Colonial Architecture History

November 14th, 2014

ColonialColonial Architecture History

During the 1780’s the most popular style of architecture was the American Colonial. Built mostly by wealthy Anglo Americans, the houses afforded several distinct styles depending on where the home was located.

Also known as Colonial Georgian, these homes were the earliest style to grace the U.S. colonies. One example of early American Colonial architecture is called a Saltbox. The Saltbox is a wooden frame house with a high-pitched roof that slopes down to the back. Its flat front has two stories while the back of the house has only one, making the sides unequal, but distinctly looking just like an old salt box which was a wooden box with a lid which salt was kept.


Other types of Colonial Architectures are Pennsylvania Dutch, French, Southern, and First Period.

Generally, the chimney was centrally located, making the house, from a distance, look like a box with a lid and handle to lift it off. Other defining characteristics of American Colonial architecture are the square, symmetrical shape, the front door placed directly in the middle of the houses front and the even, straight line of windows throughout. Inside the front door are usually an entryway and a staircase. All rooms branch off these.

Typically they were constructed of brick with wood trim, but with homes like the Saltbox, they were also timber frame homes constructed with woodworking joints instead of metal nails, since they were costly. Saltbox homes were also finished with wood siding.

To maximize light in the North, the homes faced southeast. And those in the warm South faced northwest.

Another type of Colonial Architecture is inspired by the Spanish colonials and is often seen in churches and missions. This led to California Mission Architecture.

There was a revival of Colonial style from 1880-1960. These homes were characterized by:

  • A symmetrical façade, but may have side porches or sunrooms on either or both sides.
  • Rectangular mass
  • 1 – 2+ stories
  • Usually a medium pitch, side-gable roof with narrow eaves. Hipped roofs and dormers are occasionally seen.
  • Multi-pane (six-over-six or six-over-one lights are common), double-hung windows with correctly proportioned shutters, bay windows.
  • The entrance is centered and accented with columns, pilasters, pediment, and/or maybe hooded to create a covered porch. It may have a fanlight or transom, sidelights, and/or a paneled door
  • Brick or wood clapboard is the most common siding, but shingle is occasionally seen especially on more informal New England style Capes.
  • Other design elements may include classical columns, two-story pilasters, quoins at corners, dentil trim under eaves, or Palladian windows.

You can see similar design elements in modern homes. Would you like the big kitchen of a Colonial home?

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