You must have heard about the classic colonial architectural style, but do you know what makes it unique? Here's your mini-encyclopedia about colonial houses to help you recognize and differentiate between various types.
The colonial era was a time of significant change and growth in America. With the arrival of new settlers from Europe came a variety of different styles of architecture. These styles were adapted to fit the climate and terrain of the various regions in which they were built. Today, we can still see these influences in modern architecture. This guide will take a closer look at the 11 most common types of colonial houses found in America.
But, before diving into the types, let's get the fundamentals right!
What is Colonial House Style?
In the mid-1600s, English colonists began settling in several countries like America, France, and England. They brought their own style of architecture – the colonial house. For the same reason, it's a combination of the English, Dutch, and Spanish styles prevalent at that time.
This style was simple and symmetrical, with a single roofline and two levels. It was popular through the 1700s as new colonies were established.
The grand entrances, symmetrical facades, decorative gables, central chimneys, and pillars are some of the standard features. Another notable trait is that many colonial-style homes have their main living area on the second floor.
Here are the 11 most popular types of colonial houses, their history, and how they're different from one another.
Dutch colonial style is the earliest and simplest form of colonial architecture. The gambrel roof can be easily recognized, which is very common in Dutch architecture. The 1600s to the mid-1800s marked the span of their peak popularity. A single dormer addition with two or three windows is another notable aspect of Dutch colonial architecture. However, some houses may not feature any dormers.
You will also notice chimneys on these houses positioned at the gable ends. Other common features are the steeply pitched roofs, wide eaves, and solid brick construction. In addition, the Dutch colonial style uses a lot of wood in its construction. So, you can expect to see timber framing and paneling on the exteriors.
Differentiating features of Dutch colonial style:
- Gambrel roof
- Steeply pitched roofs
- Symmetrical exterior
- Solid brick or stone construction
- Single dormer with two or three windows
- Chimneys positioned at the gable ends with shingles
- Uses of a lot of wood in construction
British colonial style emerged in the 1600s and was popular until the early 1800s. It was introduced by New England settlers, with wood-frame construction being their trademark. These houses are simple in design, with an open layout and a fireplace in the middle of the room. That's why you will always find the chimneys located at the center of the house.
Lead-paned, diamond-shaped windows and roofs with overlapping shingles are some standard features of British colonial-style houses. These houses usually include two stories, with smaller upper-level windows.
Differentiating features of British colonial style:
- Wood-frame construction
- Open layout
- Two stories
- Fireplace in the middle of the room
- Rectangular and symmetrical front
- Chimneys located at the center of the house
- Lead-paned, diamond-shaped windows
- Roofs with overlapping shingles
British colonial style has several variations, which can be considered its sub-styles. Let's have a look at them in further depth!
Named after the ruling King George III of England, this style is distinguished by its elegant and symmetrical design. They were at their glory from the 1700s to the early 1800s. The brick exterior is their key trait, though some also feature stucco or stone. Other exterior appearance aspects include classical details like pediments, columns, and porticos.
You'll mostly find them in traditional colors: red, white, or tan. The style also includes Roman or Greek-inspired pillars with central panel doors. The windows are either rectangular or arched.
Cape Cod Style
The Cape Cod-style of house is named after the cape cod region of Massachusetts, where it originated. Exploring their English origin, Puritans introduced these half-timbered homes. They were famous in the 17th century, and most of these houses are single-story and have a symmetrical design.
The style distinguishes itself with a steep pitched side-gabled roof, a central front door, and two symmetrical windows. Furthermore, Cape Cod-style houses have white clapboard siding and black shutters.
The saltbox is one of the most easily recognized types of colonial homes. This style gets its name from the salt boxes used to store salt in colonial times. The roof slopes down on one side and is much taller on the other, making it look like a box that has been tipped on its side.
You will get to see an asymmetrical brick chimney on saltbox-style houses. This house style's simple yet unique appearance makes it a popular choice even today.
This colonial-style is a mix of the Georgian and Dutch styles. The houses have a symmetrical appearance with one or two stories and a central door. The windows are usually rectangular, and you can find a mix of brick and wood on the exterior. Compared to other British colonial styles, this style is more elaborate, formal, and decorative with its appearance.
The next on the list is the German colonial style, and it's very similar to the British colonial style. The primary aspect that separates the two types is the window casements. They have ornamental window casements, which are the frames that hold the glass in place. The British colonial style doesn't have these and instead uses shutters.
These houses were a sensation around the 1600s and the mid-1800s. The thick exterior stone walls are the first giveaway, often made with sandstone or limestone and raw wood frames. Their roofs are either hipped or gabled, with a mixture of shingles and tiles with centrally-positioned chimneys.
Differentiating features of German colonial Style:
- Sandstone walls
- Raw wood frames
- Hipped or gabled roofs
- A mixture of shingles and tiles
- Symmetrical exterior design
- Centrally-positioned chimneys
Neoclassical is the most contemporary colonial style, popularised in the 21st century. The large and imposing design of neoclassical houses is the modern alternative to the classic styles.
They are usually square-shaped and have two stories. The exterior is made with brick, stone, or stucco and is often in traditional colors like white, beige, or light green. You'll find features like grand porticos, side-gable roofs, and decorative elements. Architecturally, they are like traditional colonial houses, but they use different materials.
Differentiating features of neoclassical colonial style:
- Symmetrical exteriors
- Two stories
- Grand porticos
- Boxed eaves
- Side gable roofs
- Decorative elements
Digging their inspiration from Mexico and Spain, the Spanish colonial style is the most decorative of all the colonial styles. The exterior walls are made with stucco, which gives it a bright and colorful appearance. They also have red tile roofs with wrought-iron accents and clay chimneys.
Spanish colonial homes usually have one story with multiple exterior doors and inner courtyards. However, the windows are small, secured with wrought iron metal instead of glass panes. They were designed as such because of the hot climate.
Differentiating features of Spanish colonial style:
- Stucco exterior walls
- Red tile roofs
- Wrought-iron accents
- Multiple exterior doors and small windows
- Interior shutters
- Single story
- Inner courtyards
French settlers introduced this style mainly during the 1700s. It is similar to most colonial house styles with some distinctive elements. French colonial dwellings have two stories and a main living area on the second floor. Like other colonial houses, they also have a symmetrical build with a central door and multiple windows.
The exterior is usually made with brick, wood, or both. These houses are also characterized by larger, more open porches called galleries that wrap around the property and are sheltered by hipped roofs. They also feature raised piers that provide more headroom in the interiors and add an attractive aesthetic.
Differentiating features of French colonial style:
- Symmetrical design
- French doors
- Wide porches that wrap around the house
- Constructed from wood and brick, or a mixture of animal hair and mud
- The roof extends over the porch
Colonial revival houses combine various styles, taking significant chunks from the Georgian style. Their origin dates back to the late 1800s and was popularised in the early 1900s. This style is seen as a nostalgic nod to the colonial period.
Revival-style homes are two or three stories and have a symmetrical exterior. Moreover, they feature handmade and decorative molding around the ceilings, inspired by the industrial revolution that overlapped the revival period.
Differentiating features of colonial revival style:
- Wood or brick symmetrical exterior
- Two or three stories
- A mixture of colonial styles
- Georgian features like handmade molding around the ceilings
- Medium-pitched rectangular gable roof
Characteristics of Colonial House
Now that you know the different types of colonial houses let's discuss their characteristics. This will help you understand the fundamentals of colonial houses better. Moreover, once you know these features, you will be able to spot a colonial-style house from a mile away.
Typically all colonial houses have a similar interior layout with one or two stories, multiple rooms, and a central chimney. The houses usually have an open floor plan and a central fireplace - some of them feature two, one on each side. The centralized door with grand entrances and symmetrical windows are a typical design element for most colonial house types.
Their windows are also usually large to allow natural light to enter the home. Furthermore, the major design elements are the grand entrances and decorations on the exterior. Finally, the high ceilings are a staple for colonial house style.
As briefly mentioned before, all colonial houses share some common exterior features. They are either two or one story, symmetrical in design and rectangular in shape. The roofs are usually medium-pitched and gabled with multiple eaves. You can almost call them identical, but each type has subtle differences that make them unique.
They have a minimalistic yet impressive design, with the single front door being a common feature in most types. Moreover, the matching windows on each side add to the design. Many styles include large front pillars adding to the porches or outdoor area. Lastly, they are all made from either brick, wood, or both.
You can call windows one of the significant, highlighting elements of colonial houses. They add to the overall feel of the home. One of the most popular window types in colonial houses is double-hung windows.
They are very versatile, come in various shapes and sizes, and can be made from different materials. Double-hung windows slide up and down, making them easy to open and close.
Typically you get to see that most colonial houses have a white exterior with black shutters. However, many homeowners choose to go with neutral colors like beige, white, or grey to create a timeless look.
The color choices for colonial homes are inspired mainly by natural sources like plants, trees, minerals, and the sky.
One of the most defining features of a colonial house is its steep roof. Colonial houses have a pitched roof and no overhang with a central or side chimney.
This design was popular back in the day as it allowed colonial homeowners to quickly shed snow during the winter. Nowadays, people still choose this style for its aesthetic appeal, with it becoming a more modern take on the colonial style.
Now that you know all about colonial houses, you can appreciate their beauty and elegance that have lasted for centuries. With the information above, you'll be able to recognize a colonial-style house in a heartbeat.
If you want some touches of the past in your home, then architectural inspiration from colonial-style houses is the way to go!