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Colonial style house

When searching for your dream home, you may have found it a bit confusing to describe the features you truly want. Sure, you’re able to tell a real estate agent how many bedrooms you want or a large backyard, but what about the actual look or the style of the home?

There are many different kinds of architectural styles of homes, but two styles that people tend to think are the same are colonial and Federal architecture. Yes, they look extremely similar but there are many subtle differences to them.

What Makes Up a Colonial Style House?

There seems to be a misconception between what’s known as Georgian and colonial style architecture. Before fully describing their characteristics and features, let’s go over how these names came about.

Homes built from the 1700s to the 1800s are typically referred to as Georgian when referencing British architecture. This was when King George I was in power when this style rose in popularity. Across the world, the U.S. was still a colony of England, known as British America. Essentially, what was popular in Britain was the same as America, including its architecture.

In America, Georgian style architecture was referred to as colonial because they were a colony of England. In other words, the term is interchangeable. Georgian is colonial and vice versa.

Colonial Architecture Characteristics and Features

Colonial homes are extremely popular on the east coast which makes sense considering that’s where the original 13 colonies were. There are a bunch of offshoots of the colonial style such as Dutch colonial and French colonial. Despite these variations, all of them still have the basic architectural characteristics of a colonial home.

First, colonial homes are typically symmetrical and rectangular, or “four over four” homes, meaning two rooms deep, two stories high and two rooms on either side of a staircase. There could also be chimneys on either side of the house.

Other notable features include iron forged hardware, split shingles, a front porch usually supported by columns you’d typically see in Greek and Roman architecture, and a steeply pitched roof.

As for how these homes are typically decorated, you’ll find plain and sparse exterior ornamental decor and a center entry floor plan. You won’t see a mixture of styles. Instead, most furnishings are typically high-quality antiquities, well-polished and arranged in a clutter-free formal style.  Think rustic and cottage-style furnishings. The type of wood used is usually pine and birch for simpler furnishings and cherry, maple and walnut for more high-end ones.

In the U.S. these woods were commonly used in homes meant for the wealthy who desired to emulate what the British aristocracy had in their homes.

What Makes Up a Federal Style House?

When the U.S. declared their independence from Britain and after the Revolutionary War, we wanted to separate ourselves from anything British-related, including homes. This meant the colonial style was falling quickly out of favor. From 1783 – 1815, what is known as Federal style began rising in popularity.

That’s not to say the colonial style was completely banished. Instead, Federal style architecture has bits and pieces of colonial style in it. The name Federal style – also known as Federalist style – was called such because the Federalist party was the most dominant in American politics at the time.  

Basically, the Federalist party controlled most of Congress. So, it made sense that this architectural style became popular.

The key features of Federal homes are they’re symmetrical and with the same layout as what you’d find with colonial homes. However, Federal architecture is more ornate. For example, it incorporates brass hardware alongside wood or iron decorative fences, rounded or arched windows and elaborate moldings. You’d also find that these homes tend to be taller and narrower than colonial homes and may have oval or circular shaped rooms. Homes tend to be made of brick instead of clapboard you’d frequently find with colonial homes.

Instead of it being popular with wealthy families, Federal homes were popular for many homeowners, due to the fact that most wanted to own a home that was more American to show their patriotism.

As architecture kept evolving, more architects experimented with a variety of styles, which became what’s known as Victorian style. This was a style that emerged between 1830 and 1910 when Queen Victoria reigned. As for this style, think elaborate and ornate exteriors and a mishmash of Gothic architecture alongside French, Italian and Tudor details.

Now that you know what the differences are between these styles, hopefully you’ll be able to better explain to your real estate agent what it is you’re looking for. Yes, they’re pretty similar, but with enough subtle differences that if you’re wanting something more ornate, you’d want to lean toward Federal style or colonial style if you like it plain and simple.

Do you live in a colonial home? What are your favorite features? Let us know in the comments below.

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