American Homes Inspired by French Designs

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French-Inspired House Styles

Architect Edward Foulkes designed the Pittock Mansion, 1914, near Portland, Oregon. This grand stone mansion combines a variety of French styles.
Architect Edward Foulkes designed the Pittock Mansion, 1914, near Portland, Oregon. This grand stone mansion combines a variety of French styles. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge/Archive Photos Collection/Getty Images (cropped)

Does your home speak Français? After World War I, soldiers returning to the United States and Canada brought a keen interest in French housing styles. Building plan books and home magazines began to feature modest homes inspired by French building traditions. Grand homes like the one shown here were constructed with a fanciful mix of French color and details.

Designs vary, but French-inspired homes are distinguished by these distinctive accents:

Some French style homes also have decorative half-timbering, round tower at entryway, and arched doorways.

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French Eclectic Inspired by Normandy

French Eclectic Style, circa 1925, Highland Park, Illinois
French Eclectic Style, circa 1925, Highland Park, Illinois. Photo ©Teemu008,, Creative Commons ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) cropped

Normandy, on the English Channel, is a somewhat rural and agricultural area of France. Some French style homes borrow ideas from the Normandy region, where barns were attached to the living quarters. Grain was stored in a central turret or silo. The Norman Cottage is a cozy and romantic style that often features a small round tower topped by a cone-shaped roof. When the tower is more angular, it may be topped by a pyramid-type roof.

Other Normandy homes resemble miniature castles with arched doorways set in imposing towers. The steeply pitched hipped roof is common to most all French Eclectic American houses built in the early 20th century.

Like Tudor style houses, 20th-century French Normandy homes may have decorative half-timbering. Unlike Tudor style homes, however, houses influenced by French styles do not have a dominant front gable. The house shown here is in suburban Illinois, about 25 miles north of Chicago—miles from the Normandy region of France.

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French Provincial House Style

Massive hipped roof
French Prorovincial House Style. Photo © Jackie Craven

For centuries, France was a kingdom of many provinces. These individual regions were often so self-contained that isolation created a special culture, including architecture. The French Normandy House style is an example of a specific provincial house style.

By definition, the provinces were outside the cities of power, and, even today, the word provincial can mean an "unsophisticated" or "unworldly," rural person. French Provincial house styles take this general approach. They tend to be simple, square, and symmetrical. They resemble small manor homes with massive hipped roofs and window shutters. Frequently, tall second floor windows break through the cornice. Unlike French Normandy houses, French Provincial homes generally do not have towers.

American homes are often inspired by designs from more than one area of a country or even more than one country. When architecture derives its style from a broad range of sources, we call it eclectic.

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Neo-French Neo-Eclectic Homes

Neo-French Neo-Eclectic Home in a snowy suburb
Neo-French Neo-Eclectic Home in a snowy suburb. Photo by J.Castro/Moment Mobile Collection/Getty Images (cropped)

French Eclectic homes combine a variety of French influences and were popular in American upscale neighborhoods in the early 20th century. Neo-Eclectic, or "new eclectic" home styles, have been popular since the 1970s. Noticeable characteristics include steeply pitched hipped roofs, windows breaking through the roof line, and a pronounced symmetry even in the use of the masonry materials for the facade. The suburban home shown here exemplifies a home inspired by the symmetrical Provincial style. Like French Eclectic houses built much earlier, it is sided in Austin Stone

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Chateauesque Charles Gates Dawes House, 225 Greenwood St., Evanston, Illinois
Chateauesque Charles Gates Dawes House, 225 Greenwood St., Evanston, Illinois. Dawes House photo by Burnhamandroot (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

Creating American mansions to look like French castles was popular for well-to-do Americans and American institutions between 1880 and 1910. Called Chateauesque, these mansions were not French castles or châteaux, but they were built to be like the real French architecture.

The 1895 Charles Gates Dawes House near Chicago, Illinois is a modest example of the Chateauesque style in America. Although much less ornate than many Chateaueque styles, such as the 1895 Biltmore Estate, the massive towers create a castle-like effect. Nobel Peace Prize winner and U.S. Vice President Charles G. Dawes lived in the house from 1909 until his death in 1951.

Source: Dawes, Charles G., House, National Historic Landmarks Program [accessed September 11, 2013]

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The French Connection in Public Architecture

The 1895 Chateauesque Style Firehouse Designed by Napoleon LeBrun for Engine Company 31 on 87 Lafayette Street in New York City
The 1895 Chateauesque Style Firehouse Designed by Napoleon LeBrun for Engine Company 31 on 87 Lafayette Street in New York City. Photo © Gryffindor via Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0) (cropped)

The 19th century building boom in the US celebrated, in part, America's close relationship with the French—a true American ally during the American Revolution. The most famous structure to commemorate this friendship is, of course, France's gift of the Statue of Liberty, dedicated in 1886. Public architecture influenced by French designs can be found throughout the US in the 1800s, including the 1895 fire house shown here in New York City. Designed by Philadelphia-born Napoleon LeBrun, the house for Engine Company 31 is but one design by LeBrun & Sons for the NYC Fire Department. Although not nearly as popular as the New England-born, École des Beaux-Arts educated architect Richard Morris Hunt, the LeBruns continued America's fascination with all things French as first- and second-generation French immigrants—an enchantment that has extended well into 21st century America.

Learn More:

  • When the United States Spoke French: Five Refugees Who Shaped a Nation by Francois Furstenberg, 2015
    Buy on Amazon
  • French America by Ron Katz, 2001
    Buy on Amazon