The American Colonial Design Style dates back to the 17th century, though inspiration comes from England, France, and Spain. The style is typically associated with houses, churches, and buildings of the period from about 1600 through the 19th century. This is more commonly an older, traditional style and is less of a mainstay in the aesthetic of the build vs. the concept of the building type.
Key Elements of Colonial Design
American colonial design was a pairing of the needs of the locals, the resources of the location, and the influences from the settlers, which in the early 17th Century were mostly of European descent and were heavily influenced by the English design. This meant that initially, American colonial design included aspects of Victorian design while utilizing more localized and regionalized materials (walnut, cherry, and maple woods). This created more contrasts, such as light walls and dark floors throughout the floor plan. The utilization of natural woods, stones, and calmer, neutral aesthetics like whitewashed or de-saturated colored walls, sheer curtains, and use of linens was often paired with the use of local plants for biophilia throughout the home (very similar to the trends today). These homes commonly feature upscale crown molding, detailed fireplaces, and formal entryways. They frequently incorporate natural hardwood floors, often of regionally available wood.
The exterior build of a Colonial-style building is simple, symmetrical, and at least two stories tall. They are normally rectangular, with steeply gabled roofs and neutral color schemes. A prominent design feature is a centralized staircase, often surrounded by a formal entryway.
The interior elements are often contrasted in light/dark pairings, utilizing regionally accessible materials such as stone, copper, clay, and lumber. Elegant, comfortable, and meant to be engaging and warm. Neutral and de-saturated wall tones and wallpapers, but accessorized highly personally.
Different Approaches to Colonial Design
Original Colonial-style homes were brought by early settlers to the US from Europe in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, built with materials that were available locally and in a style that was familiar to them. Many came from countries such as the UK, France, Holland, and Spain, and each of those countries has a revival style noted as a branch of the American Colonial style.
New England Colonial style is one of the de facto originators and meets all the style standards noted above. As re-settling took place, you began to see homeland references land in pockets.
Dutch Colonial-style homes are in the Northeast of America and utilize the same symmetrical premise, but distinctively have a gambrel roof, often lacking or including narrow shutters.
French Colonial styles are found more in the Southeast and with the regional influence have architectural features designed to cope with the warmer climates like those in Louisiana. This created a style type of symmetry, but one focused on alfresco living with verandas and more tall and thin windows to handle heat entering the home.
Homes in the Southwest are often Spanish colonial influenced. This is much more rustic, and not stringent to the symmetrical principles of more British Colonial styles. Regional materials impact this structure as they were usually built with white stucco walls and small windows to deflect the heat and low-pitched roofs made from red clay tiles.
A swathe of Colonial Revival houses was built from the 19th century onwards which were re-kindled by an American interest in colonial architectural traditions. These builds cue from the even symmetry built in wood, brick, or stone, with side-gabled roofs, shuttered windows, brick chimney(s), and a centered front door. The more modern applications include an open front porch, columns, and dormer windows. Keeping family and entertainment-friendly options like a dedicated entryway and ample, open access to kitchen and living areas.
Older Homes vs Newer Homes
This is more commonly an older, traditional style home and is less of a mainstay in the aesthetic of the build vs. the concept of the building type.
New homes are likely to be considered “New Traditional” but utilize symmetry and family-friendly layouts, as well as open-concept layouts facilitating entertaining as well as the living dynamics of a home.
However, the innate practicality being a key consideration is appealing to those looking for houses meant to stand the test of time. Considerations include access to natural light, and thoughtful ways to utilize windows to help keep heat out or in necessary areas to help with efficiency. The well-proportioned spaces focused on family life, and are designed with finishes for comfort, and family life has an appeal regardless of the era.
Windows and Doors for Colonial Design
Many colonial homes utilize the entryway as a stand-out feature to a more minimalist home exterior. Symmetry is one of the most defining aspects of a Colonial-style home. This starts with the front door, which is centrally located on the house, often with a sidelight and transom surround. This entryway in traditional colonial homes is often a solid paneled door. The symmetrical design usually has the front entry flanked by windows. Double-hung windows are arranged around the house symmetrically and often in pairs. Often seen with traditional simulated divided light grille patterns such as 2×3 and 3×3.
Many styles of Colonial homes will have dormer windows to increase usable space on upper floors and attics. Additional style and decade influences will often see bay windows included in the architectural theme of simple lines and symmetry.
Although many years have gone by since the origins of the Colonial Design Style, it is still revered for its beauty, simplicity, and usefulness. While Colonial style can be considered more formal, it is very entertaining and presentation forward in its design, and thus stands the test of time to this day.
Understand the benefits of window, door and skylight certification and how certified products can enhance your projects.
View our list of window, door, and skylight manufacturers.
The Understanding Window, Door & Skylight Certification webinar is designed to help architects and remodelers understand the benefits of window, door and skylight certification and how certified products can enhance their projects.
Find window, door, and skylight manufacturers.