Colonial houses are Uniquely American, and their popularity continues to grow. Not only do we find their simple floor plans and clean lines attractive, we also enjoy feeling a connection to our history. The American colonial house styles are homes built by settlers in the American colonies. The American colonial period lasted from the late sixteenth century to 1776. The period of Colonial architecture, however, lasted until the 19th century.

A lot of people use the term American “colonial house” to describe every house built during this period. But there are actually quite a few different colonial styles. The people who settled in the American colonies came from different parts of the world. And they brought their housing styles with them.

However, they also had to use the materials available in the places where they settled. Different colonial house styles show influences from all over the world. Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, France, Latin America, and more. Colonial houses in different locations had to deal with different weather, sometimes extreme weather. Some styles protected people from rain, snow, cold, heat. While yet others dealt with humidity, heat or dry conditions. Colonial houses can be found in the Northeast, the Southeast and the Southwest of the United States.

​Variations on a Theme, 7 Popular Colonial House Styles

Here are seven popular colonial house styles, from earliest to latest. Each has details that set it apart. As you read, pay attention to these distinct features.

Building materials: ​Different colonists settled in different areas. These areas all have unique materials available to build with, as well as vastly different climates. Colonial house styles vary in building materials, including wood, stone, clapboard, and clay.
Weather: ​Colonial houses in the Northeast are built for rain, wind, and cold winters. Southeastern styles handle the heat, humidity, and swampy ground. In the southwest, dry heat dictates housing styles.
Roof: ​Some styles have a “saltbox” shaped roof. Some have a gambrel roof, which look like barn roofs. Others use a sloping, angled roof or flat roofs. Colonial house roofs were clay tile, earth, or wood.

Here is an example of a “saltbox” roof:

In addition, other distinctive features include:

Chimneys: ​Different Colonial house styles may have one large chimney, multiple smaller chimneys, or no chimney at all.
Doors: ​French doors and Dutch doors come from this period. Doors may or may not appear in the center of the house. Windows may be placed differently with regard to the door. Doorways may be arched or square.

Here is an example of a Dutch door:

Finally, these styles all have different kinds of windows.

Windows: ​The size of the windows can vary from style to style. Some styles use diamond glass panes. Others use plain glass. Others may use screens or iron bars in place of glass. Window size, shape, and placement differ among colonial home styles.

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As colonists settled, they adapted their homes to their new land, while adding features from their homelands.

​1. New England Colonial (1600-1740)

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The first colonists to the New England area were from Britain. Houses built in New England reflect the style of British houses at that time. New England Colonial houses are built of wood. They boast large stone chimneys and diamond pane windows. The second story often hangs over the first story. The roof has a “saltbox” shape that slopes downward at the rear of the house. Because of the all wood construction, few original New England Colonial houses remain. You can find various features of the New England Colonial house style in Colonial Revival houses, though.

​2. Dutch Colonial (1625 to mid 1800s)

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Colonists from the Netherlands settled along the Hudson River on land that would become New York, Delaware, New Jersey, and western Connecticut. Dutch Colonial houses feature brick and stone construction and chimneys on each side of the house. They often have a steep gable roof or a gambrel roof. Sometimes the roof has flared eaves that slope down to cover a porch. They also often have a “Dutch door” — a split door, where the top and bottom halves can open separately. Dutch colonial houses tended to have one and a half stories. As in New England, many of the “Dutch colonial” houses today are later colonial revival.

​3. German Colonial (1600s to the mid 1800s)

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Many German settlers lived in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, and New York. Stone was the main building material there. German Colonial houses feature thick sandstone walls and exposed timbers. Other features include large, wishbone-shaped chimneys and stone arches above the first-floor windows. Houses were typically symmetrical, with an attic story. Roofs were steep and covered with wood or clay tiles. Originally, windows were shuttered. But later, double-hung windows replaced shuttered windows.

​4. Spanish Colonial (1600-1900)

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In the western United States, people often use the term Spanish Colonial for stucco houses with wooden floors, colorful tile, and fountains in the garden. These are actually Spanish Colonial Revival houses. Early settlers from Spain and Latin America built their homes for dry heat. They used wood, adobe, stone, and sometimes crushed shells. These homes had flat roofs made of thatch or red clay tiles. Southwestern Spanish colonial homes also have some Native American design elements. These tend to be simple, one story homes with small windows. Instead of window glass, there are sometimes wrought iron bars. Some houses have interior shutters and interior courtyards. Like New England Colonial houses, few true Spanish Colonial houses remain.

​5. French Colonial (1700s-1800s)

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French colonists settled in the Mississippi Valley and Louisiana. Unlike the northern styles, which focused on insulation from cold winters, French Colonists built their houses for humid heat. Traditional French Colonial houses use piers to lift them above the swampy earth. Wide, open porches connect the inside rooms and allow air to flow. These open porches replace the enclosed hallways of other styles. House frames are either made of wood or bousillage (mud mixed with animal hair). These houses feature French doors and thin wooden columns. Roofs are wide and extend over the porches.

​6. Federal (1780-1840)

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The Federalist-style marks the end of the original colonies, and the beginning of the United States as a country. Architects wanted to express prosperity, elegance, and optimism. The Scottish Adam brothers were the primary influence. This style built on the pragmatic Georgian style, adding neoclassical touches like balustrades, circular and Palladian windows, and Greek flourishes like urns and columns. Houses tend to have two stories, and be two rooms deep, with windows arranged symmetrically around a center doorway. Wood, clapboard, and brick are the primary building materials. There are often decorative shutters. Roofs are often low-pitched or flat. Interiors sometimes feature oval-shaped rooms and arches. This was, and is, a popular style, consequently, it’s found all over the eastern United States. The Federal style also marked a resurgence in classical architecture.

​7. Cape Cod (17th century to 19th century)

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Cape Cod houses tend to be small, one-story structures. They are made with materials available in New England: cedar, pinewood, shingles, and clapboard. In order to allow snow and rain to slide off, the oofs tend to be steep. To protect from extreme cold, this style also features low ceilings and massive central chimneys. Cape Cod style houses tend to be small: 1,000 to 2,000 square feet. Houses tend to be symmetrical, with a doorway in the center. Windows are often of different sizes. Some Cape Cod houses also feature a “Captain’s Stairway,” a narrow, steep staircase that leads to a second floor. The owners used the extra space to host seafaring guests, after whom they named the staircase.

Colonial houses can be found in parts of the U.S. that were first settled by Europeans. Because each style has its unique influences, these homes offer a unique opportunity to be part of America’s living history.

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