American Luxury Home Styles: From Colonial to Contemporary, Explore the History and Features of Different Architectural Styles

  • Author: Fazal Umer
  • Posted On: December 18, 2023
  • Updated On: December 18, 2023

The United States with its vast territory boasts a rich history that also extends to its architectural landscape. For prospective homebuyers, having a grasp of various house styles that are prevalent in America is crucial knowing the history behind your house will aid in better care and proper preservation or renovation and ultimately lead to a greater appreciation for your living space.

Here we will discuss some of the most notable architectural styles widespread across the country. 

Colonial Style

Colonial style is a broad term used to indicate several different European-influenced styles in the colonial era spanning from the 17th to 18th century.

There are various versions of colonial style varying with their origin- Georgian, greek revival, Spanish, German, or Dutch. The style features a symmetrical facade with a central entrance.

This, along with a pitched roof and unadorned exterior with a conservative color scheme renders a well-proportioned elegant look. Original colonial houses were of two stories featuring a central staircase, with the kitchen and living room being on the first floor and bedrooms being on the second.

Colonial-era houses are widely prevalent in the USA, particularly in the suburbs. As the style allows for easy customization or renovation, the appeal of the timeless elegance of colonial-style houses is on the rise among homebuyers across the country.

Victorian Style

Victorian-style houses encompass several different architectural styles that were popular during the Victorian era spanning from 1837 to 1901.

Despite the diversity in subtypes, some common characteristics connect all Victorian houses. The complex roofline formed with steep gable, dormer windows, towers, and turrets is one of such features. Much like the exterior, the layout is complex with rooms planned as compartments, each having a distinct function such as a music room or library.

Whether a lavish mansion or a dainty cottage, Victorian houses are rich in character. The Industrial Revolution facilitated the mass production of new building materials and dying essentials. This resulted in interiors characterized by romanticism, featuring bold colors, texture, intricate ornamentation, and vibrancy.

The Historical and romantic allure of Victorian style makes it still popular among homebuyers, and some of the finest specimens can be found in Old Louisville in Kentucky where restored Victorian houses showcase the timeless charm of this style.

Cape Cod Style  

Originally named after Cape Cod, Massachusetts, these houses are usually one-storied with a half-floor vertical expansion. These houses are easily distinguishable by their rectangular volume, clean roof line, and the presence of a central chimney.

As the design theme was to make a durable structure that can withstand the harsh climate of the New England area, the roof was steeply pitched to prevent the accumulation of snow, the ceiling was kept low, the plan was sectioned in smaller rooms with a central chimney to keep the interior warmer.

Durable materials such as pine wood, oak, and brick masonry were employed to withstand the harsh weather.  

While the original Cape Cod-style houses built in the 1800s were simplistic in design, the Cape Cod revival-style houses built in the 1920-1930s were more ornate in appearance.

The style became widely popular during post-World War II, as the construction was durable, simple, and cost-effective. The minimal design and cozy vibe of this style makes it a significant design influence for many vacation houses built today.

Ranch Style

Ranch-style architecture is unmistakably unique to America. Originating back in 1930 in California, ranch-style houses were in stark contrast to its predecessor architectural style.

Drawing inspiration from Spanish colonial architecture, it broke out of the boxy prototype and adopted a more spacious, nature-inviting aesthetic featuring cross ventilation, large picture windows, and a close-to-the-ground profile that expanded horizontally.

With open-plan layouts, exterior corridors, and courtyards, the outcome was increased space for outdoor activity and a seamless indoor-to-outdoor transition. It was no wonder, by 1950, the majority of houses built in America followed ranch-style architecture. 

However, its appeal died down by 1970 with the demand for more private, traditional, two-story living spaces which required vertical expansion.

Despite the waning popularity, ranch-style houses are still in demand in America, especially among Texans. The city of Fort Worth with its extensive housing inventory serves as a prime example where new homebuyers are drawn to the spacious, luxurious ranch house.

Tudor Style

Tudor-style houses are mainly an amalgam of early and medieval English architecture. It gained popularity between 1920s-1930s in America by architects who were widely influenced by European architecture.

Asymmetrical composition with the entrance being placed off the center, grouped windows, steep gabled roofs, small dormer windows, embellished openings, doorways, decorative chimneys, and half-timbering in exterior walls are some of the prominent features of Tudor-style houses.

While the most widely used material was brick the use of distinctive materials like stucco walls, and stone trim was also common. The use of these distinct materials led to a higher construction cost. It was only accessible to the wealthy stockbrokers at that time. This style was built to weather extreme cold weather thus it is widely seen in the northern part of America.

After World War II, the popularity of Tudor-style houses waned since Americans sought to express their national identity through a revival of Colonial-style architecture. Despite the decline in popularity, the Washington DC area still has some notable Tudor-style structures that carry historical significance.

Contemporary Style

Contemporary architecture emerged in the late 20th century and persists as an ongoing architectural trend. Contemporary architecture style has no clearly defined outline, it covers a diverse range of architecture that are practiced today.

The style breaks away from earlier house styles and demands wider innovation while steering clear of drawing inspiration from existing structures.

Wide use of glass, exposed structure, and beam, rendering materials in their natural form without concealment or painting, and the juxtaposition of contrasting materials like steel and glass, and open plan layout are some of the notable characteristics of contemporary architecture.

While contemporary and modern architecture are often used interchangeably they have clear distinctions. Modern architecture guided by functionality over aesthetics, adopted a strictly minimal design with a “less is more” concept devised by modern architects.

In contrast, contemporary architecture encourages experimenting and is willing to embrace complexity when needed. 

In conclusion, while most prevailing architectural styles in America drew inspiration from other continents, over time these styles evolved to something exclusive to this country. Whether captivated by the historical appeal of these styles or drawn to their structural features, selecting a house that aligns with your lifestyle is vital.

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Author: Fazal Umer

Fazal is a dedicated industry expert in the field of civil engineering. As an Editor at ConstructionHow, he leverages his experience as a civil engineer to enrich the readers looking to learn a thing or two in detail in the respective field. Over the years he has provided written verdicts to publications and exhibited a deep-seated value in providing informative pieces on infrastructure, construction, and design.