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Defining the Design: Colonial-Style Architecture

Written by Ellen Paris on Friday, June 29th, 2018 at 11:42am.

Colonial-style homes made their American debut in the 1600’s and remained popular through the 1800’s. Most evolved from the original American Colonial-style favored by the British when they settled here, importing their English style architecture with them. Despite the Colonial’s British roots, as people from other parts of Europe moved to America, they brought their own distinctive architectural style, too. The American Colonial evolved, and its style redefined and reflected the changing multi-cultural population. Just as there were 13 original colonies, there are just as many Colonial architectural styles. Today, many versions of Colonials are found around the country, including: American, first period English, Georgian, French, Early Classic Revival, Federal, German, Mid-Atlantic, New England, and Dutch - to name a few. The Colonial style’s popularity continues with architectural and design updates as new Colonial homeowners adapt their homes to fit today’s lifestyles. 

Features of a Colonial-Style Home

Colonial-style homes are easily adaptable to lot sizes and personal taste, from the mega beach-style found in the Hamptons to the more traditional American Colonial found in the leafy suburbs of Washington DC and Virginia. The typical architectural look of most Colonials is either a two or three-story square, or rectangular box-like shape. Look for more open casual living spaces incorporated into the Colonial’s fundamental architectural features, such as formal living rooms evolving into large open family spaces.

    • Portico over front-entry
    • Gabled roof lines
    • Interior center staircase as the focal point leading to the upper floors
    • Formal living rooms and traditional dining rooms divide the home flowing off the center staircase
    • Fireplaces in living rooms
    • Narrow side window panels flank the front door
    • Oversized entry foyers historically designed as a formal space for receiving guests
    • Bedrooms on second floors
    • Porticos, pillars, and columns at front entry adding a dramatic design statement
    • Box-like exterior windows with side shutters
    • Exterior colors: Traditionally white with black exterior trim

Famous Colonial-Style Architects

In 1887, a group of distinctive architects interested in the Colonial style toured and studied New England’s Georgian and Federal style homes. The result? The founding of architectural firm McKim, Mead & White, who designed homes that incorporated principals found in those particular styles. Two prime examples of their Colonial Revival architectural style can be found in the famous Appleton House in Lenox, Massachusetts and the Taylor House in Newport, Rhode Island. The firm was also invited to work on the White House - arguably the most famous of all colonial style homes.  

Fun Facts about the Colonial Style

    • Center stage in all Colonials is the front door often painted in fire-engine red or midnight black and perfect for holiday wreath hanging
    • The original Colonies built by English settlers were single room homes with wooden frames filled with sticks
    • As the South grew and prospered, elegant and large Colonial Mansions were the centerpiece for many plantations
    • Colonials convey stability and a sense of security, making them a perennial favorite for families 

If you've fallen in love with Colonial-style architecture, contact us to help you find the Colonial home of your dreams.


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