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American Home Styles, 1600 to Today

Residential Architecture in a Nutshell


Even if your house is brand new, its architecture draws inspiration from the past. This index traces important housing styles from Colonial to modern times. Learn how residential architecture has changed over the centuries, and discover interesting facts about the design influences that helped shape your own home. For more information about residential architecture, be sure to also visit our house styles picture dictionary.

American Colonial House Styles

Built in 1678, this New England Colonial has two stories and a central chimney
Built in 1678, this New England Colonial was the home of Rebecca Nurse. Photo by Daderot / GNU Free Documentation License

1600s - 1800
When North America was colonized by the Europeans, settlers brought building traditions from many different countries. Colonial architecture includes a wide range of styles, including New England Colonial, German Colonial, Dutch Colonial, Spanish Colonial, French Colonial, and, of course, the ever-popular Colonial Cape Cod.

Neoclassical House Styles

Democratic ideals are expressed in classical details of Greek Revival homes. Stanton Hall, 1857.
Democratic ideals are expressed in classical details of Greek Revival homes. Stanton Hall, 1857. Photo by Franz Marc Frei/LOOK/Getty Images

1780 - 1860
During the founding of the United States, learned people such as Thomas Jefferson felt that ancient Greece expressed the ideals of democracy. After the American Revolution, architecture reflected the classical ideals of order and symmetry—a new classicism for a new country.

Victorian House Styles

Albert H. Sears House, 1881, Plano, Illinois. Queen Anne, reigning style of the Victorian era.
Albert H. Sears House, 1881, Plano, Illinois. Queen Anne was the reigning style of the Victorian era. Photo ©Teemu008, flickr.com, CC BY-SA 2.0

1840 - 1900
Mass-production and factory-made building parts carried over a system of rail lines enabled the building of large, elaborate, affordable houses throughout North America. A variety of Victorian styles emerged: Italianate, Second Empire, Gothic, Queen Anne, Romanesque, and many others. Each style had its own distinctive features.

Gilded Age

Neoclassical Beaux-Arts Vanderbilt Mansion, Hyde Park, New York
Neoclassical Beaux-Arts Vanderbilt Mansion, Hyde Park, New York. Photo by Barry Winiker/Photolibrary/Getty Images

1880 - 1929
The rise of Industrialism brought the period we know as the Gilded Age. Business leaders amassed enormous wealth and built palatial, elaborate homes. Some homes, known today as Chateauesque, imitated the grandeur of old French estates and castles or châteaux.

Frank Lloyd Wright Styles

The Arthur L. Richards House in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, built 1916, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright
Frank Lloyd Wright's Prairie Style houses were low and compact. Photo By Raymond Boyd/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

1901 - 1955
American architect Frank Lloyd Wright revolutionized the American home when he began to design houses with low horizontal lines and open interior spaces. His buildings introduced a Japanese serenity to a country largely populated by Europeans, and his notions about organic architecture are studied even today.

Bungalow Styles

Spanish colonial revival bungalow, 1932, Palm Haven Historic District, San Jose, California
Spanish colonial revival bungalow, 1932. Photo by Nancy Nehring/E+/Getty Images

1905 - 1930
Named after primitive thatched huts used in India, bungaloid architecture suggested comfortable informality. However, not all bungalows were small, and bungalow houses often wore the trappings of many different styles, including Arts & Crafts, Spanish Revival, Colonial Revival, and Art Moderne.

Early 20th Century House Styles

Colonial Revival American house circa 1929 in Lake Forest, Illinois
A modest Colonial Revival, circa 1929. Photo ©Teemu008 on flickr.com, CC BY-SA 2.0

1905 - 1930
In the early 1900s, builders begin to reject the elaborate Victorian styles. Homes for the new century were becoming compact, economical, and informal as the American middle class began to grow.

Mid-20th Century House Styles

Levittown Jubilee design
Levittown Jubilee house, Twin Oaks, PA ©Jesse Gardner, CC BY-SA 2.0, flickr.com

1930 - 1965
During the Great Depression, Americans moved toward increasingly simple housing styles. Affordable Minimal Traditional, Ranch, and Cape Cod houses became the mainstay of the expanding suburbs in developments such as Levittown (in both New York and Pennsylvania). As soldiers returned from World War II, real estate developers raced to meet the rising demand for inexpensive housing. The era brought a flurry of innovations, from the metal prefab Lustron houses to the eco-friendly geodesic domes.

Modernist Houses

Front exterior a modern home
Modern home photo by Auda & Coudayre Photography/Getty Images

1930 - Present
Modernist houses broke away from conventional forms, while postmodernist houses combined traditional forms in unexpected ways.

"Neo" House Styles

Large grey stone mansion too big, so it's called a McMansion, in Illinois
Large houses such as these are often called "McMansions." Photo ©chicagogeek on flickr.com, CC BY-SA 2.0

1965 - Present
Neo means new. Earlier in the nation's history, the Founding Fathers introduced Neoclassical architecture to the new democracy. Less than two hundred years later, the American middle class had blossomed as the new consumers of housing and hamburgers. McDonald's "super-sized" its fries, and Americans went big with their houses. Many new homes during this period of growth and prosperity borrow details from historic styles and combine them with modern features.

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