Various architectural designs borrow elements from different cultures and have developed strong regional styles influenced by a diversity of climates.
Today, though a historically correct design is not a priority for most homeowners, some would want to include their favorite style elements. These may be as simple as a bay window or exuberant Victorian details on the home’s exterior.
Deciding what kinds of architectural elements you prefer helps ensure your finished remodeling project will speak your language. You can incorporate them into your home using up-to-date materials and keeping modern lifestyle in mind.
Colonial style includes houses built by the earliest English, Dutch,French, and Spanish settlers in different areas of North America. Today, we associate colonial with the simple, rectangular houses of New England. These one- and two-story designs feature elements borrowed from modest English houses of the 17th century – tall, peaked roofs: massive chimneys located centrally or at each end wall; sort eaves (or none altogether): little decorative molding; no porch; and clapboard siding with narrow reveals. Windows are arranged singly—never in pairs, divided into nine or 12 panes per sash, and symmetrically placed on either side of a central front door painted a bright red, green, or plum color. More modern colonial variations include brick siding, a bit of classically styled trim, symmetrically-arranged dormer windows, and a front door flanked by decorative pilasters or housed under a portico.
The Victorian Era includes many decades of fabulous house styles of the 1800s. The forms we usually think of are the simple, graceful farmhouses of New England and the Midwest, and the exotic painted ladies of the West Coast. Both styles have tall, peaked roofs and prominent porches, and eventually were built throughout the United States and Canada. The familiar L-shaped farmhouses features clapboard siding and a wraparound porch with at least 2 entrances. Even the simplest farmhouse can’t resist a bit of decorative trim along the porch eaves, or delicately carved brackets at the porch posts. The more demonstrative Queen Anne Victorian is one of the easiest styles to recognize, with its many gables, a turret or two, fretwork boards along the eaves, extravagant detailing, and exotic color combinations may include as many as seven or eight hues. Clapboard siding is common but is often blended with bands of decorative shingles cut into fancy shapes. A brick variation of the theme can also be done.
Any small, informal house can rightfully claim the title of cottage. The term usually identifies a number of quirky characteristics that we tend to associate with life in a fairy-tale house: a tall, peaked roof; a masonry chimney; a meandering walkway to the front door; large, multi-pane windows; and wood siding (shingles are a favorite). A cottage frequently features overflowing window boxes and is surrounded by gardens with climbing vines or roses on trellises. To complete the tableau, a cottage should be on a wooded lot, or at least have a few large trees and bushes close by to create the illusion of life in the country.
The craftsman style originated in California early in the 20th century. Although it may apply to houses of any dimension, it has come to characterize the friendly, modest-sized bungalow. Craftsman style borrows elements of Japanese architecture recognizable in low rooflines with exposed rafter tails, and in beams or purlins supported by decorative knee braces. If beams are not integral to the structure, faux versions are often added. Craftsman homes feature wide, welcoming porches supported by pronounced columns set on tapered bases made of stone or stucco-covered wood. Windows are often grouped in threes, with the upper sash of double-hung windows divided into two or three panes over aplain lower sash.
Similar to Prairie style, craftsman emphasizes nature with organic colors and use of natural materials, such as foundations veneered with the river rock found in the West.
This 19th-century variant of the Victorian house sprang up in the form of vacation homes along the shores of New England. Its primary feature is continuous shingle cladding that covers all exterior surfaces and is allowed to age to a silvery gray. Today, long-lasting exterior stains reproduce this color while protecting the shingles. The architecture is free-form and rambling, with wide porches, asymmetrical massing, and dashes of style such as dormer windows and half turrets. Arches are popular expressions, appearing in windows or as recessed niches that protect doors. Occasionally, the lower portion of the house is clad in heavy stone. A Palladian window—tall arched window flanked by shorter, narrower windows—is a typical feature. Grouping windows into threes is common. When built within site of the sea, a shingle home might include a window’s walk—a rooftop aerie for viewing the ocean.
The Prairie style emerged in the early 20th century and is largely credited to the vision of architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The style takes inspiration from the flat landscape of the Midwest and emphasizes horizontal bands of trim. Curves of any kind are rare. Ribbons of casement windows are arranged in groups that share a prominent sill and upper casing. On brick homes, only the horizontal mortar joints are recessed to produce shadow lines. Large square columns support porches and entryways. Chimneys are broad and flat. The Prairie style celebrates nature with muted, organic shades of brown, golden yellow, and green. Nature is usually incorporated into the design through the use of built-in planters and window boxes.
The style known as Southwestern is more properly called Spanish Colonial, after the early Spanish influence in the American Southwest. Key elements include massive masonry walls covered with stucco. Small windows, sometimes with exposed timbers that form the headers; and large, ornate entrance doors made of wood add traditional Spanish flair. The style often includes a central, open-air courtyard or wide, covered porch at grade level. Low, gabled roofs covered in red-clay tile are successfully mimicked today by tiles made of lightweight concrete or metal. Befitting the Catholic heritage of the early Spaniards, a niche designed to house a Christian cross is often placed on an exterior or courtyard wall.
Contemporary design, sometimes called postmodern, deliberately breaks all the rules. It tends to borrow elements from a variety of architectural periods and blend them into a one-of-a-kind creation. Familiar materials such as rough-cut stone may be composed into sleek, curved walls. Metals typically make a strong appearance in this style. Steel and glass may be fashioned into shapes commonly associated with older homes, such as tall gable walls. Frequently, contemporary includes elements from the Moderne and International styles that appeared in the 1920s and ‘30s—smooth, unadorned exterior surfaces, often stucco, that are accentuated by wide, curved corners and liberal use of glass block. Railings around porches and decks are often fabricated of horizontal tubular steel. Large panels of uninterrupted glass are balanced with distinctive accents—round windows, glass curved to match a corner, and small groupings of jalousie windows.