As a traditional residential architect, I enjoy working in any period style; each style has its own unique DNA, and the fun for me is learning about and creating updated (but authentic) versions of various historic styles. Working in the Boston area, there is a wealth of historic residential styles, ranging from the simple first-period colonial cape cod to the more elaborate European revivals of the late 19th and early 20th century. Many of these styles, largely imported from Europe to New England, have made there way to the South, reflecting southern regionalism, including in the Atlanta area. Here is a brief overview of the principle New England house styles, from 1630 to 1930:
New England Colonial (1630-1740)
The original colonial houses, built from the abundant wood available in the northeast, are referred to as “first period”, as opposed to the later revivals of the 19th century, which are known as Colonial Revival homes. The first timber-framed houses were post Medieval English style, as during the 17th century this style was popular in England, where most of the settlers to New England emigrated from. Later, a more basic form called the Hall-and-Parlor cottage emerged, forming the basis for the Cape Cod (1-1/2 stories) or center entry colonial (2 stories) during the early 18th century. These were generally very well built by ship carpenters, and are a classic New England house type and style.
A typical brick-faced cape cod colonial revival, an early 20th century recapitulation of the early “First Period” colonial houses of the 17th and 18th century
New England Georgian Style (1690-1830)
As the colonies became more prosperous, the two-story center entry colonial became larger and developed more detailing and used higher quality materials such as brick and stone, derived from the now-popular Georgian style in England. Although more modest than their English sources, the grand American Georgian house become very predominant throughout New England and the mid-Atlantic as a sign of merchant wealth.
The Georgian style in both England and the U.S. was a formal and bold style utilizing classically pure details. The style lasted through the later three quarters of the 18th century.
New England Federal Style (1780-1820)
Like the preceding Georgian style, the Federal style also has its roots in England. The Adam style, developed by the Scottish architect Robert Adam in the mind-18th century, was a new and more delicate style utilizing swags, garlands, urns, and other thinner and more graceful details. Boston’s own Charles Bulfinch was among many architects of this period who popularized and “Americanized” the English Adam Style in New England. This style is found in both single-family homes and in Boston’s Beacon Hill’s row houses.
The Federal style is a variation from the earlier Georgian style, with simpler and more delicate detailing, and evolved from the British Adam Style of the late 18th century by architects such as Charles Bulfinch of Boston.
American Greek Revival (1825-1860)
By the early 19th century in America, wealthy businessmen believed that ancient Greece best represented the new spirit of democracy in the young Republic. The Greek Revival style thus developed and became the first truly American style. This style spread throughout the rapidly growing country, starting in Philadelphia, to the humble farmhouses in the Midwest and the grand Southern plantations. Architectural pattern books by Boston architect Asher Benjamin, among others, popularized this unique style, which was meant to mimic ancient Greek temples.
Utilizing 2,000 year old Greek temples as a model, the Greek Revival style is America’s first original style. It was very popular in the upper midwest and the east coast during the early 19th century up to the Civil War.
Victorian Styles (1830-1910)
The Victorian style is actually a collection of a number of sub-styles, ranging from the initial Gothic Revival style of the 1830s, and culminating in the Shingle style of the late 19th century. Other sub-styles included Italianate, Second Empire, Stick, Richardson Romanesque, and the ubiquitous Victorian style, Queen Anne. Lasting nearly a century, during Queen Victoria’s reign, these styles were considered “anti-classical”, resulting from a desire by the American public to reject the formalism of the earlier colonial houses to a more picturesque style. The Shingle style is the only Victorian style being widely built today, and is a popular style for new houses here in New England.
The Victorian style is less of a particular individual style, but rather a period covering the final two thirds of the 19th century celebrating a more romantic and picturesque approach to house design. There are actually several sub-genres, including Gothic Revival, Second Empire, Italianate, Queen Anne and Shingle style.
The Chicago World’s Columbian Exhibition of 1893 reawakened Americans to their colonial past. The excesses of the late Victorian architecture had run its course, and American wished to return to the simpler roots of the residential architecture of its earliest colonial period. Colonial revival was not a copy of the first period colonial houses, but rather, a turn-of-the-century updating of it. During WWI, the Craftsman/Bungalow style, imported from the west coast and the Chicago area, became popular. Later, between the wars, Tudor Revival became the style of choice for new homes as servicemen returned from their time in Europe and brought their preferences back with them.
When servicemen returned home after both world wars, many brought with them the desire to live in an picturesque English Tudor (half timber) home, so this popular style developed in the U.S. between the wars and into the 1940s. The Tudor Revival style harkened back to the much earlier medieval styles during the 15th and 16th centuries in the U.K.