Timeline of American House Styles

My name is Bud Dietrich and I am an architect located in the Tampa Bay.
traditional exterior by Crisp Architectsby Crisp Architects
From the arrival of the first settlers to our own day, the American house has been heavily influenced byEuropean models. Whether British and French in New England or Spanish in the South and Southwest, the initial settlers built what they knew and were familiar with.But, of course, they adapted the styles to their new locations and the materials at hand. For example, a house in New England would have had smaller and fewer windows as a response to the harsh winters and the unavailability of glass.
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exterior by Charlie Simmons - Charlie & Co. Design, Ltd.
As America grew and became more prosperous, the homes became larger and built of more expensive materials. And more pronounced regional differences became evident as well. While in the Northeast the houses continued to be massive and fortresses against the harsh winter …
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… houses in the South developed wraparound verandas to shade the interiors and tall windows to let in breezes: a tradition that continues today.
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Various stylistic revivals came in and out of fashion from the late 18th century throughout most of the 19th century. Greek Revival earlier, then Gothic Revival a few years later dominated house design. While the Greek Revival had a connection to the new American democracy, the Gothic Revival came about when a more picturesque and bucolic America was envisioned.
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And what would the 19th century be without the Italianate, Second Empire, Moorish and all of the other foreign inspired movements? By first looking outward, it seems to me that as America was rapidly growing it was searching for an architectural identity that fit.
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This search led, in the last quarter of the 19th century, to the Shingle Style. These were expressive houses of swelling volumes and banded, horizontal elements. The desire for open floor plans and strong inside-outside relationships led to large openings connecting interior rooms to other rooms and inside rooms to outside rooms.
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It’s not surprising that Frank Lloyd Wright’s first works, such as his Oak Park home, were in
the Single Style because that was the first step in the creation of the Prairie Style. Low, long
and all horizontal, the house is no longer a collection of box-like rooms. It’s a totally new way
of creating domestic spaces that celebrated the open and connected rather than the closed and
cave-like.
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But the Prairie Style didn’t last but a few decades. Whether it was the nouveau riche of the Roaring ’20s or the despair of the Great Depression, America turned to the safe and secure, the tried and true. It was time for the Colonial to take center stage. But these aren’t the colonial houses of 200 years earlier. Though the outward appearance is one of Colonial America, the interiors are the open plans and comfortable spaces that Americans demanded of their houses.
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Of course, not everyone was building the Colonial. Some places, most notably California and Florida, witnessed a continuation of that desire to build the quintessential American house. A house that would be forward looking, accommodate a relaxed lifestyle and dissolve the barriers between inside and outside. These Mid-Century Modern houses are now cherished.
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Where we are: ready for the next act in house design. Though it’s impossible (and probably unnecessary) to predict the style, we know that the next generation of American houses will:
  • Be smaller as we no longer want to heat, cool, maintain and pay for all that house.
  • Incorporate low-maintenance materials that will last, freeing up our time and money for other pursuits.
  • Be contextual so that a house in the Pacific Northwest responds to a different set of climate and cultural forces than a house in the Deep South.
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