American House Styles
Take a stroll through the history of American houses, from the colonial era to the modern age.
American house styles come in many shapes, some with architectural details borrowed from classical profiles, some unique to the New World. The story of these styles' evolution parallels the timeline of American history—a colony dependent on the Mother Country turns into an industrial nation with a unique design language.
by Alexandra Bandon
Dates: up to 1850s.
Features: Log walls; one- to three-room layout, sometimes with a center passage (called a dogtrot).
The earliest settler houses went up quickly, using the most abundant material around—wood—to protect against the harsh weather. Log cabins were common in the middle Atlantic colonies, like this Appalachian house.
Dates: 1607 to early 1700s
Features: Steeply pitched (catslide) roof that reaches to first story in the back; massive central chimney; small windows of diamond paned casements or double-hung sash with nine or 12 lights.
Most saltboxes existed in and around New England. Their steep roof pitch is a holdover from the days of thatching, but early settlers learned that wood shingles were better at sloughing off snow and rain. Few original saltboxes survive, and many are museums, like this house in East Hampton, New York.
Dates: 1700 to 1780
Features: Symmetrical facade; double-hung windows with nine or 12 lights in each sash; paneled door with pilasters, transom lights, and sometimes a pedimented crown; brick in the South, clapboards in the North; dentil molding at the cornice.
American Georgian architecture is based on earlier European styles (not the British Georgian style of the same period), which emphasized classical Greek and Roman shapes. Georgian houses could be found in every part of the colonies in the 18th century.
Dates: 1780 to 1820
Features: Symmetrical facade; 6-over-6 double-hung windows with shutters; paneled door with elaborate surround (pediment, pilasters, sidelights, and fanlight); dentil molding or other decoration at cornice.
Based almost entirely on the English Adamesque style, the American Federal (or Adam) style took its cues from ancient Roman architecture. This was the first style of the newly formed United States, and it had a place in nearly every part of the country—particularly in bustling urban areas like Salem, Massachusetts, where this former This Old House TV project is located.
Dates: 1825 to 1860
Features: Pedimented gable ends, portico or full-width porch with classical columns, 6-over-6 windows with pediments.
Americans, newly enamored with Greek democracy, built civic buildings that looked like Greek temples. The fashion for columns and pediments seeped into residential architecture as far as the most rural farmland, popularized through pattern books by Asher Benjamin and Minard Lafever.
Dates: 1840 to 1880
Features: Steeply pitched roof with decorated bargeboard and cross gables, arched gothic windows and doors with arched panels, first-floor porch.
The Gothic Revival is another trend that started in England and made its way to the U.S. The style mimics the shapes found on Medieval churches and houses, and is almost always found in rural areas.
Dates: 1840 to 1885
Features: Hip roof with deep, bracketed eaves; arched 1-over-1 or 2-over-2 windows with elaborate crowns; paired-door entryway with glass in the doors.
Again modeled after a fashion started in England, the Italianate style rejected the rigid rules of classical architecture and instead looked to the more informal look of Italian rural houses. Ironically, the style became very popular as an urban townhouse.
Dates: 1855 to 1885
Features: Mansard roof (hipped with two pitches) with dormers set into it and patterned shingles, deep eaves with decorative brackets, 2-over-2 or 1-over-1 windows with elaborate hoods or pediments.
The style is closely related to Italianate, but is always characterized by its mansard roof, named for the 17th-century French architect, François Mansart. The style name refers to France's second empire—the reign of Napoleon III from 1852-1870—during which the mansard roof was in vogue.
Dates: 1880 to 1910
Features: Asymmetrical house shape with intersecting roof lines, turrets and bay windows; first floor porch; patterned shingles and decorative trim.
The Queen Anne style—what most people would call "Victorian"—is the first product of the American Industrial Age. After the Civil War, munitions factories converted to make metal house parts and the machinery to cut mass-produced wood trim. The railroads brought these products to all regions at an affordable price. And the advent of forced air heating removed the need for rooms structured around stoves and fireplaces, meaning new shapes abounded. Advances in paint technology introduced vibrant new colors.
Dates: 1880 to 1900
Features: Exterior walls and roofs of wood shingles; asymmetrical house shape, often organic to the landscape around it; large porches; intersecting roofs of different shapes, including gambrel.
A style mostly popular along the coast in the Northeast, Shingle houses were usually large architects' masterpieces, free-form mansions built into the rocks and hills of the shore.
Dates: 1880 to 1900
Features: Masonry exterior (stone or brick), asymmetrical house shape with Roman or Syrian arches and towers, arched windows.
Closely related to the Queen Anne and Shingle styles, Romanesque houses are always stone or brick. Though civic buildings were built earlier in the Romanesque Revival style, the form didn't show up on residences until the popular architect Henry Hobson Richardson started his practice in New York and Boston in the 1870s.
Dates: ca. 1870 to 1910
Features: Simple house forms decorated with elaborate spindlework, jigsaw-cut bargeboards, and other decorative trim.
As the industrial age made machine-cut wood details affordable and available to the average American, homeowners added mass-produced decorative trim (called gingerbread) to their small, simple folk cottages to dress them up in the style of the day.
Dates: 1880 to 1955
Features: Large entryway and surround, colums or pilasters, symmetrical facade, 6-over-6 windows (often paired), side gable or gambrel roof.
The American Centennial celebrations of 1876 brought about a nostalgia for the country's past, including its early house styles. But rather than copy those houses directly, architects like McKim, Mead, and White mixed and matched details from several early styles, including Dutch Colonial, Georgian, and Federal. This is one of the country's most enduring styles, as millions of examples survive, and a renewal of interest in it led to a Neo-Colonial Revival on the "McMansions" of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
Dates: 1920s to 1940s
Features: One story cottage with loft attic space, symmetical window placement on either side of paneled front door, simple door surround, dormers.
The Cape Cod cottage is a subset of the Colonial Revival style, most popular from the 1920s to the 1940s. It's modeled after the simple houses of colonial New England, though early examples were almost always shingled, while 20th century Capes can be clapboard, stucco, or brick. Many houses of the post World War II building boom were Capes, including many of the 17,400 cottages in Levittown, New York, the country's first housing development.
Dates: 1895 to 1950
Features: Full-height porch with massive columns, Corinthian or Composite capitals, and large pediment; symmetrical facade.
The World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 featured a classical theme, sparking a renewed interest in Greek and Roman architecture. The style is closely related to Colonial Revival, as both look back on a time in American architecture when classical forms dominated.
Dates: 1890 to 1940
Features: Steep-pitch side gable roof with cross gable and half timbering; double-hung or narrow, multi-light casement windows, some with diamond panes; semi-hexagonal bay windows; walls of stucco or stone (later examples).
More Medieval than Tudor, the style's details loosely harken back to an early English form. Though the style began in the late 19th century, it was immensely popular in the growing suburbs of the 1920s. A version of Tudor came back into vogue in the late 20th century.
Dates: 1915 to 1945
Features: Steeply-pitched hip roof (without front-facing gable); flared eaves; exterior brick, stucco, or stone.
American soldiers serving in France during World War I would have seen many houses with these characteristics in the French countryside. Like the Tudor Revival, which it resembles, the style was most popular in the growing suburbs of the 1920s.
Dates: 1915 to 1940
Features: Low-pitched red-tile roof, arched windows and doors, shaped parapet, asymmetrical facade, stucco exterior.
The Panama-California Exposition in San Diego in 1915 featued the California pavilion, a building with details borrowed from Spanish, Mission, and Italian architecture. The style was to the Southwest and Florida what the Colonial Revival and Tudor were to the Northeast and Midwest: an incredibly popular style that filled out the suburbs in the years after World War I.
Dates: 1910 to present
Features: Flat roof, adobe or earth-colored stucco walls with rounded edges, projecting wood beams (vigas).
Pueblo Revival houses have their roots in adobe houses built by Native Americans and Spanish colonial settlers in the Southwest. The style prevails in that part of the country, particularly in Arizona and New Mexico where originals survive. This house in Tucson was the subject of a This Old House TV renovation.
Dates: 1905 to 1930
Features: Low-pitched gable roof with deep, bracketed overhangs and exposed rafters; porches supported by massive piers and unadorned square posts; windows and doors with long vertical panes.
Followers of the Arts and Crafts movement (started in England in the late 19th century), particularly California architects Greene and Greene, spurned machine-made products and emphasized the beauty of hand-crafted natural materials (the grain of oak, for example) over Victorian-era excesses. A more vernacular version of the style, also known as Bungalow or Craftsman Bungalow, was popularized through the patterns of Gustav Stickley's Craftsman magazine. The style also grew out of Frank Lloyd Wright's work in the Prairie style at the turn of the 20th century.
Dates: 1920 to 1940
Features: Flat roof, smooth stucco exterior with curved walls, horizontal lines either as grooves or balustrades, zigzag or geometric Art Deco details, plate-glass or glass-block windows.
Earlier Modernistic houses of the 1920s were in the Art Deco style, while later examples were in the more streamlined Art Moderne style. Both were adaptations of the popular forms used on commercial buildings of the time (like New York City's Chrysler Building).
Dates: 1925 to present
Features: Flat roofs, clean lines, no decoration, cantilevered rooms, asymmetrical facade.
The style took its name from a 1932 exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art that showed the groundbreaking work of European Bauhaus architects like Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Before World War II, it was most popular in California (where this house by Richard Neutra is located) and affluent Northeast suburbs (such as New Canaan, Connecticut, where Philip Johnson's Glass House is).
Dates: 1930s to 1960s
Features: Sprawling single story, wide facade, front-facing garage, low-pitched roof, asymmetrical facade.
Loosely based on Spanish colonial houses in the Southwest, the Ranch house is a creation of car culture: When homeowners began using their cars for transportation, they could put their houses farther apart on larger plots of land. Along with the split-level of the 1950s and 60s and the builder's shed of 1970s and 1980s, the Ranch was one of the dominant house forms of the second half of the 20th century.