Early American House Styles

Even if your house is brand new, it draws inspiration from the past. This simple guide traces important housing styles from Colonial to modern times. Learn how houses have changed over the centuries, and discover interesting facts about the design influence that helped shape your own home.

Early American House Styles

Colonial Architecture in the New World


The pilgrims weren't the only people to settle in North America. Between 1600 and 1800, men and women poured in from many parts of the world, including Germany, France, Spain, and Latin America. Each group brought their own cultures and architectural traditions.
Using locally available materials, the colonists built what they could and tried to meet the challenges posed by the climate and landscape of the new country. They constructed the types of homes they remembered, but they also innovated and, at times, learned new building techniques from Native Americans. As the country grew, these early settlers developed not one, but many, uniquely American styles.
Centuries later, builders borrowed ideas from early American architecture to create Colonial Revival and Neo-colonial styles. So, even if your house is brand new, it may express the spirit of the America's colonial days. Look for features of these early American house styles:

1. New England Colonial

Stanley-Whitman House in Farmington, Connecticut, circa 1720Stanley-Whitman House in Farmington, Connecticut, circa 1720. Photo by Staib/CC Share-Alike
1600s - 1740
The first British settlers in New England built timber-frame dwellings like the ones they had known in their home country. There's a medieval flavor to the enormous chimneys and diamond-pane windows found on many of these homes. Because the British colonists built with wood, only a few of their houses remain intact today. Still, you'll find charming New England Colonial features incorporated into modern-day Neo-Colonial homes.

2. German Colonial

De Turck House in Oley, Pennsylvania, built in 1767De Turck House in Oley, PA. LOC photo by Charles H. Dornbusch, AIA, 1941
1600s - mid-1800s
When Germans traveled to North America, they settled in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Maryland. Stone was plentiful and the German colonists constructed sturdy homes with thick walls, exposed timbering, and hand-hewn beams. This historic photo shows the De Turck House in Oley, Pennsylvania, built in 1767.

3. Spanish Colonial

Colonial Quarter in St. Augustine, FloridaColonial Quarter in St. Augustine, Florida. Photo by Flickr Member Gregory Moine/CC 2.0
1600 - 1900
You may have heard the term Spanish Colonial used to describe elegant stucco homes with fountains, courtyards, and elaborate carvings. Those picturesque houses are actually romantic Spanish Colonial revivals. Early explorers from Spain, Mexico, and Latin America built rustic homes out of wood, adobe, crushed shells, or stone. Earth, thatch, or red clay tiles covered low, flat roofs. Few original Spanish Colonial homes remain, but wonderful examples have been preserved or restored in St. Augustine, Florida. Travel through California and the American Southwest and you'll also find Pueblo homes that combine Hispanic styling with Native American ideas.

4. Dutch Colonial

Philipsburg Manor House in Sleepyhollow, New York dates from 1693Philipsburg Manor House in Sleepyhollow, NY dates from 1693. Photo by Clifford's Photography/CC 2.0
1625 - mid-1800s
Like the German colonists, Dutch settlers brought building traditions from their home country. Settling mainly in New York State, they built brick and stone houses with rooflines that echoed the architecture of the Netherlands. You can recognize the Dutch Colonial style by the gambrel roof. Dutch Colonial became a popular revival style, and you'll often see 20th century homes with the characteristic rounded roof.

5. Cape Cod

Historic Cape Cod house in Sandwich, New HampshireHistoric Cape Cod house in Sandwich, New Hampshire. Photo @ Jackie Craven

1690 - mid-1800s

A Cape Cod house is actually a type of New England Colonial. Named after the spit of land where the Pilgrims first dropped anchor, Cape Cod houses are one-story structures designed to withstand cold and snow. Centuries later, builders embraced the practical, economical Cape Cod shape for budget housing in suburbs across the USA. Even today this no-nonsense style suggests cozy comfort. Browse our collection of Cape Cod house pictures to see historic and contemporary versions of the style.

6. Georgian Colonial

Georgian Colonial HouseGeorgian Colonial House. Photo courtesy Patrick Sinclair
1690s - 1830
As the thirteen original colonies prospered, more affluent families built refined homes that imitated the Georgian architecture of Great Britain. Named after English kings, a Georgian house is tall and rectangular with an orderly row windows symmetrically arranged on the second story. During the late 1800s and first half of the 20th century, many Colonial Revival homes echoed the regal Georgian style.

7. French Colonial

French colonial plantation homeFrench colonial plantation home. Photo cc Alvaro Prieto
1700s - 1800s
While the English, Germans, and Dutch were building a new nation along the eastern shores of North America, French colonists settled in the Mississippi Valley, especially in Louisiana. French Colonial homes are an eclectic mix, combining European ideas with practices learned from Africa, the Caribbean, and the West Indies. Designed for the hot, swampy region, traditional French Colonial homes are raised on piers. Wide, open porches (called galleries) connect the interior rooms.

8. Federal and Adam

Virginia Executive Mansion, 1813, by architect Alexander Parris 
Virginia Executive Mansion, 1813, by Alexander Parris. Photo ©Joseph Sohm/Visions of America/Getty
1780 - 1840
Federalist architecture marks the end of the colonial era in the newly-formed United States. Americans wanted to build homes and government buildings that expressed the ideals of their new country and also conveyed elegance and prosperity. Borrowing Neoclassical ideas from a Scottish family of designers--the Adam brothers--prosperous landowners constructed fancier versions of the austere Georgian Colonial style. These homes, which may be called Federal or Adam, were given porticoes, balustrades, fanlights, and other decorations.

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