What Is A Colonial Home?

Symmetry, elegance and old-world charm are some of the key characteristics of this historic architecture.

Iconographic of early American living, Colonial homes remain among the most popular across the United States and Canada. While these houses dominated popular design in the 19th century, variations on this symmetrical, two-story housing structure came with the first wave of New England colonies as early as the 1600s. Rooted primarily in the American South and New England, the simple, rectangular shape and rustic construction of a Colonial Home hearkened back to the style of homes settlers had left behind in Europe.

In the beginning, Colonial homes didn’t have as many recognizable, unifying characteristics as what is now considered “Colonial architecture.” While different groups of Europeans settled in different parts of the country, they each brought with them a piece of their homeland through the houses they constructed. Architectural elements from France, the Netherlands, Spain and Germany influenced the early iterations of these homes.

Structurally, what sets these homes apart is their perfect symmetry and formal, somewhat understated build. Every Colonial home is at least two stories, featuring a steep pointed roof and a staircase bisecting the structure. The front door sits front and center, opening directly into the large living space and staircase area, flanked by windows on either side.

Originally, Colonial-style homes were constructed with just one room on each floor but eventually progressed into the more popular “four over four” style, with four rooms on each floor of the house. The rectangular, often shuttered windows are evenly spaced with an equal number on each side of the structure. While very few of these original Colonial homes remain, the Colonial Revival in the 1800s is responsible for many of the Colonial-inspired homes we see today.

Spanish Colonial

St. Augustine, Florida is the site of the oldest established city in the United States, originating in 1565. It is also the first place to see early examples of a Spanish Colonial home. Some examples of these beautiful homes can be found here. These homes often incorporate elements of Pueblo architecture such as red tile roofs, stucco or adobe brick walls and smaller, open windows.

Dutch Colonial

As Dutch settlers developed the middle colonies, Dutch Colonial architecture emerged. The broad gambrel roof (a pitched roof shape designed for maximum use of space beneath) and dormers (a structure usually containing a window that extends outward from a pitched roof) are the calling cards of these unique homes. Dutch Colonial homes also often contain a gable end, or a triangular shape intersecting a pitched roof.

Georgian Colonial

When referencing Colonial homes, it is most likely that someone is referring to Georgian Colonial, the most common style and namesake of British kings. Two to three stories in height, these homes embody all of the qualities of classic Colonial architecture. With strict symmetry and muted colors, Georgian Colonial homes are often constructed from brick or wood.

Colonial Revival

Many Colonial-style homes you see today are actually Colonial Revival, especially if they were built after the 1800s. It is the most popular architectural style in the United States because of its classic and refined quality. Many single-family homes built after 1945, especially in affluent suburbs, are Colonial Revival or Neo-Colonial in style. They are less ornate than traditional Colonial homes but ascribe to the same elements of a large, two or three-story rectangular structure, basic symmetry and spacious interiors.