Deciding on Your Home's Architectural Style

Farmhouse: This style generally has a wide covered porch that stretches along the front and wraps around the side of the two-story home. The steeply pitched gable roof, shutters and horizontal siding are other details often found in farmhouses.

Georgian:The symmetrical design of this stately brick home exemplifies the Georgian style. The decorative keystones over the shuttered windows, the columned entry and the gabled dormers are also characteristic of this style.
Photo courtesy of Larry W. Garnett & Associates

Cape Cod: This simple home is a true-to-form example of the Cape Cod style. The symmetrical design, the dormers and the dominant roofline that extends down to the first floor all typify this early American style.
Photo by Mary Perkins

Victorian: This home's corner turret, wraparound porch and ornate detailing make it a prime example of Victorian-style architecture. The asymmetrical design is also typical of this early American style.
Photo by Mark Englund/HomeStyles

Mediterranean: This home's low-pitched, tiled roof is the hallmark of the Mediterranean style. Other features common in this popular style include arched windows and a stucco exterior.
Photo by Mark Englund/HomeStyles

Contemporary: This contemporary-style home displays an asymmetrical design, a varied roofline, a stark facade and bold windows. A circular tower with a domed skylight exemplifies the surprising styling characteristic of contemporary design.
Photo by Mark Englund/HomeStyles

One of the first decisions you need to make when choosing your new home is which exterior style you want. The exterior greets passersby and gives visitors their first impressions of your home. One style can offer a hearty hello, while another whispers a gracious welcome or shouts out to grab the attention of all who pass.

You probably have an idea of which style suits your family's lifestyle and tastes. You might want a stylish contemporary to make a statement, an idyllic farmhouse to warm your spirits or a grand Colonial to satisfy your sense of tradition.

Look at the other homes in your neighborhood before you choose. While you probably do not want to duplicate the style of the homes around you, you may not want to stick out like a sore thumb. For ideas, think back to houses you've lived in and places you've visited. Which styles do you like the most?

Get to know the lingo of architecture. Do you know the difference between a Colonial and a Georgian home? Do you know what to call those houses with turrets? Knowing the proper terms will aid your search for the perfect home.

One of the most popular styles in the United States right now is the traditional country farmhouse. The most common characteristic of these rectangular, 2-story designs is a covered porch that stretches along the entire front of the home and sometimes wraps around the side. A steeply pitched roof runs along the length of the home and is sometimes accented by dormers and gables. Other common details include horizontal siding and shutters.

Colonial, Georgian, Cape Cod, and Saltbox

Traditional styles also include those that mimic homes popular in the United States during the 18th and 19th centuries. A number of styles including Colonial, Georgian, Cape Cod, and saltbox fall into this category.

Colonial homes originated on the East Coast and vary slightly from North to South. These stately 2-story homes feature symmetrical, rectangular designs, and brick or lap siding. Accents often include chimneys on both ends, shutters, and columns.

Georgian homes are similar to Colonials, but they feature richer details and ornamentation. A traditional Georgian home often includes a centered entry under a decorative pediment, which is a triangular space that forms a gable, a transom, which is a small window over a door or another window, and regal columns or pilasters, which are flat columns. Other details include dormers topped by pediments and cornice work with decorative dentils, which are small, projecting rectangular blocks.

A typical Cape Cod-style home has 1.5-stories and upper-floor windows on both ends. The roof extends down the front and the back of the home to the first floor, but may be interrupted by dormers. Like other early American homes, the Cape Cod-style includes a symmetrical arrangement of the windows and front door.

The hallmark of the saltbox design is a roofline that extends farther down the back of the home than the front. This extended roofline makes room for a front-facing second floor that consists of about half the square footage of the main floor. Saltbox designs often include shutters and shake siding.

Victorian Architecture

During the last half of the 19th century, Victorian architecture became one of the most popular styles in the United States. Named after Britain's Queen Victoria, this fancy style earned its title because it was common during her reign.

Because of industrial developments and the advent of mass production, design broke away from the simple, symmetrical box-shaped homes that had been so common until this time. The Victorian style reflected the new ability and freedom to add elaborate detail and decoration to a home's facade.

Asymmetrical design, fancy gingerbread ornamentation, towers, and turrets at the corners and elaborate porches on multiple sides characterize Victorian-style homes. Patterned shingles, bay windows and fish-scale siding are also common features of these homes.

Mediterranean, Contemporary, Tudor, and French

Another popular style is Mediterranean, which is prominent across the South. A low-pitched, tile roof that is often red is the most distinctive characteristic of these homes. Mediterranean-style homes are often stucco, and include arched windows and columns.

Contemporary-style homes defy the rules and embody many different styles and shapes. Some common characteristics include asymmetrical design, little ornamentation, large expanses of glass, and bold geometric shapes.

The Tudor style draws loosely from late Medieval English homes. Most Tudor homes have stucco or masonry exteriors accented by ornamental half-timbering, massive chimneys, and steep gable roofs. Other common features include arched entries and tall, narrow windows in groups.

Copper-top bays, corner quoins, paned windows, shutters, and arches with decorative keystones above windows and doors are all features common in French-style homes. These homes are usually brick or stucco.

The above list is only a sampling of the myriad styles available on the market today.

A century ago, the exterior styles of homes stuck very closely to a given set of rules based on the region of the country and the era. As people move around, the exteriors of homes are starting to draw from more than a single style and time period. Few new homes are a "pure" representation of an exterior style. Instead, many homes built today feature characteristics from a number of regions and time periods.

Take a look at as many as you can, and enjoy the variety of choices available.

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