The styles covered in this directory are buildings designed and built from around 1900 to today.
These homes are rich in style and texture as architects look to the future with design innovations that were optimistic and influenced by international trends. At the same time, they continued to draw inspiration from the past and those traditional American styles that had become established in various regions.
From the International, Art Deco, and Moderne styles with their cosmopolitan flair and Bauhaus roots to the traditional Colonial Revival styles in its various guises, American architecture had something for everyone.
During this period, architects and builders frequently borrowed stylistic elements from various periods. In some respects, it’s difficult to assign many homes any single style. As a result, all this stylistic freewheeling is accurately called American Eclectic.
Here’s 55 Of The Most Popular House Styles In America
What is a barndominium? A barndominium or “barndo” is a house that has built with a traditional barn-like structure. The floor plans of a barndominum are typically very open with high ceilings because the structures are made out of metal structures and can be bought as pre-manufactured barndominium kits or made by custom barndo building companies.
This style of home is rapidly becoming one of the most popular styles of homes being built, perhaps due to being featured on the HGTV show “Fixer Upper” with popular hosts Chip and Joanna Gaines.
What is a bungalow?
It’s a mushy term that could encompass any of the many small to medium-size homes built during the first half of the 20th century. Or it could be seen as a generic descendant of the American Arts & Crafts movement’s most prominent designers.
The imprecision of the term does nothing to help most owners of older small houses decide whether their home is a bungalow or not. According to one definition given in the Classic Houses of Seattle by Caroline Swope, it’s a matter of scale, not style.
However, in Classic Houses in Portland by Hawkins and Willingham, a bungalow is described as “one facet of the Craftsman movement.” Clearly, trained architects and art historians don’t agree, so some confusion is inevitable.
However, if we refer to Harry Saylor’s book Bungalow published in 1911, then we can derive our definition from him—that is, open floor plans, low-pitched roofs, and the essential large front porch.
The bungalow style has its roots in the native architectural style of Bengal, India. During the late 19th century and the waning days of the British Empire, English officers had small houses built in the “Bangla” style. The houses were one story with tile or thatched roofs and wide, covered verandas.
These houses were provided as rest houses for travelers, so the association was created early on that these were small houses for a temporary retreat. In 1906, an article appeared in Stickley’s “The Craftsman” magazine suggesting “Possibilities of the Bungalow as a Permanent Dwelling.”
Once they were accepted as full-time, year-round residences, the simplicity of a summer home was fused with the idealistic philosophy of the Arts & Crafts Movement.
The Arts & Crafts movement inspired American architects and craftsmen like the Greene brothers in Pasadena and Frank Lloyd Wright in Chicago, Gustav Stickley in Michigan, and many others to rediscover the value in handcrafting buildings and their contents using natural materials, creating a more holistic lifestyle for their occupants.
At the same time, there were other notable movements, such as the first wave of nature conservancy and the establishment of national parks and social activism that was of a decidedly populistic bent. The Industrial Age’s backlash was a yearning desire among many Americans to own their homes and have small gardens.
The success of the bungalow was due to its providing a solution to this desire. Thus, we’ll go out on a limb here and define the bungalow by its populist appeal, affordability, and easy livability and charm. The essential distinction between the Craftsman “style” and the derivative bungalow is the level of fine detail and workmanship.
Once “kit” home manufacturers like Aladdin and Sears began to offer them through their catalogs, their success was assured. Prospective homeowners could have an entire home shipped to their town by train.
With the help of a couple of carpenters, the homeowner could build a practical, simple, attractive little home for a sum that was manageable by huge numbers of Americans. Mass production, however, meant that the fine carpentry and detailing present in the Craftsman homes were modified and distilled into more generic equivalents.
Nevertheless, kit homes were generally built of good quality materials that have held up extremely well over the last century.
The bungalow-style typically had some combination of the following:
- Low-pitched roof, gabled or hipped.
- Deep eaves with exposed rafters
- Decorative knee braces
- Open floor plan
- 1–1½ stories, occasionally two
- Built-in cabinetry, beamed ceilings, and simple wainscot are most commonly seen in dining and living rooms.
- Large fireplace often with built-in cabinetry, shelves, or benches on either side
- Dormers – shed, hipped, or gabled.
- Large, covered front porches with massive columns under the extension of the main roof.
- Windows were typically double-hung with multiple lights in the upper window and a single pane in the lower, often seen in continuous banks. Simple, wide casings.
In keeping with the interest in America’s past, the little Cape Cod style packed a huge wallop during the early part of the 20th century. Borrowing from the tiny New England homes of the 17th century, this cottage style has consistently appealed to generations of Americans for it’s simplicity and charm.
The cozy-looking Cape Cod is beloved by many Americans. Like other Colonial Revival styles, it has a rectangular footprint, but a steeper gabled roof. Plainer in ornamentation that than many other Colonial styles, the Cape Cod was ideally suited to young couples starting out and summer homes. They found favor across the country for their affordability, especially during the Depression years from 1930 to 1940. With this traditional form, it was possible to build a “half” Cod and add to it as funds became available.
The main floor serves as the living area with living room, dining room and kitchen. A single bedroom is often found on the main floor with additional bedrooms are on the second.
Colonial Revival Cape Cod houses had many of these features:
- Symmetrical appearance with front entry centered
- Steep roof with side gables
- Small roof overhang
- 1 or 1½ stories
- Wood frame with lap, shake, or shingle siding
- Chimney located at gable end of house
- Gabled dormers
- Multi-paned, double-hung windows
- Simple exterior ornamentation
The following description of Colonial architecture was published in 1928 by in the Home Builders Catalog:
“The Colonial architecture is more closely associated with American history and traditions than any other type of architecture. A brief review of the famous dwellings to which Americans look with pride will show them to one Colonial style or another. So closely has the Colonial home been interwoven with American Life that it is only within recent years that a family of culture would consider anything else. Nor must we think that all houses looked alike, for in its wide and extensive use different kinds of Colonial houses developed. Colonial houses flourished in New England, in New York, in Virginia and the South and in the North under diverse climates and conditions. As necessity is the mother of architecture, it was inevitable that Colonial architecture should develop along various lines.
“Nothwithstanding the close association of Colonial architecture with American home life and the fact that it has taken on various forms, it has one common and foreign source. The style was directly borrowed by the American Colonists from Georgian England, whose architects in turn looked to Greek and Roman models for their inspiration. Knowing this ancestry, it is not difficult to understand the emphasis upon horizontal lines, the simple division of interior space, the application of Classic orders, the comfortable impression of compactness and the exceeding economy of the style. The use of flat pilasters and columns which are part and parcel of the Southern Colonial style have also obviously their Classic models. Nor was it a simple task to adapt the cold, monumental architecture of the Greek and Roman public buildings to home use. We have to thank the particular genius of Englishmen of the Georgian period for making this style flexible and warm and at the same time retentive of all its ancestry. One has only to look at the old Georgian houses to ascertain this.
“While the American colonists copied the Georgian style in general, they were not content to leave it untouched, and many of the delightful features of Colonial architecture are their innovations. Such indispensable accessories as brass knockers, cut glass door knobs and old gilt mirrors topped with their bold eagles were the devices of our forefathers. The double twist in the newel post, the dark mahogany hand rail and the frequent application of shutters are also American in origin. A comparison of New England and Southern Colonial homes with the pure Georgian houses will help to convey the extent which Americans have altered, and in some ways refined upon their original English models. Excepting the architectural principles themselves there is very little of the old English houses in either New England or Southern Colonial homes.
“As has been pointed out, local conditions play a tremendously important part in the shaping of an architectural style. Thus we see two different styles of Colonial architecture in New England and in Virginia and the South which are designated as New England Colonial and Southern Colonial. The difference in climate shows it effect upon the height of ceilings, high ceilings being required in the South because of the heat. The local supply of material accounts for the fact that New England Colonial homes are almost invariably built of wood siding, while the discovery of excellent beds of clay in Virginia caused brick to become popular there.
“The Southern planter, being the wealthier man, indulged in the use of Classic orders with greater profuseness, as is evidenced by the colonnade which extended through two stories, an outstanding characteristic of the Southern Colonial home. He was also able to place the kitchen and servants’ quarters in adjoining structures, thus permitting retention of the fourfold division of rooms on the first floor. The practical New Englander, on the other hand, converted one entire side of the first floor into a large living room and had to refrain from the privacy of outbuildings because of the much higher fuel consumption. Other necessities caused other distinctions in style, so that we have come to look upon the Southern Colonial and New England Colonial as two different types of architecture altogether.
“In spite of these outward differences, the essence of classic architecture is retained in both. The emphasis upon horizontal lines, the economic use of space, there being no cozy corners or nooks, the simple dignity withal are seen in both. Because of its simplicity and subsequent economy and because it is a type of architecture proven by our countrymen, it deserves serious consideration from the prospective home builder. He may be sure that he will never tire of his Colonial home, that its charm will be lasting and that it will mellow with age. And what a cultural environment it provides for the raising of a family.”
Published in 1928 By Home Builders Catalog Co., 1315-1321 Congress St., CHICAGO
Colonial Revival style homes were extremely popular from 1900 to 1950. After the first centennial of the American Revolution in 1876, a new awareness of traditional architectural forms appeared across the US. From 1920 until mid-century, this architectural style with its variants was the most popular home style in the US. With its simple elegant lines and traditional form, it continues to be one of America’s favorite house styles.
Its popularity stems from its traditional American roots and the flexibility of style. The New England version provides the style derived from the Georgian and Adam architecture of the late 1700s as well as offering uniquely American variations like the salt box and Cape Cod. Others types include the Dutch Colonial with its characteristic gambrel roof and the Four Square.
The following are subtypes of the Colonial Revival style:
- Classical Revival
- American Four Square
- Dutch Colonial Revival
- Garrison Colonial
- Cape Cod
Colonial Revivals typically have a rectangular footprint and may be one, one-and-a-half, or two stories. They may have either a hipped or gabled roof with a medium pitch.
The façade is generally symmetrical which gives it formality and balance. Double-hung, multi-paned windows are arranged symmetrically, frequently in pairs. The front door is centered and accentuated with a combination of pediment, pilasters, columns, fanlight, or sidelights.
Siding was frequently clapboard, but with new technologies making it possible, many Colonial Revivals had facings of brick over their wooden balloon framing.
White was the preferred color for many homes with trim in green, black, or other dark hues.
The following characteristics are usually found on the classic Colonial Revival home.
- Facade: Symmetrical, often with side porches
- Shape: Rectangular
- Stories: 1-3
- Roof: Gable or hip with narrow overhang, medium pitch with wood shingles, and in NE slate tile
- Windows: Multi-pane, double-hung with shutters, bay windows. Shutters.
- Entrance: Centered and prominent with columns, pilasters, or extended pediment to create a covered porch; fanlight or transom, sidelights, paneled door
- Siding: Brick or wood clapboard
- Other design elements: Dormers, classical columns , two-story pilasters or quoins at corners, dentils under eaves
In the first few years of the 20th century, the architectural firm of Greene and Greene, steeped in the Art & Crafts movement and influenced by existing California board and shingle buildings, designed what would later be known as the quintessential Craftsman-style architecture.
The Craftsman style is defined by its low-pitched gabled roofs with broad eaves, large front porches, and exposed wooden structural elements. Houses were typically 1-1½ stories and of wood construction. Homes designed by Greene & Greene include the spectacular Gamble House.
What most distinguished the Craftsman home was its philosophical foundation that was predicated on a more functional aesthetic, natural materials, and a greater degree of craftsmanship, which Art & Crafts proponents believed to be missing from the more ornate or traditional styles of the period.
Arts and Crafts architects and designers believed that a return to a simpler, less pretentious style would lead to a healthier, more comfortable and productive life.
The Craftsman bungalow adapted the large porch and practical floor plan seen in earlier homes built by British colonists in India. The style proved incredibly popular and the bungalow style evolved into a simpler version for the broader market as building plan books and pre-cut home kits became available.
As a result, almost all Craftsman houses are bungalows, but not all bungalows are Craftsman-style. The Craftsman style is distinguished by its many fine details and excellent workmanship.
The typical Craftsman home usually has the following features:
- Low-pitched roof
- Deep eaves with exposed rafters
- Decorative knee braces.
- 1–1½ stories
- Built-in cabinetry
- Large fireplace, often with built-in cabinetry on either side
- Large, covered front porches with massive, battered columns
- Windows were typically double-hung with multiple lights in the upper window and a single pane in the lower
- Many fine details include hammered metalwork in copper and bronze, and art tiles by notable American art potters like Batchelder, Grueby, Rookwood, and the Roycrofters.
The Dutch Colonial Revival is not a style unique in itself. It’s a subtype of the Colonial Revival style so popular during the first half of the 1900s, sharing many of its characteristics, but with certain unique elements. In the 1928 Home Builders Catalog, the following described this architectural form:
“While the term “Dutch Colonial” conveys a definite type of house to almost everyone, the name itself is misleading. “Dutch” does not refer to Holland and “Colonial” has no direct relationship with Colonial Architecture. This type of home takes its name from the Dutch Colonists who settled in the lower parts of New York and New Jersey. There they lived for many years in warm and cheery comfort. The Dutch Colonial house conveys to us this rich domesticity and love of good living.
“The most characteristic feature of the Dutch Colonial style is the gambrel roof—so much so, in fact that “gambrel” and “Dutch” have become synonomous. The legend goes that this low, sweeping roof, with its dormer windows, was the ingenious means by which the Dutch Colonists evaded the heavy tax on two story houses. And there is today a practical advantage over the two story house in saving of materials without the loss of space. The extraordinary flexibility of the style makes it possible for one to arrange the interior to suit his taste and still be assured of an harmonious exterior. One wing or two can be added without disturbing the gentle contour. One can compare this flexibility to Colonial types where there is harmony without freedom, and to English types where there is freedom without definite symmetry.
“If a man decides to build a Dutch Colonial home he should keep some things constantly in mind. First, the best types are long and low and set close to the ground. Secondly, the dormer window should be considerably narrower than the first story window. Lastly, it can be equally well executed in shingles, siding and brick, but it is not advisable to mix them up. The narrow, high, top-heavy kind is to be avoided if one is to be true to precedent. Above all let it ramble, for the Dutch Colonial home is nothing if not picturesque.”
The Dutch Colonial Revival style is distinguished by its gambrel roof, with or without flared eaves, and the frequent use of dormers.
It was built from about 1890 to 1930 in various forms. A typical Victorian form from 1890 to 1900 was often cross-gabled with many accompanying excesses including bric-a-brac and fish scale siding. After 1900, more classical elements began to predominate.
The gambrel style allowed an almost complete second floor without the expense of two-story construction. Far from being a mere legend, the original Colonial style with a gambrel roof became popular during the last part of the 1700s because they were less expensive to build and avoided the pitfall of being taxed as a two-story house. The Federal Direct Tax records of 1798 shows that gambrel-roofed houses were classified as one story. What a bargain!
In addition to many Colonial Revival characteristics, the following were common to the Dutch Colonial:
- 1½ to 2 stories
- Clapboard or shingle siding, but occasionally with brick or stone facing
- Typically symmetrical façades, but also found with side entries
- Gable-end chimneys
- Round windows in gable end
- Porch under overhanging eaves
- 8-over-8 windows
- Shed, hipped, or gable dormers
- Columns for porches and entry
The American Foursquare was built between 1890 and about 1935. After 1900, it was one of the most popular house styles in both rural settings and on small city lots. They were sensible two- to two-and-a-half-story homes that were economical to build, comfortable to live in, and aesthetically pleasing in their simplicity.
The Foursquare takes its name from its simple, cubic shape and floor plan which is divided into quarters on each floor. Like the Prairie style, the Foursquare had a low pitched, hipped roof with a deep over hang. Frequently, they are seen with a large, hipped central dormer. They have a large wide porch that runs the full width of the house, and wide stairs.
The Foursquare is usually clad in materials that are indigenous to where it was built. In the Pacific Northwest the majority are sided in wood; in other areas, the Foursquare is seen in brick, stone, or a combination of materials. Most often the foundation is raised and the masonry, stone, or brick is evident.
They are thought by some to descend from the Italianate style of the mid-19th century and by others to be a variation on the Colonial Revival style. Borrowing from other styles prevalent during the first third of the 20th century, many Foursquares can be found sporting many of the design details of the Colonial Revival, bungalow, and Italian Renaissance. Elements such as classical columns and simple friezes, knee braces, exposed rafter tails, and tile roofs are not unusual and make this a truly eclectic style, especially in homes built after 1920.
A relative of the Foursquare is the much smaller cottage version with only one floor, a hipped roof and central dormer, and full width front porch supported by simple columns.
General Characteristics of the Foursquare
- Simple floor plan
- Boxy, cubic shape
- Full width front porch with columnar supports and wide stairs
- Offset front entry in an otherwise symmetrical facade
- Two to two and a half stories
- Pyramidal, hipped roof, often with wide eaves
- Large central dormer
- Large single light windows in front, otherwise double hung
- Incorporated design elements from other contemporaneous styles, but usually in simple applications
The charm of the French Eclectic style is indisputable, especially among the simplest examples of this type.
America has always had a special relationship with France so it was inevitable that French architectural styles would find their way across the Atlantic and be incorporated into the American landscape. Previous French influences included the Second Empire style of the 19th century with its characteristic mansard roofs and the relatively rare Chateauesque (c. 1880–1910) with its incredibly ornate detailing.
The French Eclectic style embraces the various regional styles found across France as well as American adaptations and interpretations in a more vernacular way which made it suitable for single family homes. Earlier versions (1900–1915) were more likely influenced by the elaborate Beaux Arts and Chateauesque styles, whereas later houses were influenced by more modest French homes that were familiar to returning WWI soldiers. Also, photographic studies became available to American architects during the 1920s that provided inspirational models.
The most telling feature of French Eclectic is its roof. It is steeply pitched, hipped, and the eaves are often flared. This style may be either symmetrical and quite formal, or asymmetrical and somewhat rambling as are many French farmhouses. There are many similarities to the Tudor style that occurred at the same time, such as half-timbering and materials used. This style is most easily distinguished from the Tudor by the absence of a front-facing cross gable.
Rounded towers with conical roofs were frequently built, especially in asymmetrical designs. Dormers were common; gabled, hipped, and arched dormers are seen “through-the-cornice” which creates a distinctive facade. Roof dormers are common as well. Depending on the architect’s interpretation, front entrances may be accessed through half-rounded, covered porches with much detail, or simple undecorated stoops.
This style is relatively unusual in all parts of the US. Most French Eclectic homes were constructed between 1920–1935.
The following features are found in various combinations:
- Tall, steeply pitched, hipped roof
- Eaves commonly flared upward
- Masonry wall cladding of stone or brick; often stuccoed
- Rounded Norman towers are common
- Massive chimneys
- Range of architectural detail including quoins, pediments, pilasters
- Windows may be casement or double-hung and French doors are used
International style architecture was part of the Modern Art movement and evolved from the Bauhaus School during the 1920s and 1930s. It relied on pure geometric forms, with ornamentation stripped from facades to reveal the essential line and curve that defines space.
Bauhaus architects like Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius left Germany with the rise of the Nazi party and the result was the American version of the style which came to be known as International. Other notable architects include Richard Neutra and Le Corbusier, who was also known for his elegant furniture designs.
International style is predominantly found in the large-scale commercial application of skyscrapers and office buildings and less often in residential architecture. The World Trade Center was the epitome of International design. Single family residential homes are relatively unusual, but apartment homes and condos are common in larger cities.
Buildings constructed in this style are characterized by flat, unornamented planes for roofs, walls, and windows. Composition is often asymmetrical, with interesting contrasts between flat planes and curved elements. Strong horizontal lines are apparent in the arrangement of windows and other design features.
Building materials were utilitarian; concrete, glass, aluminum, and steel were commonly used. Revealing the skeleton frame construction was occasionally an integral part of the design. Windows were often metal framed casements arranged in horizontal bands. Where color was used, it was subtle; many buildings were designed to be white or neutral with black or gray contrasting elements.
The International style celebrated technology, progress, and change and was firmly fixed on an optimistic future of infinite possibilities. International style is often ageless and looks as modern now as it did four decades ago.
The following characteristics were typically found on International style buildings:
- Utilitarian materials such as concrete, steel, and glass
- Flat roof
- Flat, smooth, untextured surfaces; flat unornamented planes
- Rounded corners
- Ribbon windows often meeting at corners
- Metal casement windows
Unlike the derivative Italianate style of the 19th century, the Italian Renaissance style of the 20th was much truer to the Italian villas seen by American tourists and in photographic sources that became increasingly available after WWI.
Most Italian Renaissance homes have strong classical elements seen in columns, molded cornices, arched entries, and many fine details. The houses are most often symmetrical with low-pitched, hipped tile roofs. The relatively broad boxed-in eaves are accented by brackets. Projecting side wings are often seen on symmetrical houses. Even in the less common asymmetrical designs where entries are off center, carefully balanced features like arches, windows, and projecting wings still ground the buildings in a harmonious manner.
Elegant front entrances with recessed porches supported by classical columns are balanced by the symmetrical arrangement of tall windows topped by arches, pediments, or other detail on either side of the entry. Second story windows are typically much simpler.
The buildings are most often stone-faced or stucco, even on the simpler versions. Except for the roof, ubiquitous stone or stucco cladding, and eave brackets, it would be possible to confuse the Italian Renaissance style with many of the Colonial Revival homes of the same period. The home shown on this page, designed by John Virginius Bennes is considered by some authorities to be a brilliant example of Prairie style, though its fusion of Mediterranean elements with the horizontal character of the Prairie School makes it a beautiful building regardless of how it is categorized.
The following characteristics are often found in some combination on most Italian Renaissance style homes:
- Low pitched, hipped tile roof
- Moderate to wide eaves with decorative bracket supports
- Recessed porches with arched openings
- Classical detailing in use of columns, quoins, pediments, arches, and pilasters
- Most often symmetrical
- Balanced wings
Mission Revival style—also called California Mission or simply Mission—was part of the Art & Crafts movement in the early part of the 20th century. Taking its character from the Spanish Franciscan mission churches of the Southwestern US, it was especially well adapted to warm climate areas like California and the deserts. It’s popularity was fueled by the success of Arthur Page Brown’s California State Building shown at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. The style was subsequently adopted by Santa Fe Railway for its train stations. Other creative boosters sought to distinguish Southwestern regional architecture by creating Mission style resorts and public buildings for tourists.
Like other Art & Crafts architectural forms, Mission style also incorporated well-crafted inglenooks and built-in cabinetry, beamed ceilings, and handmade metal details like cabinet hardware and lighting fixtures. Interiors often had rough plastered walls with curved corners and coved ceilings. Tile accents are may be found but usage is restrained. In the Southwest, clay tile floors cool interiors spaces during the warm season.
Originating in the West, Mission style was popular from about 1900 to 1940. Though most popular in California and the desert Southwest, the style diffused from West to East instead of vice versa with many fine examples occurring throughout the country.
The style is quite simple with covered archways and half-rounded windows, smooth stucco walls that mimic the adobe walls of the Spanish missions, and flat or shallow sloped tile roofs. Towers and roof parapets are often found, Extended roofs may form covered arcades with large square pillars or columns—a feature that allows building interiors to remain relatively cool in hot climates.
As the Mission style evolved there was significant borrowing from both the Craftsman bungalow and Prairie School styles. A contemporary version of what might be called Neo-Mission is currently a very popular house style throughout the Desert Southwest.
Mission style houses incorporate many of the following characteristics:
- Simple, smooth stucco or plaster siding
- Broad, overhanging eaves
- Exposed rafters
- Either hipped or gabled tile roof
- Roof parapets
- Large square pillars
- Twisted columns
- Arched entry and windows
- Covered walkways or arcades
- Round or quatrefoil window
- Restrained decorative elements usually consisting of tile, iron, and wood
Moderne / Deco
Modern architecture is more about a change in the way humans looked at life and the technological innovations of the 1930s. Technology made it possible for Charles Lindbergh to fly solo across the Atlantic, the radio was changing the speed and way Americans obtained information, and entertainment was to be found at the local cinema with new Hollywood stars like Charlie Chaplin and Greta Garbo. Wheaties were the new breakfast food. DDT controlled agricultural pests. All things were possible and despite the Depression, most Americans believed that new, scientific solutions were the answer to their every need. New materials were being used for automobiles and airplanes, so it was a natural extension that these materials would be incorporated into cutting edge architecture.
No wonder then that all this dynamic change fostered the development of the modern art movement and dramatic changes in architecture. Art Deco and its immediate successor, Art Moderne, were two of the fresh architectural styles that emerged from 1920 to 1940.
Art Deco was a style of ornamentation using low-relief stylized graphics and applied motifs ranging from florals to geometrics and preceded the Art Moderne style. Buildings were often distinguished by pronounced ascending vertical elements and stepped roof lines. the Between the setback styling of many skyscrapers and and generously applied ornamentation, the resulting style was often referred to as “Wedding Cake” style.
By contrast, Art Moderne buildings are asymmetrical and essentially cubic, often with rounded corners. The effect was streamlined like many of the industrial designs of the 1930s. Often two walls meet in a curve rather than a squared corner. Walls were typically white stucco with a flat finish. Decorative detail was minimized, relying instead on strong horizontal elements like metal banding and coping at the roof line and clean metal balustrades to impart fresh, contemporary character. Unlike Art Deco, Moderne is simple, unadorned, and horizontal.
Windows, frequently using glass block, wrapped around the curve. Alternately, windows at corners met with minimal framing to create an illusion of a window-wrapped corner. New window styles emphasized horizontal lines by stacking rectangular lights in a metal sash.
Art Moderne architecture, though never a dominant style, is found scattered around the country with a larger number of good examples in California and Florida. Art Deco was almost exclusively limited to commercial structures and apartment buildings; very few Deco residences exist.
General Characteristics of Art Moderne
- Flat roof
- Cubic form with flat, untextured walls in stucco or concrete
- Simple geometric shapes
- Little ornamentation
- Rounded corners
- Wrap-around windows, often using glass block
- Metal framed windows arranged in a horizontal band
- Metal trim around doors and windows
- Decorative elements in aluminum and steel often applied in horizontal banding as well as railings, and balusters
Prairie style architecture evolved from the handcrafted, meticulous design and construction prevalent during the earliest years of the 20th century. It’s virtually synonymous with Frank Lloyd Wright though many other architects, many of whom were also employed by Louis Sullivan, explored this style.
The evolution toward Prairie School is evident in the many notable examples in and around Chicago where Sullivan and his many protégés worked. For example, in studying the Arts & Crafts influence evident in Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1889 home and studio in Oak Park, Illinois, its easy to see the direction he was headed. Over the next couple decades a variety of Wright homes were built nearby and showcase the evolution of the Prairie style. Another example of the Prairie School is evident in several designs included in the 1909 Cement Homes of William Radford. Styles like the two-story 8215 and the single-story model 8227 with its Wright-inspired planter.
This uniquely indigenous American style has been integrated into many current styles. In its original form it remained popular only until about 1920 when it largely faded from the architectural scene. However, despite its relatively short life span, it has proven a surprisingly adaptable and modern form. Many of its elements were resurrected during the 1930s when the Ranch style was initially being explored and even today, homes of the Prairie School have a remarkably contemporary appearance. As a result, it’s not uncommon to find Prairie influences in modern vernacular designs.
With its clean lines and strong presence, the Prairie style was a reaction to the ornate overblown Victorian architecture of the late 19th century. As a direct descendent of the Arts & Crafts philosophy, the Prairie School style, like its Craftsman cousins, followed a natural progression. The Arts & Crafts philosophy stressed purity of design and artistry in execution. Natural materials were used and revered for what they were. Moving from the outdoors to indoor spaces became a seamless transition.
The building form was long and low with broad, overhanging eaves, and broad covered porches. Moving away from the bungalow style per se, the Prairie style played on Midwest regional influences and incorporated stylized Japanese elements that were very popular at the time. While gabled roof lines were seen, low-hipped roofs became a definitive characteristic of this style.
Other distinctive elements include strong horizontally-oriented façades and open, flowing interior space instead of many small boxy rooms. Ribbons of windows, often with well-defined vertical detail subtly mimicking Japanese shoji screens, add to the horizontal orientation. Many houses are essentially symmetrical, but with subordinate wings or porches. However, asymmetrical designs are also common.
Secondary influences of Mission, Italian Renaissance, and Tudor styles are often seen in such details as tiled roofs, decorative cornices, and false half-timbering. Massive masonry piers support porch roofs and modified versions are typical of more vernacular interpretations.
Decorative detail ranges from the floral and circular geometric forms of Sullivan to the more angular geometric designs of Wright, though many interpretations by other contemporary architects are found.
Prairie style houses often have a combination of these features:
- One or two-story
- One-story projections
- Open floor plan
- Low-pitched roof
- Broad, overhanging eaves
- Strong horizontal lines
- Ribbons of windows, often casements emphasize horizontality of overall design
- Prominent, central chimney
- Stylized, built-in cabinetry
- Wide use of natural materials especially stone and wood
“The Painted Lady of American Residential Architecture”
Of the various Victorian styles of architecture, one of the most important that continued from the 19th century into the first two decades of the 20th century was Queen Anne.
Popular from about 1860 to 1890 in England and somewhat later in the US, the Queen Anne style lent itself to the excesses of the Victorian age with its turrets, oriel windows, and medieval influences. Beloved by lumber barons and railroad maggots alike, many of the largest and most spectacular homes of the early 20th century were built in this style.
As a result of the Industrial Revolution, building construction evolved dramatically with the advent of balloon framing and the mass production of complex house components like doors, windows, roofing, and decorative details.
Balloon construction facilitated the design of much more elaborate footprints with a host of irregular plans, overhangs, extensions, and the like. Instead of heavy box construction necessitated by timber framing, the new, light 2″x4″ walls were liberated from their previous constraints making embellished, ornate design common.
Many examples of Queen Anne architecture are exuberant sculptural extravaganzas of shape and ornament … literally the purple prose of late 19th-century architecture.
Queen Anne houses most frequently have steeply pitched roofs that may have irregular shapes as well as a prominent forward-facing gable. Roof pitch declines in slope as the end of the 19th century near attaining a much shallower slope after 1900.
Fish scale shingle siding is often employed in various patterns and cuts, as well as spindle work, bay windows, and bump-outs. Towers are often used with imaginatively shaped roofs ranging from cones and bell shapes to octagons and domes with decorative finials.
Interestingly, towers placed at the corner of the front facade are most often a characteristic of the Queen Anne style, whereas placement is often elsewhere in other styles like the Victorian Stick style. Wrap-around porches are very common.
The smaller Queen Annes are often described as bungalows, but other than the large front porches that are typical, it is more appropriate to call them cottages.
Good examples of the Queen Anne style are seen in Hodgson’s Low Cost American Homes, which was published in 1905.
More is NEVER TOO MUCH with a Queen Anne.
- Shapes are varied but usually have a prominent forward-facing gable. Cross-gabled versions are frequently seen.
- The roof pitch may be quite steep with many irregular planes.
- Towers and turrets are common.
- Double-hung windows are relatively long and narrow. Ornate stained glass windows are not uncommon.
- Highly ornamented with spindle work, finials, roof cresting, corner brackets on porches, and cutouts.
- Siding may range from half-timbering and stucco to patterned shingles and clapboards. Combinations are often fanciful.
- Parapets and brickwork are often variably colored and patterned and highly decorative.
- Covered porches often wrap from the front and around aside and are decorated with spindle work and friezes.
- Chimneys may be patterned in masonry and are sometimes seen with chimney pots.
What can you say about a ranch style home? For anyone over 40, they represent a familiar, if bygone era, where hoards of kids trawled the streets and sitcom families lived in homes just like theirs.
Though the earliest ranch style homes date to the 1930s in California and reflect a relaxed Western lifestyle, they didn’t become popular until after World War II. Developers such as architect-builders like Joe Eichler were instrumental in developing huge housing tracts for WWII vets taking advantage of the GI Bill.
Some ranches echo the low profile of the earth-hugging Craftsman bungalows and wide overhanging eaves and hip roofs of the Prairie style. Others are an extension of the Minimal Traditional with the wrapped corner windows of the Modern style. As with all 20th century American architecture, the Ranch style is eclectic and individual houses may incorporate elements of any of its antecedents.
The typical ranch style home is a single, often rambling, story with either a hipped or gabled roof. At first glance, it may appear bereft of style, but that first impression can be deceptive. Shape ranged from an unadorned box to various L- or U-shaped configurations. Where preceding styles were more cubic, the ranch was long and horizontal with an asymmetrical facade. New distinctive features found homes of the 1950s and 60s included attached garages, sliding glass doors, and huge picture windows.
The interior of a Ranch style home is generally open with living room, dining areas, and family rooms blending into one another. Kitchens are often adjacent to the the family room (where many a TV dinner served on a tray could be enjoyed by Mom, Dad, and the kids while watching “Ozzie and Harriet” or “Bonanza”). Sliding glass doors open onto decks and patios for summertime patio living.
The Ranch, with its horizontal orientation relative to the street, is typically two rooms deep and four rooms wide, unlike many earlier styles that were just two rooms wide and presented a much smaller facade.
Ranch style architecture was influenced not only by preceding styles but also by other social and economic factors. The automobile literally and figuratively became a driving force that extended cities into the burgeoning suburbs. Rational design was also a primary influence as bedrooms were clustered into one portion of the house and living spaces in another.
Ranch style homes are gaining popularity for their ability to integrate Universal design and accessibility into its single-story floor plans, which is becoming extremely popular with boomers and seniors who want to “age in place”. Gen-Xers, meanwhile, love the retro look and want a relaxed home for their young families.
- Spreading, horizontal orientation
- Hipped or gabled roof often with wide eaves
- Logical, open floor plan in a rectangular, L-, or U-shaped configuration
- Minimal ornamentation
- Good quality construction using natural materials
- Attached garages
- New design elements such as sliding glass doors, large plate glass picture windows, and Formica countertops
The romantic Spanish Revival style—or alternately Spanish Eclectic— refers to the architectural style that was built from about 1915 to about 1940. Like Mission Revival, Spanish Revival was influenced by Spanish Colonial architecture of earlier centuries. Unlike its immediate predecessor, Mission, Spanish Revival was more ornate with stylistic detail apparent in both large features and small, such as intricately patterned tilework and wrought iron hardware.
After the Panama-California Exposition in 1915, the Spanish Revival style caught hold. The growth of California and the film industry during the 1920s and 1930s facilitated the dissemination of the Spanish Revival style. Though it is a prominent housing style in the Southwest US as well as Florida and Texas, it is less common in Northern states.
Spanish Revival is an extremely eclectic style. Many Mediterranean touches are combined to create an exotic, but harmonious appearance. Influences include Spanish Baroque, Moorish, and Gothic elements. Tile roofs and stucco exteriors are characteristic with half rounded doors and windows. Elaborate tilework, applied relief ornamentation, and wrought iron grillwork is used to create frames around doorways and windows, and is used widely as decorative accents throughout the house. Towers and columns are often seen as are balustrades, cantelivered balconies, covered porches, and arcaded walkways. Front entrances were often highly ornamented and many were balanced by a commanding triple-arched focal window.
The Monterey style is a later (1925-1955) two-story adaptation of Spanish Revival style combined with features of the Colonial Revival. It’s primary distinguishing characteristic is its prominent second-story cantilevered balcony that often runs the length of the front of the house.
The following are typical features of Spanish Revival houses:
- Low-pitched flat, gable, or hip roof, typically with no overhang
- Tile roof
- Half round arches, doors, and windows
- Stucco over adobe brick, or adobe brick exterior walls
- Plaster interior walls
- Ornate tile, wrought iron, and wood work
Split-level type homes, sometimes called raised ranches, emerged as a popular variant of the ranch style during the third quarter of the 20th century. Earlier, uncommon examples predate World War II. The Sears catalog of Honor-Bilt Homes have several models that exhibit many of the interior characteristics of the split level. Examples include the Normandy, Homestead, Homecrest, and Franklin models sporting exterior styling popular during the 1930s.
Unlike ranches, the split-level was innovative in its use of interior space. Instead of arranging rooms on one or two floors, the split reorganized space according to use. In one standard split-level variant, the entry, kitchen, dining room, and living area were on the main level. A half staircase often led to the bedrooms upstairs and another adjacent half staircase led to a family room (also called the rumpus room) as well as laundry area and possibly a guest room downstairs. Alternately, a garage might be housed in the lower level with easy access to the main level via the half staircase. Another option was the split-entry home, which was characterized by a small entry with a half staircase leading to the living area and bedrooms upstairs and an adjacent staircase leading down to a family room, laundry, and garage configuration. There were many other variations as well.
The popularity of the split-level derived in part from its modern layout and differentiation from more traditional housing styles of the mid-century such as the minimal traditional, Colonial Revival, Cape Cods, and bungalow-style cottages. Split-levels maximized their curbside presence, square footage, and minimized costs without requiring larger lots and full basements. The style provided the ideal balance between the builders’ goal of making a profit and buyers’ goal of getting as much house as possible for the money.
Roof pitch is typically low, but styling may be gabled or hipped. Eaves are often deep recalling the Prairie style of previous decades. The upper level may be cantilevered over the lower level providing additional square footage without increasing the footprint. The facade is plain with little decorative ornamentation. Windows are typically double-hung on the older variations with sliding windows appearing during the 1960s. Porches and walkways often became secondary to the driveway which became more prominent as cars and their garages were integrated into American lifestyles.
- Multi-level with a low-pitched roof
- Deep-set eaves
- Horizontal rectangular or L-shaped orientation
- Asymmetrical facade
- Double hung windows, large picture window, sliding glass doors to patio
- Integrated garage
- Simple, open floorplans with minimal wasted space
- Natural materials including hardwood floors, wood and brick exterior
- Minimal decoration limited to porch roof supports and brackets, shutters
During the 1930s, home styles evolved to include what is now called the Minimal Traditional style. It remained a prevalent style until about 1950, when it was replaced by the popular Ranch.
The Minimal Traditional incorporates Colonial and Tudor forms with the Modern and International preference for as little ornamentation as possible. Nevertheless, homes built during the Depression continued to have nice quality built-ins, cabinetry, and woodwork though somewhat simplified. Housebuilding was curtailed during WWII, but this remained a dominant residential form in the years immediately following the war. Small, post-WWII cottages were very popular with the advent of the GI Bill and can be found in most areas of the country as both individual and tract homes.
This style may incorporate the basic form of a Cape Cod for example, but introduces a forward facing gable, small covered porch, and occasionally corner-wrapped windows. Hipped roofs are not uncommon. Minimal Traditional style homes were often fairly small cottage-size single- to two story homes with practical floor plans.
Typically, they have gabled roofs, no eaves, and lapped wood siding of wood as well as shake, brick, or stone facing. They are generally asymmetrical with the front entrance off center. As an eclectic style, elements of contemporaneous Tudor, Colonial Revival, or Spanish Revival are often found. Garages may be entirely detached or attached to the main house, but if attached the garage is usually a subordinate element unlike later homes where the garage became more prominent.
This style is the Plain Jane of 20th century American residential architecture, but is being “discovered” by new homebuyers as the style that immediately preceded the developer’s suburban tract homes of the post-WWII period.
- Shallow to medium pitched, gabled or hipped roof usually with no eaves
- Small entry porch with simple pillars or columns
- Simple floor plan, rectangular shape, often with small ells
- Garages may be either detached or part of the main house
- Minimal ornamentation
Tudor & English Cottage
In 1928, in the Builder’s Home Catalog, you would have found the following description of this style:
“The soaring, evanescent spirit of Gothic architecture seems to have little to do with domestic buildings. And in actuality it is impossible to find such salient features as high vaulted ceilings, delicate buttresses and real stained glass windows short of a mediaeval castle. Yet if we look at it in a broader way, if we remember that the desires for buoyant freedom, for romance itself is at the core of Gothic architecture we can find some domestic expression of it. Chief among these are the half timber houses of Tudor and Elizabethan England.
The principle behind the Gothic home is one of frankness. That is the exterior is a frank expression of the interior. The floor plan is first laid out and, regardless of its intricacy, the exterior is made to reveal what it encloses. Thus the Gothic style is the most flexible of all. Though symmetry is sacrificed it is more than made up for in the subtle balancing of parts. The finished result, if carefully watched, will be a beautiful composition of shapely architectural forms, varied wall surfaces, projecting casements and rich, decorative detail. For the expression of one’s personality in a home, nothing could be more pliable, and in the end satisfying.”
An outgrowth of the Queen Anne style favored for its storybook charm and design versatility, the Tudor Revival style was popular in many areas of the US from 1915 to about 1940. Its impact may have been as modest as a single steep dormer on a small house to a grand medieval manor. This style and its cousin—the English Cottage—continues to be extremely popular and still influences contemporary American architecture.
The Tudor Revival is found in homes both small and palatial. The cottage-style variant is generally smaller and more common. It is frequently found in house pattern books of the 1920s and 30s.
The Tudor and English Cottage style is notable for its steeply pitched, cross-gabled roof. Decorative half timbering is common in the gable and second story. The windows are relatively tall and slender with multi-pane glazing separated by either wood or lead muntins. Chimneys are very large and commonly decorated with ornate chimney pots.
Several different siding treatments are common including brick, stucco, stone, and wood shingle or clapboard. On the balloon framework of the 20th century, brick was particularly popular and various siding combinations are commonly seen.
Roofs are found in most roofing materials but the most interesting variation is the false thatched roof where the roofing material is rolled around the eaves. The effect created is very charming and effectively mimics the thatched roofs of English country cottages. Less common is the parapeted gable.
Windows, another distinctive feature, are often casement types opening out as well as the more common double-hung window. Multiple windows are arranged in ribbons across the façade. Sashes are multi-paned with lead or wood muntins.
Typically, Tudor or English Cottage style homes have a combination of the following characteristics:
- One-and-one-half to two stories
- Asymmetrical plan
- Cross-gabled, medium to steeply pitched roof, sometimes with clipped gables
- Arrangements of tall, narrow windows in bands; small window panes either double-hung or casement
- Over scaled chimneys with decorative brickwork and chimney pots
- In the English Cottage, a steeply gabled, enclosed entry is common
- Cozy, irregularly-shaped rooms
Conor Jameson was born and raised in Ireland, where he was an accomplished carpenter by trade. He moved to the United States after meeting his now wife Sarah while she was studying abroad. Conor and Sarah currently live in the New England area and love buying, renovating, and selling antique homes.