Colonial houses can trace their roots back to (surprise) the American colonial era. Though true colonial homes stopped being built after the American Revolution, their basic framework—simple, symmetrical, and at least two stories tall—has remained an extremely popular influence in residential architecture for over 200 years.
What is a Colonial House?
Over centuries, the colonial house was adapted and reinvented around new materials, technologies, and building techniques. By the late 1800s, it had organically evolved into a style called “Colonial Revival” that has yet to fall out of fashion. A colonial home has a timeless, demure grace with mass appeal, particularly with families.
The Layout of a Colonial House
Symmetry is the most defining aspect of a colonial-style home, made immediately evident by the front door, which is located smack-dab in the center of the house and flanked with windows. Upon entering, you’ll find a central staircase with access to large, ground-floor rooms on either side. On the second story, the staircase opens into a hallway that runs across the middle of the floor, connecting the bedrooms and at least one bathroom.
In traditional colonials and colonial revivals, there are firm divisions between rooms, which are separated with doors or other defining architectural elements, like archways. In modern interpretations of colonial architecture, open layouts are becoming more and more common, with spacious living spaces flowing directly into large kitchens and dining areas. Upper levels no longer follow the strict symmetry of earlier colonial styles, eschewing small, boxy bedrooms in favor of large primary suites, walk-in closets, private bathrooms, and other modern amenities.
Characteristics of a Colonial House
The original design of traditional colonial homes was almost as simple as simple can be, which makes it the perfect starting point for additions, alterations, and reinvention. The core of these houses is the centrally-positioned front door, which is crowned with a small pediment or columned portico, with tall windows positioned on either side.
Double-hung sash windows are arranged around the house symmetrically (of course) and are normally installed in pairs. Colonials have sloping, medium-pitched roofs with shingles and gutters, and older homes will have a pair of chimneys in the center of the roof leading down to twin first-floor fireplaces. Modern colonials may have them just for show.
Leading off from the centralized core of the house, colonials can branch off and have any number of floor plans or outlines. Modern colonials usually have attached, multi-car garages. Other popular home extensions include in-law suites, guest rooms, office spaces, and mudrooms.
Types of Colonial Houses
During the colonial era, America was home to Spanish, French, Dutch, and British settlers, all of whom incorporated the motifs and methods of their homeland into their architecture. Though Spanish, French, and Dutch colonial styles are still popular in certain parts of the U.S., British colonial style has reigned supreme since the late 17th century and has become the basis of many popular home styles, like Cape Cod, Georgian, and Mid-Atlantic.