What are Colonial Style Houses?

Mary McMahon

Colonial style houses are houses which were built during the Colonial period in the United States, in which the English, French, Germans, and Spanish all had colonies scattered across various parts of the North America. The term “Colonial style house” may also refer to Colonial revival houses, modern houses which are meant to evoke the Colonial style. This style of architecture has remained perennially popular in North America, and numerous examples can be seen across the United States, especially across the Eastern seaboard in regions like New York and Vermont.

Colonial style homes commonly feature chimneys.
Colonial style homes commonly feature chimneys.

Several different styles of house were built during the Colonial period, and all are termed Colonial style houses. Local building materials usually had an impact on the type of architecture used, as did the origins of the builders, many of whom built homes in styles which were familiar and comfortable, if not always practical for the climate in which they were built.

Keeping rooms are right off of the kitchen in a colonial home.
Keeping rooms are right off of the kitchen in a colonial home.

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Early English style Colonial houses reflected building techniques developed in the Late Medieval period. Other examples of English-influenced Colonial style houses include New England Colonials, Cape Cod Colonials, Georgian Colonials, and Federal Style Houses. Examples of Dutch, German, and Spanish Colonial style houses can also be seen, with Dutch and German houses being primarily seen around New York State, while French Colonial houses are found in the American South, and Spanish style homes in the Southwest and parts of California.

Several traits are common to almost all Colonial style houses. They tend to be symmetrical and are often square or rectangular. Windows are commonly shuttered, and the homes may be two storied or one storied with gabled attics. Homes built in the French style may have covered porches or balconies. True Colonial style houses built during the Colonial period often have remarkably low ceilings and doors, reflecting the smaller stature of people who lived during this period, and many homes have windows which flank the front door, with paired chimneys on either side of the house or a single large chimney in the middle. Roofs in New England tend to be steep and sloping, with a much gentler slope in the Southwest and South.

Timber framing was a common construction method during the Colonial period. Some German Colonial style houses were built from brick or stone, while Spanish style homes were often made with adobe or brick. The look of such houses is classically very clean, with minimal ornamentation, although the door may be crowned with elaborate molding. Such homes sometimes seem very austere and formal, with a floor plan which may include features for formal entertaining such as a separate dining room.

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