American houses: Your Colonial architectural style guide

by Jeffrey Banks 11/13/2022

When asked to imagine American houses, many people would struggle to pick just one style. The many styles of American houses have developed over the centuries to accommodate cultural, climate and lifestyle needs, resulting in a plethora of architectural options.

While you can find dozens of designs across the country and beyond, some, like Colonial style homes, are more common than others. Even within the Colonial style, there are exciting variations and region-specific characteristics.

Whether you’re buying or building a home, knowing more about the prominent American house styles will help you find inspiration.

Here is a basic guide to the various Colonial style American houses:

British Colonial houses

The Colonial architectural style of American houses originated with the first of the thirteen colonies themselves, bringing over popular characteristics from British architecture. For this reason, British Colonial houses and Georgian style houses share many similarities.

The key features of a British Colonial style of American house include a rectangular floor plan with symmetrical windows and a centered front door. This type of house also has a side-gabled roof and is typically only two stories high.

Cape Cod houses

Cape Cod style homes are named for their place of origin in Massachusetts, and contain many of the same features of the first Colonial designs. However, some major differences that set a Cape Cod home apart include shingle exteriors and dormer windows. Cape Cod houses are usually one-story, but often feature attic lofts.

Because of the resurgence in popularity during the twentieth century, Cape Cod homes are often included in the category called Colonial revival style.

French Colonial houses

French Colonial houses are popular around the world for their more dramatic take on the usual Colonial architectural characteristics. While they maintain the usual symmetry and rectangular house style, French Colonials feature external stairs to access higher floors.

More ornamented than the other types of Colonial, French Colonials often have full balconies with elaborate iron railings, dramatic columns, and dormer windows with boldly pigmented shutters.

American house style is as varied and diverse as the assorted historical influences that shaped the continent. While by no means the quintessential American house, the Colonial style and the styles it inspired are the perfect place to begin your journey for architectural inspiration.

About the Author

Jeffrey Banks

As an expert in San Francisco, I know our local real estate market well and tour the new homes available each week. Additionally, should you need more information on the local communities and schools; I have sources and information that may prove useful. The sale or purchase of a home is one of the most important events in our lives, and I am here to help you make you transaction smooth, efficient and satisfying.