What makes a house a particular style? Styles are visual, but they are also a form of construction detailing craft and intellectual and cultural building traditions of an earlier time. Housing styles are a reflection of the values, priorities and technological achievements of the period when they were built. Styles give a house its character as well as position its connections to earlier periods and places. Populations migrating to new countries brought their local building craft and constructed familiar styles. From the saltbox, Georgian, Federal, Greek Revival, and Italianate, houses recall history and culture in their appearance. When people look for a place to call home, they look for location, neighborhood, cost, size, but also, what the appearance of the house and what it represents. Together housing characteristics offer a variety of lifestyles and looks.
Activity 1 – Read Your House
What style is your house? You can read the style, or language, of your house if you know where to look. Starting from top to bottom, the shape of the roof, the size, geometry, and the number of windows, the overall configuration of the floor plan and the facades (from simple to complex) all contribute to its style. Can you read history in your house? Go outside and look at where you are living. Make a sketch or photograph it from the front. Observe its form, detail, and appearance. Look at its proportion, material selection and detailing to find clues as to its style. Starting from top to bottom, the geometry of the roof, the size, shape, and number of windows, the overall configuration of the floor plan (from simple to complex) all contribute to the style of a house. Styles give the house character as well as position its design in time. Outline the key elements that contribute to its style and label them. Now look at the following popular styles in the United States and see if you can identify your house! Make a drawing of the house and label its details that define its style.
Activity 2 – Colonial Revival
The most popular housing styles in America borrowed from houses built in Colonial times. The Colonial Revival has Dutch, English, French, German and Spanish varieties based on different tradition and tools of construction by the first generation builders. Dutch Colonial houses have unique “gambrel” or two part roofs, sometimes known as broken gables. Spanish Colonial houses, popular today in Florida and California, feature nearly flat roofs often of red, orange or white painted tiles. Walls are white or light brown stucco with arched entries, walled courtyards, carved wood doors, and decorative ironwork and balconies.
Activity 3 – Tudor Homes
The Tudor style comes from 16th Century Tudor England. Tudor homes have steeply pitched roofs with sharp gables over a mixture of materials including brick, half wood timbers, stucco, and patterned stone. The lumber in the original homes was structural, but today it is often ornamental. Rooms in Tudor homes tended to run on the smaller side similar to the original English houses, and each room has its function. Narrow casement windows with large wooden frames are singular or grouped in bands. Bay windows or windows that bow out have a window seat inside and sometimes even protrude out from the second floor. Tudor homes were popular from 1920 to 1940, especially in upscale suburbs and can be found in many neighborhoods today.
Activity 4 – Cape Cod Salt Box
The Cape Cod house comes from New England, especially the area on the coast of Massachusetts known as Cape Cod. The homes’ simple gable form is often called the ‘salt box’ and resembles the shape of wooden sheds used to store salt. Cape Cods are one and a half stories and typically covered with wood shingles, with a large central chimney, and gabled dormers. They have a living room stretching across the front of the house with the back half containing the kitchen, a centrally located stair, and a first-floor den or bedroom. The front façade has a central door with windows on each side and a sloping roof with dormers for the upstairs sleeping areas. Cape Cod houses are compact and functional and in many ways represent the most common graphic concept of a home. They were very popular during the 1920s and 1940s and remain a standard typology for single family living.
Activity 5 – Neo-Classical
Neoclassical homes draw details and layouts from classical Greek and Roman architecture. The ‘neo’ added at the beginning means a ‘new’ use, or reuse, of ancient traditions. The Renaissance architect, Andrea Palladio, first brought columns and entablatures to dwellings on the four symmetrical facades of the Villa Americana, or Rotunda, in Italy. Architects built neoclassical architecture at the White House and in the Capitol Building. Libraries and other civic buildings encouraged home builders to use the classical language. From the 1850s to the 1860s, Greek architecture was popular in the United States. Greek Revival sometimes known as national or federal style homes have free-standing columns holding an entablature and portico over the centrally placed front door. Neo-Classical designs are symmetrical, or balanced on a central, formal entry; classical columns and orders of the Greeks and Romans revived in housing styles in Europe and the United States from 1895 through 1920 and remain popular today. Georgian, Greek Revival, Federal, and Italianate, are all examples of classical symmetry.
Activity 6 – Georgian
Georgian homes are simple rectangular two story homes with a symmetrical façade centered on a central door with a temple-like a portico and symmetrical windows with classical detailing. Georgian style houses illustrate formality and impressiveness while a Cape Cod home is romantic and cozy. Federal Style houses are formally balanced as well, but more often wood clapboard than brick. Greek Revival houses, with evenly placed balanced windows to the left and tight of a central door, were detailed with free-standing Greek order columns. Italianate houses incorporate arches on top of columns for a front portico and often have arched windows in solariums or sunrooms. Find examples of Georgian homes in your neighborhood and sketch them and label their distinctive details.
Activity 7 – Victorian Queen Anne
The three phases of Victorian architecture in America were Early Victorian, High Victorian, and Late Victorian as the homes became more and more lavish. The Queen Anne house is one of the most popular styles from the 19th-century Victorian era. It is a romantic style utilizing Medieval towers and turrets reminiscent of the Middle Ages. While it has Queen Anne’s name, it does not represent 18th-century English styles of homes. Rather, the Queen Anne style had long sweeping porches, painted wood shingles, turrets, and ornamented trim and became the choice for the wealthy from 1875 to 1895. Many surviving Queen Anne houses are painted white, but the originals were multi-colored. Elaborate exterior woodworking, called “Gingerbread,” showed off the “tricks” of the new power saws. Porches, balconies, and bay windows add variety and “bring the outside in.” The multiple roofing types and ease of construction of Queen Anne Houses were made possible by new balloon frame construction or the method of planning wood and using nails. This invention revolutionized the housing industry by mass-producing parts easily assembled. Find examples of Queen Anne homes in your city; sketch them and label their distinctive details.
Activity 8 – Modern
Modern architecture considered as functional, rational and using latest construction methods. Today modern, or contemporary, refers to a wide range of different styles such as Contemporary, International, Art Deco, Art Moderne, Bauhaus, and Organic architecture. Modern houses rebelled against any reference to past styles and created ornament free boxes for modern lifestyles. Functional, geometrical, and simple flat roof forms featured open floor plans with double height spaces. Windows, historically vertical in proportion, stretch from floor to ceiling or become horizontal strips encouraging ‘free movement’ and larger expanses of glass connecting the outside with the inside. Modern and contemporary homes often have large floor to ceiling glass windows and flat white walls of the International School, or modern use of wood and metal in contemporary styles. Modern houses built today in older neighborhoods are very visible with their large glass windows, flat roofs, and open floor plans. Draw a plan and elevation of a modern house and label its key parts.
Activity 9 – Ranch
Ranch houses arrived on the American scene in the mid-1930s in response to a rapid need for simpler suburban living. The single roof and single floor dwelling of the typical ranch home is a very economical form to construct though it often covers more land than a two story home. The ranch home hearkens from buildings on working ranches with large acreage. It resembles their low-lung horizontal massings. For post WWII suburbia, this style offered a welcome spaciousness and large green lawns far from the density and dirtiness of the city. Early single story homes have a front dominated by a large, usually fixed, “picture window’. Later ranch houses include side garages. Simultaneous to the development of new ranch style suburbs in the 50’s came the arrivals of television, air conditioning, and the automobile. Many homes gave the front of the house to the garage while a less public rear patio served some of the traditional porch’s function. Today’s ranch style homes in the west and southwest are often single story Spanish adobe designs. These became popular in California and spread eastward, as did many architectural styles of the 20th Century. Split-level homes are related to ranch houses, but with three levels of living areas. The main floor usually contains the living room and the kitchen opening to the front and back of the lot. The split levels feature bedrooms, baths, and recreation rooms. Draw a ranch plan and elevation and label its rooms and features.
Activity 10 – Bungalow or Craftsman
The bungalow, or craftsman style house, is a home created by the Arts and Crafts movement in part as a reaction to “Victorian excess,” from 1910 to the Great Depression. Some builders offended by the Victorian ornamentation preferred the simplicity and beauty of natural wood materials. Wood trim and walls replaced painting and decorative wallpaper. Contemporary architecture, today, continues to respect the natural use of materials. Rafters, or braces, support the roof and overhangs shading rooms in the summer. The structures long, low-pitched roof, often with a gable dormer or a shallow “shed” windowed roof, offers a feeling of security. Bungalows are highly flexible and offer a lot of living space in a compact area. May owners finish the attic area for extra room. Find some bungalows in your city; sketch them and label their distinctive details.
- American House Style Guide
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- Borda + Peiro Architecte
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- Johnson Schmalling Modern Houses
- Modern Houses Pinterest
- SAH Archipedia Historic Houses
- Styles of American Houses
- Tatiano Bilbao Housing
- The Learning Seed; American Houses
- Victorian Houses
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- Wikipedia List of Housing Styles
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