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Colonial Style House: What You Need to Know

A colonial house is a very traditional looking rectangular home dating from, well, the colonial period of British and European settlements around the world.

What makes a house colonial style?

Colonial style signifies a colonisation or settlement by a mother country and began with British and European influences, emerging in the 1600's.

Colonial Style House

The historic style of British colonial homes has been the basis for of colonial architecture and there are particular hallmarks of colonial style homes that signify this popular design. These include the front door being right in the centre of the house, flanked by symmetrical windows and a rectangular box-shape build.

The original design of these homes was very simple. Typical colonial will comprise two stories, with the kitchen and living rooms on the main or ground level. A staircase leads up to a hallway that houses the bedrooms and a bathroom. A fireplace was located in the central part of the original homes and later moved to exterior walls.

An even simpler version of the colonial style house was almost a square shape that began with two rooms - one upstairs and one down. Colonials constructed homes with the architectural layout and materials they were used to when bringing those influences to other parts of the world.

What is the most common colonial-style?

In a way, this depends upon the global location. British colonial homes are generally among the most common colonial homes and as discussed, formed the basis of this design.

Colonial Style House

As influences from parts of Europe crept in, other styles emerged to create several, yet subtle different types of colonial homes and within America, this was based on the regions where settlements occurred.

  • For example, in New Orleans, the French colonial style is most common and includes covered porches spanning the width of the home. This style provides much needed shade from the brutal southern heat and protection from monsoon and heavy rains.
  • The Cape Cod style home is more like the traditional British style and early designs included the saltbox roof - a steeply pitched gabled roof that's single story on the backside of the home.

What does an American colonial house look like?

Colonial style houses within America date back to the American colonial period when the east coast was first settled. There are two distinct styles of colonial house within America - New England colonial and Southern colonial. That said, there was a broad range of other colonial style that crept in from the late 16th century through to the 19th century.

Colonial Style House

English colonists built fairly simple and straight forward homes that feature symmetry, multi-pane dormer windows, chimneys, shutters and most are two story.

An American colonial style home is a mix of several building designs all harking from the colonial period of the United States.

  • British Colonial: Most colonists settling in America came from England and this was certainly the basis of design for colonial houses.
  • French colonial: This style was adopted in the South when the French settled in what became Louisiana.
  • Spanish colonial: The Spanish colonial influence evolved in Florida and the Southwest of the US during the time of the Spanish Empire and used adobe brick and stone to provide a cooler internal environment.

Other influences include Georgian and Dutch colonial, both of which filter through American colonial style homes. American colonists put their own stamp on the classic design. Additions and unique renditions were made over time, which included things like shutters and columns.

What are the characteristics of colonial architecture?

Typically, colonial architecture will be rectangle in shape and very symmetrical. It will portray a sophisticated elegance with a front door in the middle of the structure and an even number of windows either side and is generally a simple and traditional looking design with few exterior details or embellishment.

Below are some key characteristics of colonial architectural style:

  • Double sash windows
  • Materials include wood, brick and stone
  • Fairly plain and classic- looking exterior with little embellishment
  • Living areas and kitchen spaces on the ground floor
  • Steeply pitched gabled roof
  • Natural wooden floors

How can I give my colonial style home a modern vibe?

Today's colonial style has been modified internally to accommodate modern ways of life. Instead of separate rooms for certain functions, the interior spaces tend to be more open and bright.

In more recent colonial builds, fireplaces have been moved to exterior walls. This opens up the living space considerable, which suits modern day homes.

If your home has a wood floor you can bring in contemporary luxury pieces that will add a touch of warmth and comfort. Layer Sheepskin floor rugs and place Sheepskin Shaggy Bean Bags in the living area.

Streamline your lighting options and think about sleek furniture pieces that a simple yet effective. Create spaces that speak to you and reflect the people living in the home. Because colonial style houses are fairly straight-forward from an architectural perspective, the inside can adopt a range of design styles.

How were historic colonial homes heated?

Unsurprisingly, the main source of heat during colonial times was from the central fireplace. This was a relatively inefficient way of heating the home. Most heat would escape up the chimney.

Sir Benjamin Thompson brought a much improved fireplace into play - a 'firebox', which was narrower and shallower in the back, and had a wide opening to adopt a more effective way of keeping the heat within the room.

During the 1700's, the iron stove was eventually brought into homes. This was essentially an iron box, which gave off heat from all sides and the toxic smoke would be sent up a pipe to outside. We really don't know how lucky we are today, with centrally heated homes and efficient insulation.

Is a colonial style house a popular choice today?

Although the traditional and original styles of colonial houses have remained the same, internally they've changed to serve as a wonderfully functional home for the modern family.

American colonial style is still an extremely popular design of home. New England and the southern parts of America in particular offer many colonial influenced houses. It's an easy style that is constructed with common materials, which makes it a popular choice.

Although architecture is constantly evolving through time, there are some early designs that history did too well for us to push them to the curb.


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