April 16, 2013

Buying a Historic Home: What’s Your Style? (Part 2)

Part Two of our architectural style digest (read Part One here) offers definitions and examples of houses from approximately 1855 up to 1960.

When you’re looking at historic houses, it’s important to remember that many are not exactly a single kind of style. You’ll discover that some have used other materials or details not found in the technical definition, or alterations, additions, and updates have melded two different styles together.

These nuances and variations are what make each historic house special and oftentimes historically significant. So preserve them, celebrate them, and enjoy them!

1. Second Empire. This style is most common in the Northeast and Midwest, but you can find examples throughout the country. Look for a mansard roof with dormer windows on a steep slope, molded cornices along the top and bottom of the roof, decorated brackets under the eaves, and windows and doors that are rounded at the top. Inside you may find gilding, patterned wallpaper, and stenciling.

  • Dormer: Projection in a sloped roof usually containing a window.
  • Eaves: The underside of a sloping roof overhang at a wall.

Example of a Second Empire style house in Petersburg, Virginia.

2. Stick Style. Defined primarily by decorative detailing, you’ll find ornamental trusses at the peak of gables, large overhanging eaves, and clapboard walls with horizontal and vertical wood banding (stickwork) raised from the wall surface. Found primarily in the Northeast and San Francisco Bay area, this style is considered a transition from Gothic Revival to Queen Anne.

  • Gable: The triangular portion of a wall between the edges of a sloping roof.
  • Truss: Triangular framework, typically consisting of rafters and posts, supporting a roof.

3. Queen Anne. A very popular style across the country during the last quarter of the 19th century, you can identify these houses by their steeply pitched, irregular, or cross gable roofs, classical detailing at the cornices, and double-hung windows that often contain stained or colored glass.

4. Shingle Style. Exterior walls of wood shingles, often mixed with clapboard, stone, or patterned brick, and irregular pitched roofs covered in wood shingles give this style its name.

5. Richardsonian Romanesque. Named for the American architect H. H. Richardson, who was the leading practitioner of the Romanesque Revival style in the late 19th century, this style was favored for public buildings and churches. Richardson designed few houses in this style, but elements of his work, like heavy rusticated stone exterior walls with arches over doors and windows and squat porch columns, found their way into many residences during this period.

  • Rusticated: Stone cut in massive blocks separated by deep joints, giving a rich texture to the wall.

This house, built in 1886, is an example of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture. It's located on Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois.

6. Colonial Revival. As its name implies, this style is derived from the styles popular during the American colonial period, particularly Georgian and Late Georgian, so a Colonial Revival is often hard to distinguish from these two. The major difference lies in the manufacture of construction materials -- earlier styles were made by hand, giving them a slightly irregular appearance; Colonial Revival houses were machine-made, so they are precisely shaped.

7. Tudor Revival. The major distinguishing features of this type of house are wooden half-timbered and stucco walls, large decorative gable ends or side chimneys, and slate or asphalt shingleds roofs designed to look like thatch.

8. Mission. Predominantly found in California and the Southwest, the Mission style is derived from the Spanish Colonial. Look for smooth stucco walls and low-pitched roofs covered in mission tiles. You’ll also often find large front and wrapped porches supported by heavy square piers or squat columns.

9. Prairie Style. Developed by the architect Frank Lloyd Wright, this style is often called the first truly American style of architecture. These houses have open floor plans, low ceilings, and prominent central fireplaces. They are mostly concentrated in the upper Midwest, but can be found across the country.

10. Bungalow or Craftsman. A compact plan, limited hallways, low gable or hipped roof, exposed rafters at the eaves, and a large front porch are all identifying characteristics of this style. You’ll also often see double-hung windows that have a multi-paned upper sash and single-pane lower sash.

  • Hipped roof: All sides slope downwards to the walls (generally a gentle slope), thus it is a house with no gables.

The Eugene A. Gilmore House (also known as the "Airplane House") is a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house in Madison, Wisconsin, and an example of Prairie Style architecture.

We can’t leave you hanging on some last few architectural styles you may come across when looking for an older or historic house. So today’s toolkit has a few extras for you:

11. Mediterranean Revival. Combining Italian, Spanish, Moorish, and North African elements, these houses are characterized by light color stucco exteriors, low-pitched tile roofs, archways and arcaded entrances, wrought-iron grill work, and small balconies.

12. Art Deco and Art Moderne. Both of these styles feature open floor plans, flat or very low-pitched roofs with low profile parapets, smooth stucco walls, and horizontal groupings of metal casement windows. The main difference is on the exterior -- Deco houses utilize geometric motifs, while Moderne houses have streamlined, usually horizontal detailing.

  • Parapet: A low wall at the top of a façade usually hiding a flat or low-pitched roof.

Example of an Art Deco style house in Hollywood, Florida.

13. International or Modern. Often associated with high-rise offices and apartment buildings, buildings in this style are almost always rectangular in shape, have exterior walls of glass or smooth stucco, and have a flat roof with a minimal parapet. You’ll find houses in this style primarily in California and the Northeast.

Announcing the 2024 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.

See the List