Whilst very few houses represent a “pure” style, there were basically seven types of structures:

  • Log Cabin up to 1850’s
  • Colonial 1690 -1760
  • Salt Box 1610 – 1770
  • Cape Cod 1710 – 1830
  • Early Georgian 1714 – 1769
  • High Georgian 1760 – 1780
  • Federal 1780 – 1820
  • Gothic Revival
  • Greek Revival 1840 – 1880

Today you’re likely to find Colonial houses with Victorian additions and Victorians houses with Colonial Revival additions. Once having mastered a few basic principles, however, your eye will begin to discern what is original to a house, and what has been added or removed in keeping with the latest fashion.

A Hope to Preserve Existing Structures: It is hoped that a greater appreciation of architectural detail will inspire more old-house owners to preserve and restore their houses in harmony with the original intent of the builder. It is relatively easy for the home craftsman to preserve detail that is already in place. But it is difficult or expensive, or both, to replace architectural detail once it has been thoughtlessly removed.

The careful attention to detail that went into the construction of old houses is a cultural treasure that cannot be replaced. Keeping up an old house is keeping faith with past and future generations.

Saltbox 1700 -1770

The roof line defines the saltbox. It evolved from the practice of adding a lean-to on the back of a house in order to gain extra space. Sometimes a change in the angle of the back roof shows where the lean-to was added. The design became so popular that some houses were built with the long back roof as part of the original structure.

Colonial 1690 -1760

The style, which might be called English Renaissance, includes

    • a large central chimney
    • narrow clapboards
    • simple frames around doors and windows
    • few, if any, small windows (lights) around doors.

Windows had numerous small panes, frequently 12 over 12. Few have survived without addition of wings, walls and lean-to’s, and other changes in details.

Cape Cod 1710 -1830

The frame structure was one and one half stories high. It had a low pitched roof, a large central chimney, and no dormers. Light for the attic came from windows in the gable ends. To increase attic headroom, builders sometimes used a bowed (“ship’s bottom”) roof. Originally the Colonial house and roof were covered on all sides with wood shingles that weathered gray. Later houses used clapboards. There are three basic designs:

    • The Half House: two windows to side of front door
    • The Three-Quarters House: no windows to one side of door and one window to the other
    • The Full Cape: two windows to each side of door.

Early Georgian 1714 -1760

The Early Georgian structure had a symmetrical design based on Roman classicism. There was an emphasis on an entrance bay in middle of house. The front wide panelled doors had a row of rectangular lights in the door, to transform the light above. Columns or pilasters frequently framed the door with pediment above. Plain colonial eaves were replaced with cornices, often with classical features such as dentils.

When dormers were used, they had triangular or arched pediments and were spaced symmetrically. Usually the structure had a pitched roof, although sometimes the roof was hipped. The Early Georgian was built in brick or wood.

High Georgian 1760 -1780

The High Georgian structure used heavy classical details. The front doorway were surrounded with pilasters or columns, surmounted by cornice or pediment, or both. Also there was a semi-circular fanlight over the front door. Palladian (triple) windows were built on the second floor in the front centre of the house. There were cornices on window caps.

More elaborate houses would have a projected entrance pavilion topped by a pedimented gable. Use of columns and pilasters became more lavish. Corners on masonry houses often had stone quoins, and on wood houses the quoins were often simulated in wood.

Federal 1780 -1820

After the Revolution, house designers used the classical decoration of the Late Georgian, but attenuated the detail. The result is often hard to distinguish from Early Georgian. Doorways retained the early pilasters and columns and were usually topped with a flat entablature. Elliptical fanlights over doors were popular. Simple frames existed around windows, and corners were unmarked by quoins or pilasters. Hipped roofs became more common, sometimes rimmed by a balustrade. Flat boarding was sometimes used on the exterior for a more classical effect.

Greek Revival 1815 -1840

Builders emphasized the columns (or pilasters), capitals, and low triangular gabled pediment – all to create the effect of a Greek temple. Focus shifted from the long side of the house to the gabled end. A pedimented gable appears to rest on classical entablature, which is in turn supported by columns. Windows are strongly vertical, with six-over-six panes. Lines are simpler and cleaner than the Roman-influenced Georgian.