American houses: Your Colonial architectural style guide

by Allan Wulff, MBA. Ph.D. 02/11/2024

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

Allan Wulff, MBA. Ph.D.

Hello and thank you for visiting! Selling or buying real estate is very serious business! I provide extraordinary results! Prior to real estate I was President/CEO of a number of area technology companies, Vice-Chairman of the INOVA Hospital Association and have been a long time member of the Association for Corporate Growth. With a broker’s training and experience, you get more than just a realtor agent. My negotiating skills and astute problem solving capabilities, honed by executive experience, have proved extremely effective for my clients in achieving their dreams and real estate goals in this current complex and fast paced market. As a long time Northern Virginia resident my experience will benefit you whether you are buying a home or selling a home or are a returning client checking out the many homeowner resources my associates and I offer. Buying a home? I look forward to helping you select the home of your dreams by taking time to listen to your needs and desires. Selling a home? My real estate expertise and many effective marketing programs will give you the exposure and edge you need to sell your home quickly for top dollar. Testimonials. I appreciate the opportunity to continue to serve you and hope you take advantage of the valuable resources I provide. Come back to visit often! I consider this community an excellent place to reside and would love to share with you my enthusiasm for the many neighborhoods in the area. I pride myself on providing unparalleled service and look forward to developing a long-term relationship with you. Please feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss how I can best assist you with your real estate goals. Sincerely, Allan Wulff