From coast to coast, there are plenty of house styles. A number of styles are region-specific; others are historical, and still, more are smack in the center of community.
Styles based on shape by triangles, boxes, and other geometric shapes.
A typical style for contemporary vacation or second homes, the triangular A-Frame is a simple but striking design with its dramatic and steep rooflines. Ideal for snowy areas – think Swiss chalet – as well as woodsy and lake locales, the style has been around for ages.
The first modern A-Frame house was built in 1936 in Lake Arrowhead, California, by Austrian-born architect Rudolph Schindler. But it wasn’t till the 1950s that the design gained popularity across the U.S. During this time, pioneering architects like John Campbell, Walter Reemelin, George Rockrise, Henrik Bull, and Andrew Geller built their own distinctive versions of the A-Frame home.
INTERIOR’s versions of the A-Frame include more bathrooms, bigger bedrooms, large closet space, and mudrooms. Open floor plans, high vaulted ceilings, large windows, deep eaves and gables, and loft spaces round out the charming characteristics of the A-Frame.
Also known as the Adam style, this square or rectangular-shaped design evolved from the Georgian style and dominated the American architectural landscape from 1780-1840. It was named after the Scottish architect Robert Adam and his brothers, who were furniture makers.
INTERIOR's: Typically two or three stories, the Historic style is a symmetrical structure that features simple and understated design elements. The style typically has a hip or flat roof with a balustrade and windows arranged symmetrically around a central front door with a semi-circular fanlight – a round or oval window with fan-shaped panes of glass. Other components include a Palladian window, circular or elliptical window, shutters, and oval rooms and arches.
Craftsman style emphasizes clean, simple, and elegant lines. The Craftsman hit the American scene in the early 1900s and was the dominant style for smaller houses across the country. Its name came from The Craftsman, a popular magazine founded by Gustav Stickley, the famous editor and furniture maker/designer who was a huge advocate of the Arts and Crafts Movement.
INTERIOR's: multi-pane windows with wide trim; a partially paned front door; dormers; and natural materials like wood, stone, and brick. The quintessential Craftsman design has a compact rectangular floor plan, a front porch with stone foundations supporting columns that are usually tapered. Its more practical but charming style emphasizes harmony with nature and the surrounding landscape.
A multi-dimensional and more innovative version of the ranch, the split-level home staggers living spaces over two levels. In a typical layout, the front door opens to a Great Room – living room, dining room, and kitchen. There are two mini-staircases: one that goes up to the bedrooms; and one that goes down to a family room. There is a basement with a laundry room in other configurations of the horizontal, rectangular, or L-shaped split-level home.
INTERIOR's Characteristics: Similar to the Craftsman style, the typical split-level design has a low-pitched roof with overhanging eaves, horizontal lines, and open floor plans. Other features: asymmetrical facade, an attached garage, windows that provide a lot of natural light, doors that open to a backyard/rear patio or garden, and minimal decor accents.
American classics / region-specific styles
The love affair with the bungalow design goes back to the early 1900s when families were spurred by the desire for simple, affordable, cozy homes that were typically one-story or one-and-a-half-story structures.
Characteristics: Most bungalows are one-story to one-and-a-half stories, but there are a number of two-story styles. In keeping with the Arts and Crafts concept, they come with porches (sometimes a stoop); balconies; clapboard, shingle, stone, brick, or concrete siding; chimneys; low-pitched to medium and steeply-pitched roofs; overhanging eaves; and open floor plans.
Originally developed by British colonists in small New England towns in the 17th century, this design is perhaps the most quintessentially American of all architectural styles. Developed when the country was first cultivating an identity, the Cape Cod style, with its simple, rectangular shape and aesthetic, resonates with Americans of all generations, in all regions and walks of life.
Characteristics: Cape Cods began as practical and mostly unadorned one-level homes with two or three rooms, a small porch, and a prominent roofline that extends across the house, a large central chimney, and a fireplace. Its symmetrical design was constructed of local materials to withstand the stormy, stark weather. Part of the Cape Cod’s design was a front door flanked by multi-paned windows; the space above the first floor was often left unfinished. As the Cape Cod gained popularity over the years, the homes were expanded to one-and-a-half-story structures, with steep gable roofs and two or more small dormers.
A treasure of a design that originated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with “The Chicago Group” – architects led by Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Marion Mahony Griffin – the Prairie style combines the functional with the beauty of the natural environment. Although most popular in the Midwest, with their flat prairie landscape, these homes – with their sweeping horizontal lines and open floor plans - have extended their appeal.
Characteristics: The Prairie style, with its simple square design, was the first home plan to open up interior floor space to create a natural flow and one harmonious space. Other features include boxed shapes at varying heights and depths, low-pitched, overhanging eaves, rows of small windows, porches with massive square supports, brick, and clapboard siding, and in many cases, a central chimney.
If there ever were a signature American design, the rambling one-story structure would be the ranch, with the long porch, open floor plans, large windows, and sliding glass doors to a rear porch. Originally based on Spanish colonial architecture used in the Southwest, Ranch style homes were first designed in the early to the mid-19th century. A combination of modern elements with Spanish Colonial touches created the California Ranch.
Distinctive Characteristics: Single-story, long, asymmetrical, rectangular, L-shape or U-shape design, open floor plans, deep, overhanging eaves, sliding glass doors that open to a patio or back porch, large glass windows, attached garage, mixed materials of brick, wood or stone, and simple and/or rustic trim.
The Colonial Style
Symmetry rules the Colonial design – from the number of dormers to the windows that flank the front door to the columns on the porch. Among its other appealing features are a square or rectangular shape, paired chimneys, a medium-pitched roof, two to 2.5-stories, a covered front porch, and decorative window shutters.
The British settlers started it all with their early rustic square homes that featured a saltbox roof, a large chimney placed at the center of the home, and diamond-pane windows.
The medieval architecture of Tudor England inspired its Old World charm and storybook appeal in the 16th century. The Tudor Revival dates back before the Great Depression as architects created their own versions – from huge stately mansions to more modest suburban homes. It soared in popularity from 1910 to 1940 with its rustic half-timbered exteriors, decorative chimneys, and romantic steeply gabled rooflines that are both practical and picturesque. These rooflines can shed snow, water, and debris quite easily and are ideal in high snow areas of the country – like the Midwest, Northwest, and along the Eastern Seaboard. Today, the Tudor Revival is very much a part of the American architectural landscape and is loved for its versatility and fanciful flair.
Distinctive Characteristics: Ranging from one to 1.5 stories, the Tudor Revival design has the features that add to its enchanting appeal: Asymmetrical plan with unmatched gables of varying heights, stucco or brick exteriors, tall windows with small panes, arched entryways, large decorative chimneys.
A style that emerged during the reign of Queen Victoria – between 1820 and the early 1900s – Victorian architecture is a combination of several recognized designs: Gothic Revival, Italianate, Second Empire, Queen Anne, Romanesque. Its diversity, signature turrets, gables, ornate trim, and decorative woodwork add to its timeless appeal and charm.
Here’s what to expect in a Victorian-style home: Two to three stories, steep gable roofs, round angles, towers, turrets and dormers, shapely windows (especially bay windows), stained glass, decorative woodwork, bright colors, high ceilings, ornate staircases, and added nooks inside.
Built by the French who colonized Canada, the Louisiana Territory, and the Mississippi Delta, these homes were generally rectangular and constructed on an elevated platform to adapt to the hot and wet climate of the region.
French Colonials feature hip roofs with large overhanging eaves supported by wooden columns, french doors, exterior stairs, and wraparound porches called galleries. Without interior hallways, rooms are connected to each other by outside walkways around the building. To get around the house, residents would walk along the wraparound porch to reach their “destination.”
As early as the 17th century, the French brought some of the architectural elements of the French Normandy style when they settled in North America – specifically in Quebec City and Montreal. By the time the French landed in New Orleans in the Louisiana Territory in the 18th century, the French Colonial style was established with its low-pitched roofs, narrow columns, porches, and living quarters above ground as a safeguard from flooding.
After World War I, the style really took off when American and Canadian soldiers came home with vivid memories of the gorgeous homes they had seen in France. Soon they were building quaint and unique homes reminiscent of French architectural styles.
Distinctive Characteristics: Although designs vary – from the symmetrical proportions of the French Provencal to other asymmetrical exteriors. Usually, two-stories with high rooflines, large chimneys sloped at the base, curved arches, and stonework on doorways and windows, multi-paned windows, dormers, and round towers.
The most prevalent style in the colonies throughout the 18th century, the Georgian design derived its name from the first four King Georges, who ruled England successively from 1714 to 1840. The first architect-inspired style in America, the Georgian design was greatly influenced by British architect Sir Christopher Wren.
Its defining characteristics are a gabled or hipped roof with dormers, paired chimneys, multi-paned windows symmetrically arranged to frame the front door, an extended walkway leading to the main door, short covered porch, archways, pediments, or decorative element above the central door, interior floor plans that often repeat the exterior’s focus on symmetry, and a central hall and staircase often flanked by formal rooms on each side.
A design that originated in Mediterranean countries with their warm climates and soft sea breezes (think Spain, France, Greece, and Italy), the Mediterranean style homes emerged in the 1920s and ‘30s. First, it became fashionable in warmer states like California, Florida, Texas, and the Southwest.
Usually a one or two-story home, the Mediterranean (Spanish) style’s most recognizable element is a low-pitched roof with terra-cotta red tiles that keep the house cool during the hot weather. Some features that make Mediterranean homes so attractive are stucco walls in white or pastels, exposed wood beams, arched doors and windows, columns, extensive outdoor living spaces, wrought-iron gates, large windows, landscaping, covered entryways, courtyards, balconies, decks, verandas, and patios. Inside the home, you can find more archways and columns, high ceilings, open floor plans that enhance the breezy feel, and interiors finished in warm hues of yellows, oranges, pale brown, and light blue.
Styles based on layout of rooms
Duplex house plan is a multi-family home with two separate units and two separate entrances within the same structure. The units can be built side-by-side; separated by a wall – or they may be stacked, like apartments on two floors.
Many plans come in a variety of styles – Ranch, Craftsman, Contemporary – and feature mirror-image living spaces and equal square footage. In some duplexes, one unit may be bigger than the other to allow room for a growing family.
The best way to describe a multi-unit plan is separate living spaces within one building or several buildings within one complex. These designs include apartment buildings, duplexes, triplexes, or multi-plexes. Like the duplex, they also come in many architectural styles and floor plan layouts.
What sets multi-unit homes apart is that each building comprises stand-alone residences separated by walls or floors. For example, there is one shared entrance in an apartment building that leads to separate floors and doors for each unit. In other instances, all doors are on the homes exterior for a greater degree of separation and privacy.