This style became very popular after the Second World War for spaciousness and utility. There are two Split-Level types, side to side and front to back.


Other Split-Level houses have basements. At ground level there is a den or playroom. The upper levels have the kitchen, dining and living rooms, and the last level bedrooms and bathrooms. The bi-level house is like a modified ranch house with the lower level more above ground than below.




Townhouses as row houses dominated residential development of early American cities. Now often available in condominia, the townhouse is an independent structure of two or three stories attached to similar buildings on either or both sides. Townhouses normally vary from 16 to 24 feet in width. This style of house is usually more economical to purchase and maintain than are other house styles.




This architectural style, popular in the 1920s and '30s, continues in suburbs across the USA. Defining characteristics are half-timbering on bay windows and upper floors, faςades with steeply-pitched cross gables, brick or stone exterior walls, rounded doorways, casement windows, and large stone chimneys.


Tudors appeared in the USA during the late 1800s through the 1920s. The stucco exterior walls and distinctive wood trim give the Tudor Style house an appealing uniqueness. Gables, large angular chimneys, and slate roofs add to the appeal. Like the Victorian Style, a Tudor's condition can vary greatly depending on upgrades and maintenance over the years.




Victorian architecture dates from the second half of the 19th Century, when America explored new approaches to building design. Using recent advancements in mechanical technology, Victorian-era builders easily incorporated mass-produced brackets, spindles, and patterned shingles. The last true Victorian houses went up in the early 1900s, but now builders with Victorian ideas work on neo-Victorians with modern materials to put together rounded towers and spindled porches recalling the 19th Century. Disney theme parks in California, Florida, and Europe recreate Victorian Style structures.

Home buyers appreciate the architectural delights of Victorian houses with large porches and picturesque bay windows. Physical conditions and selling prices vary. Victorians mechanically upgraded and regularly maintained may command premium prices while those beset by deferred maintenance may offer classic charm at lower prices.


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