Common Architectural Styles
Recognizing the Most Popular Types of Residential Home Designs
From fashion and philosophy to education, eating, and everything in between, trends go in and out of style for a reason. Not only do people’s tastes aesthetically change, causing a concept to fall out of favor, but new schools of thought can quickly rise in prominence, gaining legions of fans in the process. But for every flash-in-the-pan craze, there are entire disciplines that gain enough traction to remain relatively popular across history – even as trendsetters constantly discuss the newest and greatest ideas.
This is especially true for residential architectural styles. People have very firm ideas about how they want their homes to look, especially if they’ve saved up the money to buy one. It’s only natural to want a home you find visually appealing, both the exterior and interior.
This goes double for anyone who wants a custom home. If you’re going to invest the time, energy, and funds into having experts design, develop, and build you a new home from scratch, you will pay special attention to how everything looks. This means you will need to learn about different styles of houses so you can make an informed decision about the look, feel, and aesthetics of your new home.
Classic American Home Architectural Styles
Conjuring up images of summers on Martha’s Vineyard or the greater New England landscape, the Cape Cod combines English design ideas from the 1600s with cost-effective concepts from the 1950s. Typically no more than 1.5 stories with a pitched roof, these rectangular homes are created with the windy winters of the North Atlantic coast in mind.
By keeping the great room, kitchen, and master suite downstairs, the home retains heat well, which warms the people in the small upstairs bedrooms. From the shingles, shutters, and clapboard walls, all the wood used in such homes is typically sourced from local forests.
As you might imagine, these homes are reminiscent of designs used across the American Colonies in the 17th and 18th centuries. Specifically, such houses are paragons of symmetry and proportion, from the number and layout of windows on each side of the house to the number and flow of the rooms. Be on the lookout for a few of these key twists on the classic format:
In general, this style of home is perfect for people who love a vintage design aesthetic, as the ideas have remained relatively unchanged for centuries.
Alongside the “Modern” school, Contemporary homes represent the most current trends in American home design. Featuring a love for asymmetry, natural lighting, and open concept layouts, these homes tie together the interior of the home with what’s happening in the yard.
The idea is to create a seamless living experience that embraces natural elements and minimalism while focusing on the people who live in the home itself. Be on the lookout for big windows, clean lines, and large doorways, as well as an emphasis on sustainability and energy efficiency.
A uniquely American design, the Craftsman home first found life during the early 20th century as the “Arts and Crafts” movement sought to update the traditional English cottage. The result is a single-story, low-pitched home that rejects the ornamentation of the Colonial and Victorian styles for practicality and naturalistic design.
Comfort, efficiency, and economy of space is the name of the game, especially with the built-in furniture, bookshelves, and sitting areas, which encourage open flow between rooms. Standout design elements include oversized fireplaces, wide front porches, and unadorned exteriors.
As you might imagine, such homes borrow heavily from the architecture of ancient Greek culture. As an outgrowth of the Classical style, it first rose to prominence in America between the War of 1812 and the Civil War. Design elements include overt ideas like clean white colors, pillars, and imposing facades, but it’s all rooted in subtle mathematical concepts like parallelism and symmetry.
The whole school of thought projects strength and power, from the materials used to how they’re displayed in form, function, and fashion. Such designs can be seen in plantation homes and manses across the South — especially when you factor in the large front porticos as well as large commercial buildings like banks, libraries, churches, and museums.
While this amalgam of aesthetics ranges from Mediterranean, Spanish, Creole, and beyond, the common design elements are undeniable and instantly recognizable. Homes in this tradition often feature flat clay roofs, plenty of arches throughout the home and grounds, sheltered courtyards, and window arrangements that encourage the easy flow of air.
Common synonyms for such homes can include hacienda, pueblo, and mission, as they’re constructed from substances like stone, adobe, and stucco. Such design elements make it easy to ramp up the opulence or keep things simple and functional.
Along with the “Contemporary” school mentioned above, this is the standout design aesthetic of the 20th century. The overall idea was to bring the postmodernism of contemporary architecture to the homes of the suburbs in post-war America.
In Modern homes, function is prized over form, and it’s best experienced via open floor plans and the big windows that let in lots of natural light. Both contemporary and modern homes are bastions of clean lines, minimalism, and geometry. But while contemporary homes opt for neutral tones in their materials, modern homes prefer pops of color both to appeal to the eye and to help demarcate different areas of the home.
Whether we’re referring to the old-school “Farmhouse” look or the newer-school “Prairie” home (which shares design elements with the Mid-Century Modern abode), the Ranch home is one of the most distinctive designs in American homes since the 1950s. A hallmark of post-war suburban sprawl, these buildings combined the one-room ideas from the late 19th century American ranch with the updated ideas of clean, unadorned American design. Whether it’s a one-story setup or a split-level scenario, you’ll find a welcoming ambiance and a simple floor plan, complete with sliding glass doors, patios, and attached garage.
One of the more iconic looks in home design, Tudor homes literally trace their roots back to the time of the Tudor monarchs in the 1500s. Most houses are two-story affairs with aggressively pitched roofs, and the white stucco against red brick or brown wood construction aesthetic is instantly recognizable.
Gables and chimneys dot the roofs, as such homes were designed to warm the family during the colder months. These are unique homes that immediately stand out compared to a ranch home, which bears a more austere exterior.
Initially in vogue during the reign of Queen Victoria in the 19th century, such houses combine design elements from both the Tudor and Colonial schools. The more well-known subgenres of this style includes Gothic Revival, Italianate, Queen Anne, Second Empire, Shingle, and Stick. Big windows and ornate exteriors are the name of the game, complete with two full stories, multiple terraces, towers, and porches.
Inside, you’ll find asymmetrical room flow customized to the builder’s whims, which means you’ll run across every possible combination of tiny nook, cranny, or sitting area. This is juxtaposed with formal rooms literally designed to entertain the Queen — if she happens to visit your home.
How to Use an Architectural Style Guide
Any style guide worth its salt should be designed to inform, not convince. This is doubly true for an architectural style guide created for people who want to know more about the general types of homes available. If you aren’t an architect, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by technical terminology about how both interiors and exteriors of a home are designed when all you want to know is how those fancy concepts will impact how your family lives in that home.
Thus, you should use this explainer as inspiration when it comes time to create your custom home. Think about what you like in homes you’ve visited and homes you’ve seen online or when driving around neighborhoods in your city. Compare those ideas to what you like and don’t like in your current home. Create lists of pros and cons, must-haves and do-not-wants. Get detailed with your dreams so you know how to explain your vision to your custom home builder.
Not only will creating your custom home be a sizable long-term investment for your family, but it’s literally where they will live in the long-term. You should be clear about what you want and don’t want in your home, which is why you should be exposed to as many different types of homes, layouts, and designs as possible. Learning about different residential architectural styles will help you and your family make the best possible decisions about the home of your dreams.