Anyone who’s whittled away hours (okay, months) of their life looking at old houses online knows all about the stately grace of Greek Revival homes. A popular style in the early 1800s, architectural elements of the Greek Revival movement can be found in small, simple houses, grand, ornate mansions, and everything in between.
What Is a Greek Revival Style House?
Greek Revival houses mimic the buildings of ancient Greece, with classical motifs and an emphasis on symmetry. This style was popularized in early 19th century America.
What Makes a House Greek Revival?
There are many classical architectural flourishes that are commonly used in Greek Revival houses. Some houses — particularly mansions — were modeled after temples, using stately elements like columns, pediments, porticoes, and wide friezes. However, the majority of Greek Revival houses were more modest and austere, with simple, rectangular shapes, clean lines, and limited ornamentation.
- Marble or white-painted Doric columns
- Gabled low-pitched roof
- Wide porches or porticoes
- Detailed cornices and friezes
- Painted white exterior, to mimic marble
- Elaborate front doors with small-paned sidelights
- Rectangular transoms
- Six-over-six double-hung sash windows
- Open rectangular floor plans
- Tall first floor windows and doors
- Detailed plaster ceilings
- White plaster walls
- Hardwood floors
History of Greek Revival Houses
The Greek Revival movement began in mid 17th century Europe after archeological expedition reignited intellectual fascination with the ancient Greek civilization, but it did not take off in America until 1820, and was not originally applied to houses, but rather public buildings. It had only been 37 years since the Constitution had been written, and the fledgling United States government wanted their buildings to embody the very ideals of democracy; as the concept of democracy was invented by the ancient Greeks, notable architects like Benjamin Henry Latrobe (designer of the U.S. Capitol) and William Strickland (designer of the Second Bank of the United States in Philadelphia) began applying the classical rules of shape and symmetry when building America’s “temples” of government. From 1830 to 1850, nearly every new public building incorporated Greek Revival elements, and it became commonly referred to as the “National Style.”
Greek Revival soon became a popular architectural style for both public buildings and houses in most parts of early 19th century America, with each region adding its own signature flourishes to its basic design principles. In the hot and humid south, Greek Revival plantation houses were built with ample amounts of outdoor space via porches and porticoes. In the big cities up north, houses were far simpler, using minimalist pilasters and understated window trimmings to capture the classical spirit. In New England, some homeowners who wanted to adopt the new design trend simply added Greek Revival elements to existing Colonial-style houses; front entrances could be embellished with columns and extended with porticoes, interiors could be ornamented with ornate plaster work and decorative moldings.