Historic Home Designs - Trends in New Construction

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How Old Is This House?

Neo-Victorian House in Vienna, Virginia
Neo-Victorian House in Vienna, Virginia. Photo © Jackie Craven

Quick Quiz: Guess the age of the house shown here. Is it

  1. 125 years old
  2. 50 years old
  3. New

The Answer:

Did you pick Number 1? You're not alone. Many people mistake this house for a Queen Anne Victorian, constructed in the late 1800s. With the round tower and the expansive wrap-around porch, the house certainly looks Victorian.

But, wait. Why do the windows look so flat against the siding? Is that even wood siding? Inside this house in Vienna, Virginia the answer is made clear—this is a new house with a modern kitchen and bathrooms and many contemporary features. Set on a side street among old growth trees, a new house can look historic.

Most new houses reflect older styles to some extent. Even if you hire an architect to design a custom house just for you, most houses are based on some tradition of the past—either of your choosing or your architect's. Colonial and Georgian designs have maintained a steady popularity over the last two centuries. During the housing expansion of the 1990s to late 2000s, builders experienced an increased interest in homes with a Victorian or a Country cottage flavor.

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Build a New Old House

New home construction in Petaluma, California, 2015
New home construction in Petaluma, California, 2015. Photo by Justin Sullivan / Getty Images News / Getty Images

There's an old fashioned feel to the house in this photo. Put a balustrade on the simple porch, and this home might be a Folk Victorian farmhouse. But, although the architectural details are borrowed from the past, the house is brand new.

A proponent of this type of home design is Marianne Cusato, one of the first designers of the Katrina Cottage. She continues to design simple, functional homes using modern materials and state-of-the-art, energy-efficient appliances. Cusato's design for the New Economy Home was the featured Builder Concept Home at the 2010 International Builders' Show.  You can view photos and floor plans and purchase construction drawings at The New Economy Home, now available in version 2.0.

But who will be able to build these homes? In 2016, Marianne Cusato and HomeAdvisor.com led a forum called The Skilled Labor Shortage: Where is the Next Generation of Craftsmen? (PDF). When a market desires well-crafted homes, trained craftsmen must be available. "Only by identifying and addressing the barriers keeping young workers from pursuing skilled labor professions can we ensure the continued sustainability of our housing economy and workforce for generations to come," Cusato writes.

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Using New Old Materials

Reproduction Cotswold Roof Slates & Conservation Rooflight Window
Reproduction Cotswold Roof Slates & Conservation Rooflight Window. Photo by Tim Graham / Getty Images News / Getty Images (cropped)

There's an old fashioned feel to the roof in this photo. Well-maintained slate roofing can last 100 years or more. But, although the architectural materials may be borrowed from the past, the roof on this house is brand new and made of reconstructed stone.

For houses built in the past, like Cotswold Cottages and Victorian Queen Annes, builders and architects had few options for construction materials. Not so today. Even "fake" slate  comes in many different substances, from polymers and rubber to cast stone. The new homeowner should remember that the materials chosen to build an new old house will determine the ultimate look.

Learn More:

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A Neo-Victorian House

Inn at the Park Neo-Victorian Inn
Located near Lake Michigan, Inn at the Park is a new, vinyl-sided bed & breakfast inn designed to resemble an old-fashioned Victorian house. Photo courtesy Carol Ann Hall

A Neo-Victorian house is a contemporary home that borrows ideas from historic Victorian architecture. While a true Victorian house may be short on bathrooms and closet space, a Neo-Victorian (or "new" Victorian) is designed to accommodate contemporary lifestyles. Modern materials such as vinyl and plastics may be used in the construction of a Neo-Victorian home.

Shown here is the Inn at the Park in South Haven, Michigan, located near Lake Michigan. The new building, constructed in 1995, is built upon the basement of a small ranch style house. The new construction adds to the footprint of the former house to create 7,000 square feet of living area. The Inn at the Park is vinyl-sided and has modern comforts such as private bathrooms. However, ornamental details and thirteen fireplaces give the Inn a Victorian flavor.

Neo-Victorian Details include:

  • Scallop-shaped shingles
  • Complicated roofline with many gables
  • Gingerbread ornaments in all eight gable peaks
  • Awnings

In addition, the owners installed stained glass windows from historic harvesters. Displayed along the front facade of the building, the windows add to the Victorian appearance the building.

Making this new home look like a grand "old" Victorian house is an ongoing hobby for owner Carol Ann Hall.

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Finding Plans for Your New Old House

Illustration and floor plans for a three-story country house near Paris, France
Maisons de Campagne des Environs de Paris, c. 1860, by Artist Victor Petit. Image by The Print Collector Heritage Images / Hulton Archive / Getty Images (cropped)

Just about any historic style can be incorporated into a new, or Neo, home design. Neo-Victorian, Neo-Colonial, Neo-Traditional, and Neo-Eclectic houses do not duplicate historic buildings exactly. Instead, they borrow selected details to convey the impression that the house is much older than it really is.

Many builders and house plan catalogs offer "Neo" home designs. Here's just a sampling:

Historic House Plans

Looking for more inspiration? Browse your local library and the Web for original drawings and reproduction house plan catalogs. Mind you, these historic house plans do not contain the detailed specifications required by modern builders. They will, however, illustrate the details and floor plans used on older houses.

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Building New Communities

Illustration of Three Homes for Three Generations in One Community together.
Three Homes. Three Generations. One Community. Builder Concept Homes, 2012. Media photo ©2011 James F. Wilson, Courtesy Builder magazine.

Our neighborhoods, too, have roots in the past. Some historians say that suburban neighborhoods existed in ancient times. Others claim that elitist neighborhoods developed in nineteenth century England, when businessmen built small country estates just outside their villages. Suburban American neighborhoods grew when public roads and transportation allowed people to live easily outside the cities. 

As neighborhoods evolved, so, too, has exclusivity. One remembers how segregated the Levittowns were and  how Joseph Eichler was one of the few developers who would sell his real estate to minorities. Professors Edward J. Blakely and Mary Gail Snyder, authors of Fortress America: Gated Communities in the United States, suggest that the trend toward exclusive gated communities leads to misunderstanding, stereotyping, and fear.

So, we ask this—as people turn to new construction of old home styles to suit their modern needs and traditional aesthetics, where will these homes be built? These new consumers may turn to historic community structures, when generations lived together in one house and people walked to work.

Multi-Generational Housing Design

New generations, more affluent than their parents, want everything. People are building houses to accommodate parents, grandparents, and future generations to live together, but not so close! The 2012 International Builders' Show in Orlando, Florida explored the new/old concept of inter-generational communities—"Three Homes. Three Generations. One Community.

The Builder Concept Homes featured three designs for three generations (pictured from left to right):

  • Gen B House, for Baby Boomers born between 1946 and 1964
  • Generation X House, for the next generation, born between 1966 and 1985
  • Generation Y House, for the Millennials or Echo-Boomers born after 1985

Cape Cods in Suburbia is a concept of a previous generation—the parents of Baby Boomers!

The New Urbanism

A large and widely respected group of architects and city planners believe that there is a profound connection between the environments we build and the ways we feel and behave. These urban designers claim that America's tract style homes and sprawling suburban neighborhoods lead to social isolation and a failure to communicate.

Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk pioneered an approach to urban design known as New Urbanism. In their writings, the design team and other New Urbanists suggest that the ideal community should be more like an old European village—easily walkable, with open public spaces, green spaces, and piazzes. Instead of driving cars, people will stroll through the town to reach buildings and businesses. A diversity of people living together will prevent crime and promote security.

Does this type of community exist? Check out the House Styles in the Town of Celebration. Since 1994, this Florida community has been putting it all together—historic house plans within a walkable neighborhood.

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Marianne Cusato's Blueprint for the Future

Victorian Cottages in Oak Bluffs, Martha Vineyard, Massachusetts
Victorian Cottages in Oak Bluffs, Martha Vineyard, Massachusetts. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith / Buyenlarge / Archive Photos / Getty Images (cropped)

Architect and designer Marianne Cusato is well-known for plans inspired by America's rural architecture. A 308-square-foot home she called the "little yellow house" became the iconic Katrina Cottage, a prototype for rebuilding after the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Today, Cusato's designs take a traditional exterior form, which seems to hide the automation she evisions for the house of the future. "We are seeing a new approach to home design that focuses more on how we live in a space," Cusato has said. Interior spaces likely will have:

  • open, yet defined floor plans
  • flexible dining spaces
  • drop zones that compartmentalize living areas

Don't toss out traditional design just yet. Homes of the future may have two stories, but how you get from one floor to another may involve modern technology—like, for instance, a pneumatic vacuum elevator that may remind you of a Star Trek transporter.

Cusato delights in the blending of "traditional forms of the past" with "modern needs of today." During our conversation, she shared these predictions for future housing.

"Much like with the Katrina Cottage, homes will be designed for people, not parking. Garages will shift to the side or back of the house and elements like porches will connect homes to walkable streets. Recent studies have shown that the walkability of a community is a primary factor in raising house values."

Look & Feel
"We will see traditional forms merge with clean modern lines."

Size & Scale
"We will see compact plans. This does not necessarily mean small, but rather more efficient and not wasteful with square footage."

Energy Efficient
"Green washing will be replaced by quantifiable building practices that result in tangible cost savings."

Smart Homes
"The Nest thermostat was just the start. We will see more and more home automation systems that learn how we live and adapt themselves accordingly."

Learn More:

  • Get Your House Right: Architectural Elements to Use & Avoid by Marianne Cusato, Sterling, 2008, 2011
    Buy on Amazon
  • The Just Right Home: Buying, Renting, Moving—or Just Dreaming—Find Your Perfect Match! by Marianne Cusato, Workman Publishing, 2013
    Buy on Amazon

Source: Design, MarianneCusato.com [accessed April 17, 2015]

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Your Citation
Craven, Jackie. "Historic Home Designs - Trends in New Construction." ThoughtCo, Dec. 21, 2016, thoughtco.com/historic-home-designs-trends-177536. Craven, Jackie. (2016, December 21). Historic Home Designs - Trends in New Construction. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/historic-home-designs-trends-177536 Craven, Jackie. "Historic Home Designs - Trends in New Construction." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/historic-home-designs-trends-177536 (accessed April 21, 2018).