Even if your house is brand new, its architecture draws inspiration from the past. Here’s an introduction to house styles found throughout the United States. Find out what influenced important housing styles in the U.S. from Colonial to modern times. Learn how residential architecture has changed over the centuries, and discover interesting facts about the design influences that helped shape your own home.
American Colonial House Styles
When North America was colonized by the Europeans, settlers brought building traditions from many different countries. Colonial American house styles from the 1600s until the American Revolution include a wide range of architectural types, including New England Colonial, German Colonial, Dutch Colonial, Spanish Colonial, French Colonial, and, of course, the ever-popular Colonial Cape Cod.
Neoclassicism After the Revolution, 1780-1860
During the founding of the United States, learned people such as Thomas Jefferson felt that ancient Greece and Rome expressed the ideals of democracy. After the American Revolution, architecture reflected the classical ideals of order and symmetry—a new classicism for a new country. Both state and federal government buildings throughout the land adopted this type of architecture. Ironically, many democracy-inspired Greek Revival mansions were built as plantation homes before the Civil War (antebellum).
American patriots soon became disinclined to use British architectural terms such as Georgian or Adam to describe their structures. Instead, they imitated the English styles of the day but called the style Federal, a variation of neoclassicism. This architecture can be found throughout the United States at different times in America’s history.
The Victorian Era
The reign of Britain’s Queen Victoria from 1837 until 1901 gave name to one of the most prosperous times in American history. Mass-production and factory-made building parts carried over a system of rail lines enabled the building of large, elaborate, affordable houses throughout North America. A variety of Victorian stylesemerged including Italianate, Second Empire, Gothic, Queen Anne, Romanesque, and many others. Each style of the Victorian era had its own distinctive features.
GILDED AGE 1880-1929
The rise of industrialism also produced the period we know as the Gilded Age, a wealthy extension of late Victorian opulence. From roughly 1880 until America’s Great Depression, families who profited from the Industrial Revolution in the U.S. put their money into architecture. Business leaders amassed enormous wealth and built palatial, elaborate homes. Queen Anne house styles made of wood, like Ernest Hemingway’s birthplace in Illinois, became more grand and made from stone. Some homes, known today as Chateauesque, imitated the grandeur of old French estates and castles or châteaux. Other styles from this period include Beaux Arts, Renaissance Revival, Richardson Romanesque, Tudor Revival, and Neoclassical—all grandly adapted to create the American palace cottages for the rich and famous.
American architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) revolutionized the American home when he began to design houses with low horizontal lines and open interior spaces. His buildings introduced a Japanese serenity to a country largely populated by Europeans, and his notions about organic architecture are studied even today. From roughly 1900 until 1955, Wright’s designs and writings influenced American architecture, bringing a modernity that became truly American. Wright’s Prairie School designs inspired America’s love affair with the Ranch Style home, a simpler and smaller version of the low-lying, horizontal structure with a predominate chimney. The Usonian appealed to the do-it-yourselfer. Even today, Wright’s writings about organic architecture and design are noted by the environmentally sensitive designer.
Indian Bungalow Influences
Named after primitive thatched huts used in India, bungaloid architecture suggests comfortable informality—a rejection of Victorian-era opulence. However, not all American bungalows were small, and bungalow houses often wore the trappings of many different styles, including Arts & Crafts, Spanish Revival, Colonial Revival, and Art Moderne. American bungalow styles, prominent in the first quarter of the 20th century between 1905 and 1930, can be found throughout the U.S. From stucco-sided to shingled, bungalow stylings remain one of the most popular and beloved types of homes in America.
Early 20th Century Style Revivals
In the early 1900s, American builders begin to reject the elaborate Victorian styles. Homes for the new century were becoming compact, economical, and informal as the American middle class began to grow. New York real estate developer Fred C. Trump, built this Tudor Revival cottage in 1940 in the Jamaica Estates section of Queens, a borough of New York City. This is the boyhood home of American President Donald Trump. Neighborhoods such as these were designed to be upscale and affluent in part by a choice of architecture—British designs like the Tudor Cottage were thought to elicit an appearance of civility, elitism, and aristocracy, much like neoclassicism evoked a sense of democracy a century earlier.
All neighborhoods were not alike, but often variations of the same architectural style would project a desired appeal. For this reason, throughout the U.S. one can find neighborhoods built between 1905 and 1940 with dominant themes—Arts & Crafts (Craftsman), Bungalow styles, Spanish Mission Houses, American Foursquare styles, and Colonial Revival homes were common.
Mid-20th Century Boom
During the Great Depression, the building industry struggled. From the Stock Market crash in 1929 until the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, those Americans who could afford new houses moved toward increasingly simple styles. After the wars ended in 1945, G.I. soldiers returned to the U.S. to build families and the suburbs.
As soldiers returned from World War II, real estate developers raced to meet the rising demand for inexpensive housing. Mid-century homes from roughly 1930 until 1970 included the affordable Minimal Traditional style, the Ranch, and the beloved Cape Cod house style. These designs became the mainstays of the expanding suburbs in developments such as Levittown (in both New York and Pennsylvania).
Building trends became responsive to federal legislation—the GI Bill in 1944 helped build America’s great suburbs and the creation of the interstate highway system by the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 made it possible for people to not live where they worked.
“Neo” Houses, 1965 to the Present
Neo means new. Earlier in the nation’s history, the Founding Fathers introduced Neoclassical architecture to the new democracy. Less than two hundred years later, the American middle class had blossomed as the new consumers of housing and hamburgers. McDonald’s “super-sized” its fries, and Americans went big with their new houses in traditional styles—Neo-colonial, Neo-Victorian, Neo-Mediterranean, Neo-eclectic, and oversized homes that became known as McMansions. Many new homes built during periods of growth and prosperity borrow details from historic styles and combine them with modern features. When Americans can build anything they want, they do.
Immigrants from all over the world have come to America, bringing with them old customs and cherished styles to mix with designs first brought to the Colonies. Spanish settlers in Florida and the American Southwest brought a rich heritage of architectural traditions and combined them with ideas borrowed from Hopi and Pueblo Indians. Modern day “Spanish” style homes tend to be Mediterranean in flavor, incorporating details from Italy, Portugal, Africa, Greece, and other countries. Spanish inspired styles include Pueblo Revival, Mission, and Neo-Mediterranean.
Spanish, African, Native American, Creole, and other heritages combined to create a unique blend of housing styles in America’s French colonies, particularly in New Orleans, the Mississippi Valley, and the Atlantic coastal Tidewater region. Soldiers returning from World War I brought a keen interest in French housing styles.
Modernist houses broke away from conventional forms, while postmodernist houses combined traditional forms in unexpected ways. European architects who immigrated to America between the World Wars brought modernism to America that was different from Frank Lloyd Wright’s American Prairie designs. Walter Gropius, Mies van der Rohe, Rudolph Schindler, Richard Neutra, Albert Frey, Marcel Breuer, Eliel Saarinen—all of these designers influenced architecture from Palm Springs to New York City. Gropius and Breuer brought Bauhaus, which Mies van der Rohe transformed into International style. R.M. Schindler took modern designs, including the A-Frame house, to southern California. Developers like Joseph Eichler and George Alexander hired these talented architects to develop southern California, creating styles known as Mid-century Modern, Art Moderne, and Desert Modernism.
Native American Influences
Long before Colonists came to North America, the native people living on the land were constructing practical dwellings suited to the climate and the terrain. Colonists borrowed ancient building practices and combined them with European traditions. Modern-day builders still look to Native Americans for ideas on how to construct economical, eco-friendly pueblo styles homes from adobe material.