House Style Guide to the American Home

horizontally oriented home, one story, with many windows and a wooded lot
The American Ranch Style Home. Mardis Coers/Getty Images (cropped)

What style is your house? Browse this photo gallery for the most popular housing styles and types in North America. 

1600s - 1950s: Cape Cod Style

Brown-shingled, center chimney, 6-over-6 double hung windows on each side of central doorway, Cape Cod style house on Long Island, New York
Samuel Landon House c. 1750 on the Site of a House by Thomas Moore. Barry Winiker/Getty Images

The simple, rectangular homes popular in 20th century suburbs originated in Colonial New England.

1600s - 1740: New England Colonial

Stanley-Whitman House in Farmington, Connecticut, circa 1720
Home Style of Early British Settlers Stanley-Whitman House in Farmington, Connecticut, circa 1720. Photo by Staib / Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

British who settled in the New England colonies built rustic, square homes with details drawn from medieval Europe.

The Stanley-Whitman House in Farmington, Connecticut is a remarkably well-preserved example of New England Colonial residential architecture. Dating from about 1720, the house has many late-medieval features common during the 1600s. Note:

  • Massive chimney placed at the center
  • Second story protrudes over first story
  • Saltbox roof shape that slopes down in the rear
  • Diamond-paned windows


1625 - mid-1800s: Dutch Colonial

The John Teller House is a Dutch Colonial home in Schenectady, NY
Architecture from the Netherlands in the New World The John Teller House is a Dutch Colonial home in the Stockade neighborhood of Schenectady, NY. The home was built in about 1740. Photo © Jackie Craven

Settling along the Hudson River in the land that became New York State, Dutch colonists built brick and stone homes like those found in the Netherlands. Located in New York State and nearby areas in Delaware, New Jersey, and western Connecticut, Dutch Colonial homes often have "Dutch doors," where upper and lower halves can be opened independently. Other common characteristics include

  • Matching chimneys on each side, OR a massive wishbone-shaped chimney at the front
  • Wide, slightly flared eaves, OR
  • Gambrel roof, OR
  • Gambrel roof with flared eaves

Built in 1740, the Dutch Colonial Home shown here has a gambrel roof and a salt-box shaped lean-to addition. Later Dutch style buildings became known for their elaborately shaped gables, dormers, and parapets.

Twentieth century Dutch Colonial Revival houses borrow the gambrel roof found on historic Dutch Colonial houses.

1600s - mid-1800s: German Colonial

Schifferstadt Architectural Museum in Frederick, Maryland
Picture Dictionary of Colonial House Styles: German Colonial Schifferstadt Architectural Museum in Frederick, Maryland is a German Colonial House completed in 1756. Photo:

German Settlers in the American colonies used local materials to recreate building styles from their homeland.

Schifferstadt Architectural Museum in Frederick, Maryland is a landmark example of German Colonial Architecture. Named by Joseph Brunner after his childhood home near Mannheim, Germany, the house was completed in 1756.

Typical of German Colonial architecture, the Schifferstadt Architectural Museum has these features:

  • Most often found in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Maryland
  • Two-feet thick walls made with sandstone
  • Reinforced stone arches above the first floor windows and doors
  • Hand-hewn beams pinned with wooden pegs
  • Exposed half-timbering
  • Flared eaves
  • Massive wishbone-shaped chimney

1690s - 1830: Georgian Colonial House Style

The refined Georgian Colonial style continues to shape our homes today.
A British Style Takes Root in the New World The symmetrical, orderly Georgian style became prominent in Colonial America. Shown here, a Georgian Colonial home in Sandwich, New Hampshire. Photo © 2005 Jackie Craven

Spacious and comfortable, Georgian Colonial architecture reflected the rising ambition of a new country.

Georgian Colonial became the rave in New England and the Southern colonies during the 1700's. Stately and symmetrical, these homes imitated the larger, more elaborate Georgian homes which were being built in England. But the genesis of the style goes back much farther. During the reign of King George I in the early 1700's, and King George III later in the century, Britons drew inspiration from the Italian Renaissance and from ancient Greece and Rome.

Georgian ideals came to New England via pattern books, and Georgian styling became a favorite of well-to-do colonists. More humble dwellings also took on characteristics of the Georgian style. America's Georgian homes tend to be less ornate than those found in Britain. What are common characteristics?

  • Square, symmetrical shape
  • Paneled front door at center
  • Decorative crown over front door
  • Flattened columns on each side of door
  • Five windows across front
  • Paired chimneys
  • Medium pitched roof
  • Minimal roof overhang
  • Nine or twelve small window panes in each window sash
  • Dentil molding (square, tooth-like cuts) along the eaves

1780 - 1840: Federal and Adam House Styles

Brick Federal Style plantation near Washington, DC, Woodlawn, near Mount Vernon, Virginia
Picture Dictionary of House Styles in North America and Beyond Woodlawn, near Mount Vernon, Virginia, is often called "Georgian Colonial." However, the fanlight and the elliptical window in the gable are characteristic of the Federal style. Designed by William Thornton, Woodlawn was completed in 1805. Photo LC-DIG-highsm-15165 in Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints/Photos Div.

Like much of America's architecture, the Federal (or Federalist) style has its roots in the British Isles. Three Scottish brothers named Adam adapted the pragmatic Georgian style, adding swags, garlands, urns, and Neoclassical details. In the newly formed United States, homes and public buildings also took on graceful airs. Inspired by the work of the Adam brothers and also by the great temples of ancient Greece and Rome, Americans began to build homes with Palladian windows, circular or elliptical windows, recessed wall arches, and oval-shaped rooms. This new Federal style became associated with America's evolving national identity.

Graceful details distinguish Federal homes from the pragmatic Georgian Colonial style. American Federal houses have many of these features:

  • Low-pitched roof, or flat roof with a balustrade
  • Windows arranged symmetrically around a center doorway
  • Semicircular fanlight over the front door
  • Narrow side windows flanking the front door
  • Decorative crown or roof over front door
  • Tooth-like dentil moldings in the cornice
  • Palladian window
  • Circular or elliptical windows
  • Shutters
  • Decorative swags and garlands
  • Oval rooms and arches

These architects are known for their Federalist buildings:

  • Charles Bulfinch
  • Samuel McIntyre
  • Alexander Parris
  • William Thorton

It's easy to confuse Federalist architecture with the earlier Georgian Colonial style. The difference is in the details: While Georgian homes are square and angular, a Federal style building is more likely to have curved lines and decorative flourishes. The White House in Washington DC began as a Georgian, and later took on a Federalist flavor as architects added an elliptical portico and other Neoclassical embellishments.

Federalist architecture was the favored style in the United States from about 1780 until the 1830s. However, Federalist details are often incorporated into modern American homes. Look past the vinyl siding, and you may see a fanlight or the elegant arch of a Palladian window.

1800s: Tidewater Style

This "Tidewater" home has an extensive porch sheltered by a broad hipped roof.
Homes Made to Take the Heat This "Tidewater" home has an extensive porch sheltered by a broad hipped roof. Photo © 2005 Jupiterimages Corporation

Built in coastal areas of the American South, these homes were designed for wet, hot climates. Tidewater homes have large porches (or "galleries") sheltered by a broad roof. The roof extends over the porches without interruption. Features of the Tidewater House Style include

  • Lower level elevated on stilts or pilings
  • Two stories with porches on both levels
  • The porch often surrounds the entire house
  • Wide eaves
  • Roof is often (although not always) hipped
  • Wooden construction
  • Usually located near water, especially the coastal regions of the American south

Note that these features also describe the French Colonial houses found in Louisiana and the Mississippi River valley, where Europeans from France settled by way of Canada. The eastern coast of the U.S. was settled by Europeans of English descent, so the Tidewater house style could not be called "French." The hot and wet environmental conditions of both southern regions created the independent need for similar designs. Although we can suspect that design ideas were borrowed from each other, French Colonial describes the inhabitants whereas Tidewater describes the low-lying land affected by high tides. Tidewater houses are also called Low Country houses.

Comparing these house styles, French Colonial and Tidewater, along with the neoclassical Tidewater home, is a good lesson in how architecture develops over time and place.

1600 - 1900: Spanish Colonial House Style

The González-Alvarez House in St. Augustine
Oldest European Homes in the American Colonies The González-Alvarez House in St. Augustine is the oldest surviving Spanish Colonial home in Florida. Jackie Craven

Settlers in the Spanish territories of North America built simple, low homes made using rocks, adobe brick, coquina, or stucco.

Settling in Florida, California, and the American Southwest, settlers from Spain and Mexico built homes with many of these features:

  • Located in the American South, Southwest, and California
  • One story
  • Flat roof, or roof with a low pitch
  • Earth, thatch, or clay tile roof covering
  • Thick walls made with rocks, coquina, or adobe brick coated with stucco
  • Several exterior doors
  • Small windows, originally without glass
  • Wooden or wrought iron bars across the windows
  • Interior shutters

Later Spanish Colonial homes had more elaborate features, such as:

  • Second story with recessed porches and balconies
  • Interior courtyards
  • Carved wooden brackets and balustrades
  • Double hung sash windows
  • Dentil moldings and other Greek Revival details

During the 20th century, a variety of Spanish house styles borrowed ideas from Spanish Colonial architecture. Spanish Revival, Mission, and Neo-Mediterranean homes often have details inspired by the Colonial past.

The González-Alvarez House shown here is located in St. Augustine, Florida. Founded in 1565 by the Spanish conquistador Pedro Menendez de Aviles, St. Augustine is the oldest continually inhabited European settlement in the U.S.

The first houses in St. Augustine were made of wood with palm thatching. None of these survived. The González-Alvarez House we see today has been remodeled. When it was built in the early 1700s, the González-Alvarez House probably had one story and a flat roof.

Like many Spanish Colonial buildings in St. Augustine, Florida, the González-Alvarez House is made using coquina, a sedimentary rock composed of shell fragments.

1700 - 1860: French Colonial

French Colonial Style Parlange Plantation, 1750, New Roads, Louisiana
Colonists design homes for a flood-prone territory French Colonial Style Parlange Plantation, 1750, New Roads, Louisiana. Photo LC-DIG-highsm-13030, Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints/Photos Div.

French colonists in the Mississippi Valley built houses especially suited to the hot, wet climate of their new home.

Parlange Plantation is typical of French colonial architecture. Named after one of its owners, Colonel Charles Parlange, this Louisiana plantation farm was first developed by Vincent de Ternant, Marquis of Dansville-sur-Meuse, to produce indigo, a popular cash crop of the day. The main house is thought to have been completed in 1750, before the American Revolution and before Louisiana joined the Union.

This style of house is called "French Colonial" because it was a popular design used by the Canadian and European French as they colonized the lower Mississippi River delta.

1825 - 1860: Greek Revival House Style

Greek Revival home in Saratoga, New York
Homes Inspired by the Classical Past Greek Revival home in Saratoga, New York. Jackie Craven

With details reminiscent of the Parthenon, stately, pillared Greek Revival homes reflect a passion for antiquity.

In the mid-19th century, many prosperous Americans believed that ancient Greece represented the spirit of democracy. Interest in British styles had waned during the bitter War of 1812. Also, many Americans sympathized with Greece's own struggles for independence in the 1820s.

Greek Revival architecture began with public buildings in Philadelphia. Many European-trained architects designed in the popular Grecian style, and the fashion spread via carpenter's guides and pattern books. Colonnaded Greek Revival mansions - sometimes called Southern Colonial houses - sprang up throughout the American south. With its classic clapboard exterior and bold, simple lines, Greek Revival architecture became the most predominant housing style in the United States.

During the second half of the 19th century, Gothic Revival and Italianate styles captured the American imagination. Grecian ideas faded from popularity. However, front-gable design - a trademark of the Greek Revival style - continued to influence the shape of American houses well into the 20th century. You will notice the classic front-gable design in simple "National Style" farm houses throughout the United States.

Greek Revival houses usually have these features:

  • Pedimented gable
  • Symmetrical shape
  • Heavy cornice
  • Wide, plain frieze
  • Bold, simple moldings
  • Entry porch with columns
  • Decorative pilasters
  • Narrow windows around front door

1840-1880: Gothic Revival House (Masonry)

Lyndhurst in Tarrytown, New York is a landmark example of Gothic Revival architecture
Homes Made Like Castles Lyndhurst in Tarrytown, New York is a landmark example of Gothic Revival architecture. Photo Courtesy WalkingGeek/Flickr

Grand masonry homes in the Gothic Revival style often had pointed windows and parapets.

1840-1880: Gothic Revival House (Wood)

Medieval cathedrals inspired whimsical wood-framed Gothic Revival houses
Victorian Carpenters Embrace Gothic Ideas Victorian Gothic Revival homes have pointed windows and other details borrowed from medieval Gothic cathedrals. Photo © 2005 Jupiterimages Corporation

Steep roofs and windows with pointed arches give these Victorian homes a Gothic flavor. These homes are often called Gothic Revival Farmhouses and Carpenter Gothic Cottages.

1840 - 1885: Italianate House

Italianate Lewis House in Upstate, New York
Old World Ideas Transplanted to the New World Italianate Lewis House in Upstate, New York. Photo © Jackie Craven

Victorian Italianate homes usually have flat or low-pitched roofs and large brackets in the eaves.

Italianate houses can be found in most towns throughout the United States. In the 21st century, these large, regal homes are now town libraries or Bed and Breakfasts. But why were they built originally? You may be surprised to learn that this American house style is actually an imported design from Great Britain.

1840 - 1915: Renaissance Revival House Style

Breakers Mansion in Newport, Rhode Island
American Architects Borrow Ideas From Palladio Designed by Richard Morris Hunt, Breakers Mansion is a Renaissance Revival home in Newport, Rhode Island. Photo © Ben Newton

A fascination for the architecture of Renaissance Europe and the villas of Andrea Palladio inspired elegant Renaissance Revival homes.

Renaissance (French for "rebirth") refers to the artistic, architectural, and literary movement in Europe between the 14th and 16th centuries. The Renaissance Revival style is based on the architecture of 16th-century Renaissance Italy and France, with additional elements borrowed from Ancient Greek and Roman architecture. Renaissance Revival is a general term which encompasses the various Italian Renaissance Revival and French Renaissance Revival styles, including Second Empire.

The Renaissance Revival style was popular during two separate phases. The first phase, or the First Renaissance Revival, was from about 1840 to 1885, and the Second Renaissance Revival, which was characterized by larger and more elaborately decorated buildings, was from 1890 to 1915. Due to the expensive materials required and the elaborate style, Renaissance Revival was best suited for public and commercial buildings, and very grand homes for the wealthy.

Characteristics of Renaissance Revival houses

  • Cube-shaped
  • Balanced, symmetrical façade
  • Smooth stone walls, made from finely-cut ashlar, or smooth stucco finish
  • Low-pitched hip or Mansard roof
  • Roof topped with balustrade
  • Wide eaves with large brackets
  • Horizontal stone banding between floors
  • Segmental pediments
  • Ornately-carved stone window trim varying in design at each story
  • Smaller square windows on top floor
  • Quoins (large stone blocks at the corners)

"Second" Renaissance Revival Houses are larger and usually have

  • Arched, recessed openings
  • Full entablatures between floors
  • Columns
  • Ground floor made of rusticated stone with beveled edges and deeply-recessed joints

1850 - 1870: Octagon Style

The 1893 Longfellow-Hastings Octagon House in Los Angeles, California
Victorian 8-Sided Houses The 1893 Longfellow-Hastings Octagon House in Los Angeles, California. Photo ©Sgerbic via Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0)

During the 1850s and 1860s, a few thousand octagonal or round houses were constructed in New England, New York, and the Midwest.

Historians often credit writer Orson S. Fowler for the innovation of the unusual and rare Octagon style. Fowler believed that Octagon houses increased sunlight and ventilation and eliminated "dark and useless corners." After Fowler published his book The Octagon House, A Home for All, plans for Octagon style houses were widely circulated.

However, Fowler did not actually invent the idea of octagonal design. Thomas Jefferson used the octagonal shape for his summer home, and many Adam and Federal style homes included octagonal rooms.

Only a few thousand Octagon houses were built, and not many remain.

Octagon houses usually have these features

  • Octagonal or rounded shape, usually (although not always) with 8 sides
  • Cupola
  • Porches, usually one-story

1855 - 1885: Second Empire (Mansard) House Style

French Mansard roof of the Victorian Second Empire Valley Knudsen Garden Residence in Los Angeles, CA
Paris Inspired These Lofty Roofs The Victorian Second Empire Valley Knudsen Garden Residence (Shaw House) from the 1880s in Los Angeles, CA. Photo ©Cbl62 via Wikimedia Commons, Cbl62 at English Wikipedia This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. (CC BY-SA 3.0) (cropped)

With tall mansard roofs and wrought iron cresting, Second Empire homes are inspired by the opulent architecture of France during the reign of Napoleon III. The European style began in New England, but eventually made its way to the American West. .

1860 - 1890: Stick Style

Emlen Physick House, 1878, "Stick Style" by architect Frank Furness, Cape May, New Jersey
Victorian Builders Recreate Medieval Ideas Emlen Physick House, 1878, "Stick Style" by architect Frank Furness, Cape May, New Jersey. Photo LC-DIG-highsm-15153 by Carol M. Highsmith Archive, LOC, Prints and Photographs Division

Stick Style Victorian houses have exposed trusses, "stickwork," and other details borrowed from the middle ages.

The most important features of Stick Style houses are on the exterior wall surfaces. Instead of three-dimensional ornamentation, the emphasis is on patterns and lines. Because the decorative details are flat, they are often lost when homeowners remodel. If the decorative stickwork is covered up with vinyl siding or painted a single solid color, a Stick Style Victorian may appear plain and rather ordinary.

The Palliser Company, which published many plan books during the Victorian era, called stick architecture plain yet neat, modern, and comfortable. However, Stick was a short-lived fashion. The angular and austere style couldn't compete with the fancy Queen Annes that took America by storm. Some Stick architecture did dress up in fancy Eastlake spindles and Queen Anne flourishes. But very few authentic Stick Style homes remain intact.

The house shown here is an especially fine example of Victorian Stick architecture. Designed by architect Frank Furness, the house has "stickwork," or decorative half-timbering, on the exterior walls. Other features include prominent brackets, rafters, and braces. These details are not necessary structurally. They are decorations that imitated architecture from the medieval past.

On first glance, you might confuse Stick houses with the later Tudor Revival Style. However, most Tudor Revival houses are sided with stucco, stone, or brick. Stick Style houses are almost always made with wood and have large, prominent brackets and corbels.

Common Features Found on Victorian Stick Style Homes

  • Rectangular shape
  • Wood siding
  • Steep, gabled roof
  • Overhanging eaves
  • Ornamental trusses (gable braces)
  • Decorative braces and brackets
  • Decorative half-timbering
  • Jerkinhead dormers

1861 - 1930: Shotgun House

Brightly painted shotgun house in New Orleans, Louisiana
Skinny Houses For Small Spaces Brightly painted shotgun house in New Orleans, Louisiana. Photo (cc) Flickr Member Karen Apricot New Orleans

Long and narrow, shotgun houses are made to fit small city building lots. New Orleans, Louisiana is especially known for its Shotgun houses. Only one room wide, these homes pack a lot of living into a narrow space.


1870 - 1910: Folk Victorian

Folk Victorian House in New Hampshire
Vernacular Architecture From the Machine Age Folk Victorian House in Sandwich, New Hampshire. Photo ©2005 Jackie Craven

Just plain folk could afford these simple North American homes, built between 1870 and 1910.

Life was simple before the age of railroads. In the vast, remote stretches of North America, families built no-fuss, square or L-shaped houses in the National or Folk style. But the rise of industrialization made it easier and more affordable to add decorative details to otherwise simple homes. Decorative architectural trim could be mass produced. As the railroads expanded, factory-made building parts could be sent to far corners of the continent.

Also, small towns could now obtain sophisticated woodworking machinery. A crate of scrolled brackets might find its way to Kansas or Wyoming, where carpenters could mix and match the pieces according to personal whim... Or, according to what happened to be in the latest shipment.

Many Folk Victorian houses were adorned with flat, jigsaw cut trim in a variety of patterns. Others had spindles, gingerbread and details borrowed from the Carpenter Gothic style. With their spindles and porches, some Folk Victorian homes may suggest Queen Anne architecture. But unlike Queen Annes, Folk Victorian houses are orderly and symmetrical houses. They do not have towers, bay windows, or elaborate moldings.

Folk Victorian houses usually have these features:

  • Square, symmetrical shape
  • Brackets under the eaves
  • Porches with spindlework or flat, jigsaw cut trim

Some Folk Victorian homes have:

1880 - 1910: Queen Anne Style

Queen Anne house in Saratoga, New York
Victorian Architects Put on Airs Queen Anne house in Saratoga, New York. Photo © 2005 Jackie Craven

Round towers and wrap-around porches give Queen Anne houses a regal air. This photo is just one example of the often extravagant style. Read below to learn about Queen Anne architecture.

Fanciful and flamboyant, America's Queen Anne architecture takes on many shapes. Some Queen Anne houses are lavishly decorated. Others are restrained in their embellishments. Yet the flashy painted ladies of San Francisco and the refined Brooklyn brownstones share many of the same features. There is an element of surprise to the typical Queen Anne home. The roof is steeply pitched and irregular. The overall shape of the house is asymmetrical.

Queen Anne Details

  • Steep roof
  • Complicated, asymmetrical shape
  • Front-facing gable
  • One-story porch that extends across one or two sides of the house
  • Round or square towers
  • Wall surfaces textured with decorative shingles, patterned masonry, or half-timbering
  • Ornamental spindles and brackets
  • Bay windows

1860 - 1880s: Eastlake Victorian

Queen Anne style Victorian home with Eastlake details.
A Furniture Designer Inspired These Fanciful Homes Fanciful Victorian home with Eastlake details, 1889 in Eureka, California. Photo by Marcus Lindstrom / E+ / Getty Images (cropped)

These fanciful Victorian houses are lavished with Eastlake style spindlework.

This colorful Victorian home is a Queen Anne, but the lacy, ornamental details are called Eastlake. The ornamental style is named after the famous English designer, Charles Eastlake, who was famous for making furniture decorated with fancy spindles.

Eastlake details can be found on a variety of Victorian house styles. Some of the more fanciful Stick Style Victorians have Eastlake buttons and knobs combined with the angular stickwork.

1880 - 1900: Richardsonian Romanesque

Castle Marne in Denver, Colorado, a classic example of Richardsonian Romanesque
Grand Stone Homes Built on Roman Ideas The Castle Marne in Denver, Colorado. Photo ©Jeffrey Beall,, Creative Commons ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Victorian builders used rough, square stones for these majestic buildings.

Ohio-born William A. Lang (1846-1897) designed hundreds of homes in Denver, Colorado around 1890, yet he was untrained as an architect. The three story stone building shown here was built during this time for banker Wilbur S. Raymond, with Lang imitating a popular style of the day. It is a classic example of Richardsonian Romanesque styling. Made of rough-faced stone, the residence has arches, parapets, and a tower.

The house became known as The Marne or Castle Marne in the twentieth century. Like many historic structures, the house's history includes dividing it into apartments. In the late 20th century it became a bed-and-breakfast commercial property.

1880 - 1910: Chateauesque

Chateauesque Kimberly Crest House and Gardens in Redlands, California
American House Styles Inspired by French Chateaus Chateauesque Kimberly Crest House and Gardens in Redlands, California. Kimberly Crest by OleknutleeOleknutlee at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Lavish mansions of Europe inspired the opulent architecture of America's Gilded Age.

The word château is an Old French word from the Latin castellum, or castle. Found throughout France, the château manor house can be a sign of wealth or commerce, much like the plantation or ranch houses of America. Architect Richard Morris Hunt, who had studied in France in the 1850s, is largely credited with introducing wealthy Americans to Europe's lavish styles. Elaborate mansions became a showy display of American affluence.

The American version of the French château is now known as Chateauesque. This style home has many of the same characteristics as the Victorian Gothic Style and the Renaissance Revival House Style.

Chateauesque houses have many of these features:

  • highly ornamented roofline (spires, crosses, pinnacles)
  • ornamented windows and doors
  • tall, elaborate chimneys
  • steeply pitched hipped roof
  • multiple dormers, towers, and turrets
  • balconies
  • mansion-sized
  • stone or masonry construction

Examples of Chateauesque Designs

  • Biltmore Estate (1895), by Richard Morris Hunt
  • Oheka Castle (1919), by Delano & Aldrich
  • Kimberly Crest House (1897), by Oliver Perry Dennis and Lyman Farwell (photo above)
    Some have argued that Mrs. Cornelia Hill (1836-1923) introduced the Chateauesque house style to California. Mrs. Hill built the house shown here in Redlands, near San Bernardino east of Los Angeles, California. Her decision to move West from New York was hastened after her husband and several daughters died of tuberculosis. Mrs. Hill had traveled in France, visiting many castles and châteaux, so she was familiar with the style. She was also familiar with the Gilded Age mansions being designed in New York City and in Newport, Rhode Island. Mrs. Hill lived in the house with her remaining family until 1905, when she sold the house to the Kimberly family. John Alfred Kimberly, co-founder of the Kimberly-Clark paper company, added the Renaissance style Italian gardens to his retirement home.

1874 - 1910: Shingle Style

Shingle Style house in Schenectady, NY.
Relaxed Homes for Informal Living Shingle Style house in Schenectady, NY. Photo © Jackie Craven

Rambling and asymmetrical, Shingle Style homes became popular first along North America's Atlantic coast. They were often built as summer homes for America's growing upper class.

Architect and author John Milnes Baker categorizes the Shingle Style as one of three Indigenous Styles—architecture native to the values and landscape of America. After the Civil War, the United States was developing its wealth, world stature, and patriotism. It was time to develop an architecture. Frank Lloyd Wright's Prairie Style and Gustav Stickley's Craftsman are also in Baker's Indigenous category.

1876 - 1955: Colonial Revival House Styles

Colonial Revival houses romanticized North America's colonial past.
Nostalgic Homes for a New Century Builders in the late 1800s and early 1900s romanticized colonial architecture. Photo © Jackie Craven

Expressing American patriotism and a return to classical architectural styles, Colonial Revival became a standard style in the 20th century.

Colonial Revival houses have many of these features:

  • Symmetrical façade
  • Rectangular
  • 2 to 3 stories
  • Brick or wood siding
  • Simple, classical detailing
  • Gable roof
  • Pillars and columns
  • Multi-pane, double-hung windows with shutters
  • Dormers
  • Temple-like entrance: porticos topped by pediment
  • Paneled doors with sidelights and topped with rectangular transoms or fanlights
  • Center entry-hall floor plan
  • Living areas on the first floor and bedrooms on the upper floors
  • Fireplaces

About the Colonial Revival Style

Colonial Revival became a popular American house style after it appeared at the 1876 the US Centennial Exposition. Reflecting American patriotism and a desire for simplicity, the Colonial Revival house style remained popular until the mid-1950's. Between World War I and II, Colonial Revival was the most popular historic revival house style in the United States.

Some architectural historians say that Colonial Revival is a Victorian style; others believe that the Colonial Revival style marked the end of the Victorian period in architecture. The Colonial Revival style is based loosely on Federal and Georgian house styles, and a clear reaction against excessively elaborate Victorian Queen Anne architecture. Eventually, the simple, symmetrical Colonial Revival style became incorporated into the Foursquare and Bungalow house styles of the early 20th century.

Subtypes of the Colonial Revival House Style

  • Dutch Colonial
    Two-story house made of clapboard or shingles with a gambrel roof, flared eaves, and a side-entry floor plan.
  • Garrison Colonial
    The second story protrudes; the first story is slightly recessed.
  • Saltbox Colonial
    Like the original saltbox homes from colonial times, a Saltbox Style Colonial Revival has two stories at the front and one story at the rear. The gable roof covers both levels, sloping sharply down in the rear.
  • Spanish Colonial Revival
    Low-pitched ceramic tile roof, stucco walls, eaves with little or no overhang, wrought iron, and windows and doorways with round arches.

1885 - 1925: Neoclassical House Styles

Neoclassical homes romanticize the architecture of ancient Greece and Rome.
Architects Return to Classical Ideals Neoclassical homes romanticize the architecture of ancient Greece and Rome. Photo © Jupiterimages Corporation

Refined, orderly, and symmetrical, Neoclassical houses borrow ideas from Classical Greece and Rome. Read below for facts about Neoclassical styles.

The word Neoclassical is often used to describe an architectural style, but Neoclassicism is not actually any one distinct style. Neoclassicism is a trend, or approach to design, that can describe several very different styles. Regardless of the style, a Neoclassical house is always symmetrical with windows equally balanced on each side of the door. Neoclassical houses often have columns and pediments.

A Neoclassical house may resemble any of these historic styles:

  • Federal
  • Greek Revival
  • Georgian

Antebellum houses are often Neoclassical.

1885 - 1925: Beaux Arts

The Beaux Arts Vanderbilt Marble House in Newport, Rhode Island
Lofty Ideas for Grand Mansions The Beaux Arts Vanderbilt Marble House in Newport, Rhode Island. Image cc Daderot via Wikimedia

The same Beaux Arts styling used for palaces and imposing public buildings found its way into grand mansions for the very wealthy.

1890 - Present: Tudor House Style

Heavy chimneys and decorative half-timbering give Tudor style houses a Medieval flavor.
Medieval Revival Homes Decorative half-timbering give Tudor Revival houses the appearance of a medieval building. Photo © 2005 Jackie Craven

Heavy chimneys and decorative half-timbering give Tudor style houses a Medieval flavor. The Tudor style is sometimes called Medieval Revival.

The name Tudor suggests that these houses were built in the 1500s, during the Tudor Dynasty in England. But of course, Tudor houses in the United States are modern-day re-inventions and are more accurately called Tudor Revival or Medieval Revival. Some Tudor Revival houses mimic humble Medieval cottages - They may even include a false thatched roof. Other Tudor Revival homes suggest Medieval palaces. They may have overlapping gables, parapets, and beautifully patterned brick or stonework. These historic details combine with Victorian or Craftsman flourishes.

As in many Queen Anne and Stick style homes, Tudor style houses often feature striking decorative timbers. These timbers hint at - but do not reproduce - Medieval construction techniques. In Medieval houses, the timber framing was integral with the structure. Tudor Revival houses, however, merely suggest the structural framework with false half-timbering. This decorative woodwork comes in many different designs, with stucco or patterned brick between the timbers.

Handsome examples of Tudor Revival architecture may be found throughout Great Britain, northern Europe, and the United States. The main square in Chester, England is surrounded by lavish Victorian Tudors that stand unapologetically alongside authentic medieval buildings.

In the United States, Tudor styling takes on a variety of forms ranging from elaborate mansions to modest suburban homes with mock masonry veneers. The style became enormously popular in the 1920s and 1930s, and modified versions became fashionable in the 1970s and 1980s.

One popular housing type inspired by inspired by Tudor ideas is the Cotswold Cottage. These quaint homes have an imitation thatched roof, massive chimneys, an uneven sloping roof, small window panes, and low doors.

Tudor style homes have many of these features:

1890-1940: Tudor Cottage

Tudor Cottage: Variation on the Tudor Revival style
Romantic Fairy Tale Homes Tudor Cottage: This subtype of the Tudor Revival style may remind you of a picturesque storybook cottage. Photo © Jackie Craven

With roots in the pastoral Cotswold region of England, the picturesque Tudor Cottage style may remind you of a cozy storybook house.

Other names for the Tudor Cottage style include Cotswold Cottage, Storybook Style, Hansel and Gretel Cottage, English Country Cottage, and Ann Hathaway Cottage.

The small, fanciful Tudor Cottage is a popular subtype of the Tudor Revival house style. This quaint English country style resembles cottages built since medieval times in the Cotswold region of southwestern England. A fascination for medieval styles inspired American architects create modern versions of the rustic homes. The Tudor Cottage style became especially popular in the United States during the 1920s and 1930s.

The picturesque Tudor Cottage is usually asymmetrical with a steep, complex roof line. The floor plan tends to include small, irregularly-shaped rooms, and the upper rooms have sloping walls with dormers. The home may have a sloping slate or cedar roof that mimics the look of thatch. A massive chimney often dominates either the front or one side of the house.

Tudor Cottage houses have many of these features:

  • Sloping, uneven roof, sometimes made of pseudo-thatch
  • Brick, stone, or stucco siding
  • Very steep cross gables
  • Prominent brick or stone chimney, often at the front near the door
  • Casement windows with small panes
  • Small dormer windows
  • Asymmetrical design
  • Low doors and arched doors
  • Small, irregularly-shaped rooms
  • Sloping walls in rooms on upper floor

1890 - 1920: Mission Revival House Style

Lennox House, Mission Revival Architecture on the campus of Colorado College
Homes Inspired by Mission Churches From the American Southwest The Lennox House on the campus of Colorado College was constructed in 1900 in the Mission Revival style. Photo cc 2.0 by Flickr Member Jeffrey Beall

Historic mission churches built by Spanish colonists inspired the turn-of-the-century house style known as Mission, Spanish Mission, Mission Revival, or California Mission. Characteristics include

  • Smooth stucco siding
  • Roof parapets
  • Large square pillars
  • Twisted columns
  • Arcaded entry porch
  • Round or quatrefoil window
  • Red tile roof

Shown here is the Mission Revival style Lennox House located on the campus of Colorado College at 1001 N. Nevada Ave. Denver architect Frederick J. Sterner built the house in 1900 for William Lennox, a wealthy businessman. Since being renovated, the 17-room house has become desirable student housing on campus.

About the Mission Revival Style

Celebrating the architecture of Hispanic settlers, Mission Revival style houses usually have arched dormers and roof parapets. Some resemble old Spanish mission churches with bell towers and elaborate arches.

The earliest Mission style homes were built in California, USA. The style spread eastward, but most Spanish Mission homes are located in the southwestern states. Deeply shaded porches and dark interiors make these homes particularly suited for warmer climates.

By the 1920s, architects were combining Mission styling with features from other movements. Mission houses often have details from these popular styles:

  • Prairie
  • Pueblo
  • Arts & Crafts

The term Mission style may also describe the Arts & Crafts furniture by Gustav Stickley.

1893-1920: Prairie Style

The Frederic C. Robie House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, 1909.
A Revolutionary New House Style by Frank Lloyd Wright The Frederic C. Robie House in Chicago is widely considered Frank Lloyd Wright's finest example of the Prairie style. It was built in 1909. Photo © Luiz Gadelha Jr., Imgadelha at, Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Frank Lloyd Wright transformed the American home when he began to design "Prairie" style houses with low horizontal lines and open interior spaces.

Frank Lloyd Wright believed that rooms in Victorian era homes were boxed-in and confining. He began to design houses with low horizontal lines and open interior spaces. Rooms were often divided by leaded glass panels. Furniture was either built-in or specially designed. These homes were called prairie style after Wright's 1901 Ladies Home Journal plan titled, "A Home in a Prairie Town." Prairie houses were designed to blend in with the flat, prairie landscape.

The first Prairie houses were usually plaster with wood trim or sided with horizontal board and batten. Later Prairie homes used concrete block. Prairie homes can have many shapes: Square, L-shaped, T-shaped, Y-shaped, and even pinwheel-shaped.

Many other architects designed Prairie homes and the style was popularized by pattern books. The popular American Foursquare style, sometimes called the Prairie Box, shared many features with the Prairie style.

In 1936, during the USA depression, Frank Lloyd Wright developed a simplified version of Prairie architecture called Usonian. Wright believed these stripped-down houses represented the democratic ideals of the United States.

Prairie style houses usually have these features:

  • Low-pitched roof
  • Overhanging eaves
  • Horizontal lines
  • Central chimney
  • Open floor plan
  • Clerestory windows

1895 - 1930: American Foursquare

American Foursquare Style House
Prairie Architecture Inspires Practical Box-Shaped Homes 1895-1930: American Foursquare House Styles. This practical, economical style became one of the most popular in the United States. Photo © Jackie Craven

The Foursquare style, sometimes called the Prairie Box, can be found in nearly every part of the United States.

American Foursquare houses usually have these features:

  • Simple box shape
  • Two-and-a-half stories high
  • Four-room floor plan
  • Low-hipped roof with deep overhang
  • Large central dormer
  • Full-width porch with wide stairs
  • Brick, stone, stucco, concrete block, or wood siding

About the Foursquare House Style:

The American Foursquare, or the Prairie Box, was a post-Victorian style that shared many features with the Prairie architecture pioneered by Frank Lloyd Wright. The boxy foursquare shape provided roomy interiors for homes on small city lots. The simple, square shape also made the Foursquare style especially practical for mail order house kits from Sears and other catalog companies.

Creative builders often dressed up the basic foursquare form. Although foursquare houses are always the same square shape, they can have features borrowed from any of these styles:

  • Queen Anne - bay windows, small towers, or "gingerbread" trim
  • Mission - stucco siding and roof parapets
  • Colonial Revival - pediments or porticos
  • Craftsman - exposed roof rafters, beamed ceilings, built-in cabinetry, and carefully crafted woodwork

1905-1930: Arts and Crafts (Craftsman)

With low roofs and wide eaves, Craftsman houses seem to embrace the earth.
A British Movement Brings New Ideas to American Homes Some Craftsman houses have cobblestone foundations, porch posts, and chimneys. Photo © Jackie Craven

From cozy bungalows to sprawling Prairie houses, many American homes were shaped by Craftsman ideas. Find facts below. Want more? See: Craftsman Photo Gallery.

Arts and Crafts, or Craftsman, houses have many of these features:

  • Wood, stone, or stucco siding
  • Low-pitched roof
  • Wide eaves with triangular brackets
  • Exposed roof rafters
  • Porch with thick square or round columns
  • Stone porch supports
  • Exterior chimney made with stone
  • Open floor plans; few hallways
  • Numerous windows
  • Some windows with stained or leaded glass
  • Beamed ceilings
  • Dark wood wainscoting and moldings
  • Built-in cabinets, shelves, and seating

Arts and Crafts History:

During the 1880s, John Ruskin, William Morris, Philip Webb, and other English designers and thinkers launched the Arts and Crafts Movement, which celebrated handicrafts and encouraged the use of simple forms and natural materials. In the United States, two California brothers, Charles Sumner Greene and Henry Mather Green, began to design houses that combined Arts and Crafts ideas with a fascination for the simple wooden architecture of China and Japan.

The name "Craftsman" comes from the title of a popular magazine published by the famous furniture designer, Gustav Stickley, between 1901 and 1916. A true Craftsman house is one that is built according to plans published in Stickley's magazine. But other magazines, pattern books, and mail order house catalogs began to publish plans for houses with Craftsman-like details. Soon the word "Craftsman" came to mean any house that expressed Arts and Crafts ideals, most especially the simple, economical, and extremely popular Bungalow.

Craftsman Styles

A Craftsman house is often a Bungalow, but many other styles can have Arts and Crafts, or Craftsman, features.

California Bungalow:

  • The Gamble House
    Charles Sumner Greene and Henry Mather Green built this sprawling Craftsman home in 1909. Located in Pasadena, California, the house has wide terraces, open sleeping porches, and custom-designed wooden cabinetry and furniture.

1905-1930: American Bungalow

An American Bungalow with double front gables
Bungaloid Architecture Takes America by Storm An American Bungalow with double front gables. Photo © Ryan McVay / Getty Images

The word bungalow is often used for any small 20th century home that uses space efficiently. However there are particular features we associate with bungalow architecture in the USA. Find facts below

California Bungalows, Craftsman Bungalows, and Chicago Bungalows are just a few of the many varieties of the popular American Bungalow form.

American Bungalow Features:

  • One and a half stories
  • Most of the living spaces on the ground floor
  • Low-pitched roof and horizontal shape
  • Living room at the center
  • Connecting rooms without hallways
  • Efficient floor plan
  • Built-in cabinets, shelves, and seats

History of the American Bungalow

The Bungalow is an all American housing type, but it has its roots in India. In the province of Bengal, single-family homes were called bangla or bangala. British colonists adapted these one-story thatch-roofed huts to use as summer homes. The space-efficient floor plan of bungalow houses may have also been inspired by army tents and rural English cottages. The idea was to cluster the kitchen, dining area, bedrooms, and bathroom around a central living area.

The first American house to be called a bungalow was designed in 1879 by William Gibbons Preston. Built at Monument Beach on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, the two-story house had the informal air of resort architecture. However, this house was much larger and more elaborate than the homes we think of when we use the term Bungalow.

Two California architects, Charles Sumner Greene and Henry Mather Greene, are often credited with inspiring America to build Bungalows. Their most famous project was the huge Craftsman style Gamble house (1909) in Pasadena, California. However, the Green brothers also published more modest Bungalow plans in many magazines and pattern books.


1912 - Present: Pueblo Revival Style

Adobe Pueblo style house in New Mexico
Eco-Friendly Homes That Reflect Native American Ideas This adobe Pueblo style house in New Mexico has vigas, a flat roof with a rain spout, a porch supported with zapatas, and a heavy wooden door. Photo Morey Milbradt / Getty Images

Because they are built with adobe, Pueblo homes are sometimes called Adobes. Modern Pueblos are inspired by homes used by Native Americans since ancient times. Pueblo Revival homes imitate the ancient earthen homes of the Pueblo Culture in the American Southwest.

Since ancient times, Pueblo Indians built large, multi-family houses, which the Spanish called pueblos (villages). In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Spanish made their own Pueblo homes, but they adapted the style. They formed the adobe into sun-dried building blocks. After stacking the blocks, the Spaniards covered them with protective layers of mud.

Pueblo Revival houses became popular in the early 1900s, mainly in California and the southwestern United States. During the 1920s, aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss and his partner James Bright introduced their own version of Pueblo Revival architecture to Florida. In the region that is now Miami Springs, Curtiss and Bright built an entire development of thick-walled buildings made of wood frame or concrete block.

Modern day Pueblo homes are often made with concrete blocks or other materials covered with adobe, stucco, plaster, or mortar.

Pueblo homes have many of these features:

  • Massive, round-edged walls made with adobe
  • Flat roof with no overhang
  • Stepped levels
  • Rounded parapet
  • Spouts in the parapet or on the roof to direct rainwater
  • Vigas (heavy timbers) extending through walls to support the roof
  • Latillas (poles) placed above vigas in angled pattern
  • Deep window and door openings
  • Simple windows
  • Beehive corner fireplace
  • Bancos (benches) that protrude from walls
  • Nichos (niches) carved out of wall for display of religious icons
  • Brick, wood, or flagstone floors

Pueblo Revival homes may also have these Spanish Influences:

  • Porches held up with zapatas (posts)
  • Enclosed patios
  • Heavy wooden doors
  • Elaborate corbels

Variations of the Pueblo Revival style

  • Pueblo Deco. Combining Pueblo Revival with Art Deco architecture, these homes are decorated with geometric patterns and Native American designs.
  • Santa Fe Style. This type of Pueblo became the standard in New Mexico after it was defined by the Santa Fe Historic Zoning Ordinance of 1957.
  • Contemporary Pueblo. Stripped down, unornamented Pueblos without posts, beams, or vigas.
  • Territorial Pueblo. Corners are square instead of rounded. Windows are framed with straight wooden moldings. (See photo above)

1915 - 1945: French Eclectic House Style

French Eclectic Style, circa 1925, Highland Park, Illinois
These Charming Homes Speak With a French Accent French Eclectic Style, circa 1925, Highland Park, Illinois. Photo ©Teemu008,, Creative Commons ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) cropped

French Eclectic homes combine a variety of influences from the architecture of France.

The cottage pictured above is a charming example of a home inspired by the Provincial styles of the French countryside and the French Colonial styles found in the Louisiana area of the United States. Common features include hipped roofs (sometimes in complex arrangements, indicative of advancements in construction methods), stucco siding, and a non-rigid symmetry in design. French Eclectic homes are found throughout the U.S. and most date from the 1920s.

The word eclectic is a term used to describe a style that combines features of many other styles. It is an apt description of this exciting period of population growth in the United States, when America was beginning to visualize in architecture what it means to be a "melting pot" of cultures.

1925 - 1955: Monterey Revival

American flag banners hang off the second story porch of this Monterey Colonial Revival
Monterey Colonial Revival. Photo by Karol Franks / Moment Mobile / Getty Images (cropped)

The Monterey Style was born in 19th century California, but its popularity expanded throughout a growing 20th century United States. The simple yet regal design became popular with the less-than-rich but well-to-do class of Americans.

Also known as Monterey Colonial Revival, this house style is similar to Spanish Colonial Revival, American Colonial Revival, and Mediterranean Revival. The original Monterey Style is an historic blend of New England and Tidewater from the East mixed with Spanish Pueblo found in the West. Distinct characteristics are associated with the house style.

Three Features of Monterey Revival Style Homes:

Two Stories

  • rectangular shaped for a large lot
  • often different siding combinations on each story (stucco, brick, or stone on first floor and wood on the second)
  • double-hung windows with louvered shutters (Colonial emphasis)

Second-Story Porch Balcony Overhang

  • full-width or partial width across the second story facade
  • accessible only from inside doorways (no outside stairs to porch)
  • wood railings
  • cantilevered construction

Low-Pitched Roof

  • side gable or hip roof
  • roof extends over the second floor porch
  • red tiled or wooden shake shingles (Spanish influence)

Twentieth century Monterey Revival is often more Spanish-flavored in the early years (1925-1940) and more Colonial-inspired in the later years (1940-1955).

1930 - 1950: Art Moderne House Style

Art Moderne Beach House
Mid-Century Architects Go Mod Art Moderne Beach House. Photo © Terry Healy /

With the sleek appearance of a modern machine, Art Moderne - or, Streamline Moderne - houses expressed the spirit of a technological age.

The style we know as Art Moderne may also go by these names:

  • Streamline Moderne
  • Machine Age
  • Nautical Moderne

Art Moderne houses have many of these features:

  • Asymmetrical
  • Low, horizontal shape
  • Flat roof
  • No cornices or eaves
  • Smooth, white walls
  • Streamlined appearance
  • Rounded corners
  • Glass block windows and wraparound windows
  • Windows in horizontal rows
  • Porthole windows and other nautical details
  • Aluminum and steel window and door trim
  • Mirrored panels
  • Steel balustrades
  • Open floor plans

About the Art Moderne Style

The terms Art Moderne or Streamline Moderne are often used to describe a variation on Art Deco architecture. As in Art Deco, Art Moderne buildings emphasize simple geometric forms. There are, however, important differences:

  • Shape: An Art Moderne building usually has a low, horizontal shape. Art Deco buildings tend to be tall and vertical.
  • Ornaments: Art Moderne buildings are stripped of decorative details. An Art Deco house may have zigzags, chevrons, sun rays, stylized foliage, and other ornaments.
  • Color: Art Moderne buildings are usually white. An Art Deco house may be white or brightly colored.

Origins of Art Moderne

The sleek Art Moderne style originated in the Bauhaus movement, which began in Germany. Bauhaus architects wanted to use the principles of classical architecture in their purest form, designing simple, useful structures without ornamentation or excess. Building shapes were based on curves, triangles, and cones. Bauhaus ideas spread worldwide and led to the International Style in the United States.

Art Moderne art, architecture, and fashion became popular just as the more highly decorative Art Deco style was falling out of favor. Many products produced during the 1930s, from architecture to jewelry to kitchen appliances, expressed the new Art Moderne ideals.

Art Moderne truly reflected the spirit of the early and mid-twentieth century. Expressing excitement over technological advancements, high speed transportation, and innovative new construction techniques, Art Modern design was highlighted at the 1933 World Fair Chicago. For homeowners, Art Moderne were also practical because these simple dwellings were so easy and economical to build. However, the Art Moderne or Streamline Moderne style was also favored for chic homes of the very wealthy.

See More Streamline Moderne Houses:


1935 - 1950: Minimal Traditional

In upstate New York, a house with minimal decoration and traditional design.
A Very Popular Modern American Home In upstate New York, a house with minimal decoration and traditional design. Photo © Jackie Craven

Although some may argue that these houses have no "style" whatsoever, this simple design was appropriate for a country recovering from a Great Depression and anticipating World War II.

Sometimes called a Minimal Modern style, these cottage homes are more "squat" than the steep-roofed Tudor or Tudor Cottagethat came before it, and more "cramped" than the breezy, open-air Ranch Style that came after. The Minimal Traditional house style expresses a modern tradition with minimal decoration.

Minimal Traditional houses have many of these features:

  • small with minimal decorations
  • low or moderately pitched roof
  • minimal eaves and roof overhang
  • side gable, often with one front-facing cross gable
  • front door entrance under the front cross gable
  • one story, with an attic story
  • shutters are common
  • exterior siding of wood, brick, or a mix of sidings
  • small fireplace and chimney

Source: McAlester, Virginia and Lee. Field Guide to American Houses. New York. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. 1984.

1945 - 1980: Ranch Style

Uncomplicated and informal Ranch houses evolved from several 20th century styles.
An Economical Style For Suburban Tract Homes Uncomplicated and informal Ranch houses evolved from several 20th century styles. Photo by Erin Slonaker/Moment Mobile Collection/Getty Images (cropped)

One-story Ranch Style homes are so simple, some critics say they have no style. But there's more than meets the eye to the classic suburban Ranch Style house.

Known as American Ranch, Western Ranch, or California Rambler, Ranch Style houses can be found in nearly every part of the United States.

Ranch Style houses have many of these features:

  • Single story
  • Low pitched gable roof
  • Deep-set eaves close to the wall
  • Horizontal, rambling layout: Long, narrow, and low to the ground
  • Rectangular, L-shaped, or U-shaped design
  • Large windows: double-hung, sliding, and picture
  • Sliding glass doors leading out to patio
  • Attached garage
  • Simple floor plans
  • Emphasis on openness (few interior walls) and efficient use of space
  • Built from natural materials: Oak floors, wood or brick exterior
  • Lack decorative detailing, aside from decorative shutters

Variations on the Ranch Style:

Although Ranch Style homes are traditionally one-story, Raised Ranch and Split-Level Ranchhomes have several levels of living space. Contemporary Ranch Style homes are often accented with details borrowed from Mediterranean or Colonial styles.

History of the Ranch Style:

The earth-hugging Prairie Style houses pioneered by Frank Lloyd Wright and the informal Bungalow styles of the early 20th century paved the way for the popular Ranch Style. Architect Cliff May is credited with building the first Ranch Style house in San Diego, California in 1932.

After World War II, real estate developers turned to the simple, economical Ranch Style to meet the housing needs of returning soldiers and their families. The briefly popular Lustron Homes were essentially Ranch houses made of metal. Real estate developers Abraham Levitt and Sons turned to the Ranch Style for their planned community, Levittown, Pennsylvania. See: Ranch House Plans for 1950s America.

Because so many Ranch houses were built quickly according to a cookie-cutter formula, the Ranch Style later became known as ordinary and and, at times, slipshod. However, during the late 1950s and 1960s, a few real estate developers re-invented the style, giving the conventional one-story Ranch House a modernist flair. Sophisticated Eichler Homes by California developer Joseph Eichler were imitated across the United States. In Palm Springs, California, the Alexander Construction Company set a new standard for one-story suburban housing with stylish Alexander Homes.


1945 - 1980s: Raised Ranch House Style

Raised Ranch Style House in Northern Virginia
These Ranch Style Homes Have Room at the Top Raised Ranch Style House in Northern Virginia. Photo © Jackie Craven

A traditional Ranch Style house is only one story, but a Raised Ranch raises the roof to provide extra living space.

In this variation of the Ranch Style, the home has two stories. The lower story is at ground level or partially submerged below grade. From the main entrance, a full flight of stairs leads to the main living areas on the upper level. Some critics say that Raised Ranch houses are unattractive or ordinary. However, there's no question that this practical style fills a need for space and flexibility.

Raised Ranch style houses have many of these features:

  • Two stories
  • Attached garage
  • Partially submerged basement with finished rooms and windows
  • Low-pitched gable roof
  • Asymmetrical
  • Large windows: double-hung, sliding, and picture
  • Sliding glass doors leading to a back yard patio
  • Little decorative detailing, aside from decorative shutters and porch-roof supports

Variations on the Raised Ranch Style:

The Raised Ranch style has been adapted to take on a variety of forms. Neo-Mediterranean, Neo-Colonial, and other contemporary styles are often applied to the simple, practical Raised Ranch shape. Split-level homes may also be described as a variation on the Raised Ranch style. However, a true Raised Ranch has only two levels, while a split-level home has three stories or more.

Learn More:

1945 - 1980s: Split-Level Ranch Style

Split-Level Ranch House
The Popular Ranch Style Home Rises to New Heights Split-Level Ranch House. Photo © Kenneth Sponsler /

In this variation of the Ranch house style, a Split-Level Ranch has three or more levels.

A Split-Level Ranch is a Ranch Style house that is divided into several parts. One section is lowered and one section is raised.

Popular Split-Level Floor Plans:

  1. The front door opens to a landing. Facing the door, one short flight of stairs leads down. A parallel flight of stairs leads up.
  2. The front door opens into an entry wing or foyer apart from the main house. To one side, a short flight of stairs leads down. To the other side, a short flight of stairs leads up.
  3. The front door opens directly into the main living area. Elsewhere in the room, a short flight of stairs leads down and a parallel short flight of stairs leads up.
  4. The front door opens on the lowest level, entering a garage or mudroom. A short flight of stairs leads up to the main living area. From there, another short flight of stairs leads up to the bedrooms.

Regardless of the floor plan, split-level houses always have three or more levels. The main entrance is usually (although not always) on the center level.

More About Split-Level Houses:

Split-level design reflects an approach popularized by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright believed that houses with "half floors" would blend naturally with the landscape. Living areas could be separated from private areas by just a few steps, rather than a single long staircase.

Split-Level House Pictures & Plans:

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1948 - 1950: Lustron Homes

Lustron House in Chesterton, Indiana. Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress
Post-War America Experiments With Pre-Fab Housing Lustron House in Chesterton, Indiana. Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress. Photo courtesy Library of Congress, Prints and Photograph Division, HABS IND,64-CHEST,1--13, crop

Made of steel coated panels with porcelain enamel, Lustron Homes were manufactured like cars and transported across the USA. Find facts about Lustron Homes below.

Lustron Homes have these features:

  • One-story with a rectangular Ranch Style shape
  • Roof and walls made of prefabricated steel panels
  • Panels coated with colored porcelain enamel (the same finish found on bathtubs and appliances)
  • Four factory-colored finishes: Desert Tan, Dove Gray, Maize Yellow, or Surf Blue
  • Magnets or glued-on hooks used to hang pictures on metal walls
  • Concrete slab foundation
  • Two or three bedrooms
  • Radiant heating in the ceiling
  • Built-in bookcase, china cabinet, and overhead cabinets
  • Combination washing machine / dishwasher

About Lustron Homes:

At the end of World War II, the United States didn't have enough housing for the 12-million soldiers returning home. President Harry Truman pressured builders and suppliers to construct affordable housing. Many architects and designers, including Frank Lloyd Wright and Buckminster Fuller, tried to design inexpensive prefab housing that could be built quickly. But one of the most promising ventures was the Lustron Home by businessman and inventor Carl Strandlund. Vowing to mass-produce steel houses at the rate of 100 a day, Strandlund landed $37 million in government loans.

The first Lustron house was produced in March 1948. Over the next two years, 2,498 Lustron Homes were manufactured. The steel houses were made like cars on conveyor belts in a former aircraft plant in Columbus, Ohio. Flatbed trucks transported the Lustron panels to 36 states, where they were assembled on concrete slabs using nuts and bolts. Assembly took about two weeks. The completed house cost between $7,000 and $10,000, not including the foundation and the lot.

Orders for some 20,000 Lustron Homes poured in, but by 1950 the Lustron Corporation was bankrupt. Today, well-preserved Lustron homes are scarce. Many have been demolished. Others have been altered as homeowners added drywall walls and new exterior siding.

Lustron Homes on the Web:

Further Reading About Lustron Homes:

  • Lustron Homes: The History of a Postwar Prefabricated Housing Experiment by Thomas T. Fetters
    Buy on Amazon

Film About Lustron Homes:

See More Metal Houses:

Learn More:

1949 - 1974: Eichler Houses

The Foster Residence, an Eichler House in Los Angeles, California
A Modernist Approach to the Ranch Style Home The Foster Residence, an Eichler House in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Wikimedia Member Los Angeles, Creative Commons license 3.0

Real estate developer Joseph Eichler brought a fresh, new modernist approach to affordable tract housing.

Eichler House is a term used to describe homes constructed by California real estate developer Joseph Eichler. Between the 1949 and 1974, Joseph Eichler's company, Eichler Homes, constructed about 11,000 houses in California and three houses in New York state.

An Eichler House is essentially a one-story Ranch, but Eichler's company reinvented the style, creating a revolutionary new approach to suburban tract housing. Many other builders across the United States imitated the design ideas that Joseph Eichler pioneered.

Common features of Eichler Homes:

  • Post-and-beam construction
  • Concrete slab foundation
  • Long front facade with attached carport
  • An open-air courtyard at the entrance
  • Floor-to-ceiling windows
  • Sliding glass doors
  • Radiant heat in the floors
  • Exposed ceiling beams

Architects for Eichler Homes:

  • Robert Anshen of Anshen & Allen
  • A. Quincy Jones of Jones & Emmons
  • Claude Oakland
  • Pietro Belluschi

Where to Find Eichler Houses:

Although not comprehensive, this list suggests some of the best places to look for Eichler homes and buildings.

  • Castro Valley, California, Greenridge Road
  • Conejo Valley, California, Thousand Oaks
  • Concord, California
  • Cupertino, California, Fairgrove Tract
  • Granada Hills, California
  • Marin County, California, Lucas Valley and Marinwood
  • Mountain View, California, Monta Loma Neighborhood
  • Orange, California, Fairhaven
  • Palo Alto, California, Greenmeadow Aquatic Facility and many homes midtown and south Palo Alto
  • Redwood City, California, Atherwood
  • Sacramento, California, South Land Park and South Land Park Hills
  • San Fernando Valley, California, Balboa Highlands neighborhood and Granada Hills
  • San Francisco, California and San Francisco Bay area, Millbrae, Foster City, Sunnyvale, Menlo Park, Western Addition, Hunters Point-Bayview districts, Russian Hill, and Diamond Heights
  • San Jose, California, Fairglen Tract in Willow Glen
  • San Mateo County, California, San Mateo Highlands
  • San Rafael, California, the Terra Linda section
  • Santa Clara, Pomeroy Green and Pomeroy West
  • Thousand Oaks, California
  • Walnut Creek, California, Rancho San Miguel
  • Chestnut Ridge, New York


In Palm Springs, California, the Alexander Construction Company also pioneered modernist approaches to suburban housing, building thousands of open, sophisticated Alexander Homes.

Sources: Brochures and articles accessed from include Sales brochure and floor plans for Eichler Homes, Lexington Avenue, San Mateo Highlands Neighborhood; Sales brochure and floor plans for Eichler Homes, Brandywine, San Mateo Highlands Neighborhood; Sales brochure and floor plans for Eichler Homes, Laurel Hill, San Mateo Highlands Neighborhood; Sales brochure and floor plans for Eichler Homes, Yorktown, San Mateo Highlands Neighborhood; Brochure for Eichler's X-100 Experimental Steel House; House & Home magazine, 1959; and Family Circle magazine

1954 - Present: Geodesic Dome

Geodesic dome home
Fuller's Homes for the Future Geodesic dome home. Photo by VisionsofAmerica/Joe Sohm / Photodisc / Getty Images (cropped)

Inventor Buckminster Fuller wanted to provide affordable, energy-efficient housing for a troubled planet.

Developed by Buckminster Fuller in 1954, the Geodesic Dome was promoted as the world's strongest, most economical, lightweight structure. The ingenious engineering of the geodesic dome allows it to cover a wide stretch of space without using internal supports. The geodesic dome design was patented in 1965.

Geodesic Domes are ideal for emergency housing and mobile shelters such as military camps. However, the innovative geodesic shape has been adopted for elegant, upscale housing.

Fuller's geometric architecture should not be confused with the Monolithic Dome home, which is by definition constructed of one stone piece.

1955 - 1965: Alexander Houses

Alexander Home in the Twin Palms Neighborhood, Palm Springs, California
California Tract Homes Go Modern Alexander Home in the Twin Palms Neighborhood (formerly known as Royal Desert Palms), Palm Springs, California. Palmer & Krisel, architects. 1957. Photo © Jackie Craven

Real estate developers Robert and George Alexander captured the spirit of mid-century modernism, building more than 2,500 tract homes in southern California.

During the late 1950s and early 1960s, the George Alexander Construction Company partnered with several architects to develop a unique approach to tract housing. Although the company worked in and near Palm Springs, California, the houses they built were imitated across the United States.

The Alexander Construction Company gave their homes a variety of roof lines and exterior details, making each home seem unique. But, behind their facades, Alexander Homes shared many similarities.

Common features of Alexander Homes:

  • Post-and-beam construction
  • Expansive windows
  • No moldings or trim around windows and doors
  • Breezeway connecting carport to living quarters
  • Open floor plans
  • Three-quarter high wall partitions
  • Fiberglass or iron screens and walls with decorative cutouts
  • Idiosyncratic rooflines: Flat, slanted, or butterfly-shaped
  • Exposed ceiling beams
  • Exteriors finished with two-tone wood, patterned brick, or decorative concrete block

Architects for the Alexander Construction Company:

See More Houses built by the Alexander Construction Company:

  • 1961-1962: Experimental steel houses designed by Donald Wexler and Richard Harrison
  • 1960: The House of Tomorrow, also known as the Elvis and Priscilla Presley Honeymoon House, designed by Palmer & Krisel
  • 1955: Swiss Miss Houses


During the same time period, California builder Joseph Eichler also pioneered modernist approaches to suburban housing, building thousands of stylish Eichler Homes that were imitated across the USA.

Also See:


1950s - 1970: A-Frame House Style

A-Frame house in Canton de Shefford, Quebec, Canada
Homes Shaped Like Tee-Pees A-Frame house in Canton de Shefford, Quebec, Canada. Photo by Design Pics/David Chapman/Getty Images (cropped)

With a dramatic, sloping roof and cozy living quarters, the A-frame shape became a popular choice for vacation homes.

A-frame houses have many of these features:

  • Triangular shape
  • Steeply sloping roof that extends almost to the ground on two sides (sometimes the roof extends all the way to the ground)
  • Front and rear gables
  • Deep-set eaves
  • 1½ or 2½ stories
  • Many large windows on front and rear façades
  • Small or limited living space (interior lofts are common)
  • Few vertical wall surfaces

History of the A-frame:

Triangular and tee-pee shaped homes date back to the dawn of time, but several 20th century architects awakened interest in the geometric A-frame form.

In the mid-1930s, Austrian-born architect Rudolph Schindler designed a simple A-frame vacation house in a resort community overlooking Lake Arrowhead in California. Built for Gisela Bennati, Schindler's A-frame Bennati House had an open floor plan with exposed rafters and glass-walled gables.

Fifteen years later, other builders explored the A-frame shape, constructing landmark examples and variations of the form. In 1950, San Francisco designer John Carden Campbell won acclaim for his modernist "Leisure House" made of smooth plywood with all-white interiors. Campbell's A-frame houses spread via do-it-yourself kits and plans.

In 1957, architect Andrew Geller won international attention when the New York Times featured a distinctive A-frame house he built in Amagansett, Long Island, New York.

The A-frame shape peaked in popularity during the 1960s. Enthusiasm waned during 1970s as vacationers opted for condos, or else built much larger homes.

A-frame Pros and Cons:

The A-frame shape with its steep sloping roof provides several benefits:

  1. Heavy snow slides to the ground instead of remaining on top of the house and weighing it down.
  2. Space at the top of the house, under the high peak, provides enough room for lofts or storage.
  3. Maintenance is minimized because the roof extends all the way to the ground and doesn't need to painted.

On the other hand, the sloped A-frame roof creates a triangular "dead space" at the interior base of the walls on each floor. A-frame houses have limited living space and are usually built as vacation cottages for the mountains or beach.

Related Style:

  • Swiss Miss

Also See:

Sources: The Mania for A-Frames, Old-House Journal at; Andrew Geller, Architect of Happiness, 1924-2011 Article by Alastair Gordon with photos and architectural drawings of Geller's works.

1958-early 1960s: Swiss Miss Houses

Mid-Century Modern Swiss Miss Style house in Palm Springs
Architects Experiment With the A-Frame Form Mid-Century Modern Swiss Miss Style house in Palm Springs. Photo by Connie J. Spinardi/Moment Mobile Collection/Getty Images (cropped)

A-frame "Swiss Miss" houses combine the charm of a Swiss chalet with the tropical flavor of a Polynesian hut.

Swiss Miss is an informal name given to a variation of the A-Frame house style. Created by draftsman Charles Dubois, a Swiss Miss house resembles a Swiss chalet with tropical, Tiki details.

The Alexander Construction company built fifteen Swiss Miss houses in Palm Springs, California. Other firms built similar homes elsewhere in the United States, but Swiss Miss remained a rare, novelty style, mainly associated with Palm Springs.

Features of the Swiss Miss house style:

  • An enormous central gable dominates the front facade
  • The gable eaves often (but not always) extend almost to the ground
  • Narrow rectangular posts may be used to support the gable
  • In some homes, an overlapping second gable may rise above the central gable
  • An open living area is placed beneath the central gable
  • Roofs over adjacent rooms may be flat
  • Post-and-beam construction
  • Wooden tongue-in-groove or board-and-batten exterior
  • Stone walls by the main entrance
  • Stone chimney
  • Enormous windows

Learn More:

1965 - present: Builder's Colonial / Neocolonial

Details on this modern-day home are inspired by American Colonial and Federal architecture
Picture Dictionary of American Colonial House Styles: Neocolonial Details on this modern-day home are inspired by American Colonial and Federal architecture. Photo:

Neocolonial, Neo-Colonial, or Builder's Colonial houses are modern-day homes inspired by historic Colonial, Federal, and Colonial Revival styles.

A Neocolonial, Neo-Colonial, or Builder's Colonial house is not colonial at all. It was not constructed during America's colonial times. Neocolonial is a modern, Neoeclectic style that loosely borrows ideas from the past.

Constructed in the late 20th century through the present time, Neocolonial houses have details suggested by historic Colonial and Colonial Revival architecture. Features may include:

  • Rectangular shape
  • 2 to 3 stories
  • Center entry-hall floor plan
  • Living areas on the first floor and bedrooms on the upper floors
  • Great room and other large living areas
  • Siding made with vinyl, faux stone, faux brick, or other composite materials
  • Palladian windows and semicircular fanlights
  • Double-hung windows, sometimes with shutters
  • Temple-like entrance: portico topped by a pediment
  • Dentil moldings

About Neocolonial Houses

Neocolonial, or Builder's Colonial, houses incorporate mixture of historic styles adapted for contemporary lifestyles. New England Colonial, Southern Colonial, Georgian, and Federal details are imitated using low-maintenance modern materials. The idea is to convey the traditional, refined atmosphere of a Colonial home, but not to recreate a Colonial style.

Unlike the earlier Colonial Revival homes, the interiors of Neocolonial, or Builder's Colonial, homes are thoroughly modern with great rooms, high-tech kitchens, and other conveniences.

1965 - Present: Neoeclectic Houses

Neoeclectic Home
Many Styles Mix in These Modern-Day Homes Colonial windows, a Queen Anne turret, and a hint of classical columns combine in this Neoeclectic home. Photo © Jackie Craven

If your home was built recently, chances are it incorporates many styles. Architects and designers call this new stylistic mix Neoeclectic, or Neo-eclectic.

A Neoeclectic home can be difficult to describe because it combines many styles. The shape of the roof, the design of the windows, and decorative details may be inspired by several different periods and cultures.

Features of Neoeclectic Homes:

  • Constructed in the 1960s or later
  • Historic styles imitated using modern materials like vinyl or imitation stone
  • Details from several historic styles combined
  • Details from several cultures combined
  • Brick, stone, vinyl, and composite materials combined
  • Neotraditional Architecture

About Neoeclectic Houses

During the late 1960s, a rebellion against modernism and a longing for more traditional styles influenced the design of modest tract housing in North America. Builders began to borrow freely from a variety of historic traditions, offering Neoeclectic (or, Neo-eclectic) houses that were "customized" using a mixture of features selected from construction catalogs. These homes are sometimes called Postmodern because they borrow from a variety of styles without consideration for continuity or context. However, Neoeclectic homes are not usually experimental and do not reflect the artistic vision you would find in a truly original, architect-designed postmodern home.

Critics use the term McMansion to describe a Neoeclectic home that is over-sized and pretentious. Coined from the McDonald's fast food restaurant, the name McMansion implies that these homes are hastily assembled using cheaply-made materials and a menu of mix-and-match decorative details.

1965 - Present: Neo-Mediterranean House Styles

Neoeclectic homes with a Mediterranean flair
Contemporary Homes With Old-World Styling Spanish and Italian details mingle with contemporary styling in Neo-Mediterranean style homes. Photo: Jupiterimages Corporation

Details from Spain, Italy, and other Mediterranean countries combine with North American ideas to create contemporary Mediterranean or Neo-Mediterranean homes.

Neo-Mediterranean is a Neoeclectic house style that incorporates a fanciful mix of details suggested by the architecture of Spain, Italy, and Greece, Morocco, and the Spanish Colonies. Realtors often call Neo-Mediterrean houses Mediterranean or Spanish style.

Neo-Mediterranean houses have many of these features:

  • Low-pitched roof
  • Red roof tiles
  • Stucco siding
  • Arches above doors, windows, or porches
  • Heavy carved wooden doors.

A Neo-Mediterranean home may resemble one of these historic styles:

However, Neo-Mediterranean houses are not careful recreations of any single historic style. If you remove the romantic decorative details, a Neo-Mediterranean home is more likely to resemble a no-nonsense, all-American Ranch or Raised Ranch.

Like all Neoeclectic houses, a Neo-Mediterranean home is usually constructed with modern-day materials such as vinyl siding, vinyl windows, asphalt roof shingles, and synthetic stucco and stone.

1935 - Present: Modern House Styles

Shed Style House
20th Century Homes Take on New Shapes The Shed Style is a modern housing type known for large windows and unusual shapes. Photo © Jupiterimages Corporation

Designed for 20th century lifestyles, modern homes come in many shapes.

In the later half of the twentieth century, architects and builders turned away from historic housing styles. These modern homes took on a wide variety of shapes. Here are a few of the most popular categories identified by architectural historians Virginia & Lee McAlester:

  1. Minimal Traditional (1935-1950)
    Small, one-story homes with low-pitched roofs.
  2. Ranch (1935-1975)
    One-story homes with a long, linear shape
  3. Split-Level (1955-1975)
    A two-story variation of the Ranch shape
  4. Contemporary (1940-1980)
    Low, one-story home with flat or almost-flat roof or with a tall, exaggerated gable
  5. Shed (1960-Present)
    Angular homes with oddly-shaped roofs and trapezoid windows (shown above)

Source: A Field Guide to American Houses by Virginia & Lee McAlester

About Modern Houses

"Modern" is a general term that can describe many different house styles. When we describe a house as modern, we are saying that the design is not based primarily on history or traditions. In contrast, a Neoeclectic or Neotraditional home incorporates decorative details borrowed from the past. A Postmodern home also borrows details from the past, often exaggerating or distorting the details.

A Neoeclectic or Postmosdern home might have features such as dentil mouldings or Palladian windows. A modern home is not likely to have these types of details.

Related Styles

  • Postmodern House Style
  • Neoeclectic House Style
  • Art Moderne House Style

1965 - Present: Postmodern (Pomo) Homes

Postmodern Vanna Venturi House, Pennsylvania, by Pritzker Prize Laureate Robert Venturi
Houses Designed to Delight The Vanna Venturi House by Pritzker Prize Laureate Robert Venturi, Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Photo LC-DIG-highsm-13194, Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints/Photos Div.

Unique, whimsical, and surprising, Postmodern houses give the impression that anything goes. The impossible is not only possible, but exaggerated.

Postmodern houses have many of these features:

  • Sense of "anything goes": Forms filled with humor, irony, ambiguity, contradiction
  • Juxtaposition of styles: Blend of traditional, contemporary, and newly-invented forms
  • Exaggerated or abstract traditional detailing
  • Materials or decorations drawn from far away sources

About the Postmodern Style:

Postmodern (or post-modern) architecture evolved from Modernism, yet it rebels against that style. Modernism is viewed as excessively minimalist, anonymous, monotonous, and boring. Postmodernism has a sense of humor. The style often combines two or more very different elements. A Postmodern house may combine traditional with invented forms or use familiar shapes in surprising, unexpected ways. In other words, postmodern houses often don't have anything in common with one another, other than their lack of commonality. Postmodern houses may be bizarre, humorous, or shocking, but they are always unique.

Sometimes the term Postmodern is loosely used to describe Neoeclectic and Neotraditional homes that combine a variety of historic styles. However, unless there is a sense of surprise, irony, or originality, Neoeclectic and Neotraditional homes are not truly postmodern. Postmodern houses are also sometimes called "Contemporaries," but a true Contemporary Style house does not incorporate traditional or historical architectural details.

Postmodern Architects:

Related Styles:

  • Neoeclectic House Style
  • Contemporary House Style
  • Art Moderne House Style

1975 - Present: Monolithic Dome Home

Monolithic dome homes in the village of New Ngelepen on Java Island, Indonesia
Designed For Disaster, Built With One Stone Monolithic dome homes in the village of New Ngelepen on Java Island, Indonesia. Photo © Dimas Ardian/Getty Images

Also known as EcoShells, Monolithic Domes can survive tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, fire, and insects.

A Monolithic Dome is a one-piece structure made with concrete and rebar (ridged steel rods). The Monolithic Dome Institute uses the term EcoShells (Economical, Eco-Friendly and Thin-Shell) to describe the monolithic dome structures they developed.

By definition a Monolithic Dome is built in one piece with a stone-like material, unlike an igloo or geodesic dome. A monolith is from the Greek word monolithos, meaning "one" (mono-) "stone" (lithos).

Advantages of Monolithic Dome Construction:

  • Monolithic Domes use half as much concrete and steel as traditional buildings.
  • The curved shape of the dome makes it resistant to wind and storm damage.
  • During earthquakes, Monolithic Domes move with the ground instead of collapsing.
  • Monolithic Domes cannot be damaged by fire, rot, or insects.
  • The thermal mass of the concrete walls makes Monolithic Domes energy-efficient.

Development of the Monolithic Dome:

The idea of constructing dome-shaped structures dates back to prehistoric times and is a house style found around the world. In the 1940s, Southern California architect Wallace Neff developed "bubble houses" or what he called Airforms. The style was ahead of its time in the U.S., but was used to create affordable housing in developing countries. The development of modern concrete and steel Monolithic Domes is credited to designer David B. South. When he was a teenager, South heard architect-inventor Buckminster Fuller speak about the innovative geodesic dome that he developed. Fascinated, South began experimenting. In 1975, South worked with his brothers Barry and Randy to construct a dome-shaped potato storage facility in Shelley, Idaho. Measuring 105 feet round and 35 feet high, the structure is considered the first modern Monolithic Dome. David B. South patented the process and established an enterprise for constructing Monolithic Dome homes, schools, churches, sport stadiums, and commercial buildings.

The Monolithic Domes shown here are located in the village of New Ngelepen in Yogyakarta province, Java Island, Indonesia. In 2006, Domes for the World Foundation supplied about 70 of these homes to earthquake survivors. Each home cost about $1,500. For upscale versions of the idea, see: Modernist Dome Homes.

How Monolithic Domes are Constructed:

  1. A circular concrete slab floor is reinforced with steel rebar.
  2. Vertical steel bars are embedded in the outer edge of the foundation to support the dome.
  3. Blower fans inflate an Airform made of PVC coated nylon or polyester fabrics.
  4. The Airform swells to assume the shape of the structure.
  5. A grid of vertical and horizontal rebar surrounds the exterior of the Airform.
  6. 2 or 3 inches of concrete is applied over the rebar grid.
  7. After the concrete is dry, the Airform is removed from the inside. The Airform can be re-used.

More About Monolithic Domes:

2006 - Present: Katrina Cottages

Pink Katrina Cottage, originally for sale at Lowe's
Pretty Houses Designed to Meet a Desperate Need Lowe's teamed with designer Marianne Cusato to create this, first of its kind, Katrina Cottage located in Ocean Springs, Miss. PRNewsFoto/Lowe's Companies, Inc.

Inspired by the need for emergency housing after Hurricane Katrina, these cozy prefab cottages took America by storm.

In 2005, many homes and communities along America's Gulf Coast were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina and the floods that followed. Architects responded to the crisis by designing low-cost emergency shelters. The Katrina Cottage was a highly popular solution because its simple, traditional Primitive Hut design suggested the architecture of a cozy turn-of-the-century house.

The original Katrina Cottage was developed by Marianne Cusato and other leading architects, including renowned architect and town planner Andres Duany. Cusato's 308-square foot prototype was later adapted to create a series of about two dozen different versions of the Katrina Cottage designed by a variety of architects and firms.

Katrina Cottages are typically small, ranging from less than 500 square feet up to about 1,000 square feet. A limited number of Katrina Cottage designs are 1,300 square feet and larger. While size and floor plans can vary, Katrina Cottages share many features. These quaint cottages are prefab houses constructed from factory-made panels. For this reason, Katrina Cottages can be built quickly (often within a few days) and economically. Katrina Cottages are also especially durable. These homes meet the International Building Code and most hurricane codes.

Katrina Cottages usually have these features:

  • Usually (not always) one story
  • Front porch
  • Turn-of-the century details such as turned columns and brackets
  • Rot- and termite-resistant siding such as Cementitious Hardiboard
  • Steel studs
  • Steel roof
  • Moisture and mold resistant drywall
  • Energy-efficient appliances