Exterior view of a classical style home.

Classical Home Styles: What’s Old Is New Again

3-Minute Read
Published on July 2, 2018

Whether you’re exploring the boulevards and corridors of our most iconic cities or exploring the backroad rural vistas that dot the American landscape, many homes and buildings retain the influence of both ancient Greek and Roman architecture.

The influence of these schools of Classical architecture has remained popular since it first began to appear around the turn of the 19th century. Be it the sprawling plantation homes of the South or the imposing edifices of our nation’s capital, the influence of each structure is immediately clear.

Roman Classical Revival

Starting in and around 1790 and lasting for the next forty years, the influence of Ancient Rome dominated architectural design in the U.S. The most obvious evidence of this style can be found in Washington D.C., and with little thought, the reasoning behind it is crystal clear. In the early days of our nation’s development and as we planned our new capital, the importance of establishing it as a seat of a new republic would be best served by calling to mind the republic of Rome.

As our founding fathers sought to create a new cradle of democracy, they wanted to inspire future leaders of our country as well as send a message to visiting dignitaries that this new republic would succeed as the once great Roman Republic had done. The buildings in Washington D.C. incorporated this look and homes of the era followed suit.

Other features:

  • Arched windows
  • Domed roofs
  • Low-pitched hipped roofs
  • Large windows and doors
  • Porches, or porticos, that span the height and length of the front of the home

Greek Revival

The disappearance of Rome from the buildings and homes of the fledgling country were a result of political events that dominated the news of the day. The Roman Classical Revival came about as architects and designers borrowed heavily from their English counterparts. Following the war between the U.S. and the United Kingdom in 1812, many Americans wanted no part of British influence and began to look elsewhere for design inspiration for their buildings and homes.

Due to the political climate, the influence of Ancient Greece seemed like an obvious choice for inspiration, as Greece sought to gain independence.

Greece declared its own independence in 1821 from the Ottoman Empire. Aside from the obvious connection to a country striking out for its own freedom, scholars of the day began to form the now generally accepted fact that democracy had its beginnings in the Grecian culture. The combination of this discovery and the efforts of Greek self-governance was all that was needed for the look of the classical society to find its way to the cities and homes of America.

Greek revival buildings and homes are easily identifiable by their rectangular shape and telltale decorative columns meant to highlight the Greek reliance on spatial order and balance in classic Greek designs. As a result of the country’s growth toward the West at the time, Greek Revival was one of the first architectural styles to span coast to coast in the U.S.

Other features:

  • Most buildings are white or have little color
  • Front gable with door centered under peak of roof
  • Entry porch with equally spaced columns

Classical Revival or Neoclassical

As the country moved through the post-Civil War era, rapidly changing attitudes were reflected in the buildings and homes of the United States. As advancements in technology began to move the country from agrarian to urban, Americans found themselves in a different sort of revolution altogether. Even with those rapid advancements, however, the interest in Greek and Roman architecture remained at the forefront of American consciousness.

Architects of the time meshed together ancient Greek and Roman architecture in an attempt to hold on to the style. Domed roofs of Rome combined with the massive archways of ancient Greece to create a style that remained extremely popular all the way into the 1950s.

Other features:

  • Columns spanning the height of the structure
  • Covered portico or entryway porch
  • Elaborate decorations around entry door
  • Decorative molding below the roof line
  • Symmetrical design

As you explore different locations on a weekend house hunt or admire various home styles on a vacation, it’s interesting to see how many buildings and homes represent an appreciation of ancient societies and their design aesthetic.

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Victoria Araj

Victoria Araj is a Section Editor for Rocket Mortgage and held roles in mortgage banking, public relations and more in her 15+ years with the company. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism with an emphasis in political science from Michigan State University, and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Michigan.