A Look Inside This Classic Architectural Style with Roots in Early America
It ain’t much if it ain’t Dutch.
This is a common refrain from modern residents of the Netherlands, but it can also be used to describe one of the most popular Early American Colonial home layouts: the Dutch Colonial.
With less than a hundred years between its original and revival incarnations, this home design style offers all kinds of residents a fashionable, functional, and extremely livable space that's perfect for many different lifestyles and needs.
We’re here to delve into the history of this fascinating home style, explain its key features, and help you decide if it’s the right fit for you.
This classic-looking Duch Colonial style home has a gambrel roof, shed and gable dormers, and a front porch with a shed roof supported by columns anchored in brick foundation bases. The home is located in Tampa, Florida, but – although you may see the style throughout the country – you'll find most Dutch Colonial style homes in the Northeastern part of the United States (photo credit: Tampa FL Curtis House by Edbabe under license CC BY-SA 3.0).
What is a Colonial Style Home?
As the name of the style implies, a Colonial house generally dates to the mid-1600s–1700s in America.
Because of immigration patterns and population distribution at the time, these homes are the most common in the northeastern and southern parts of the United States. Finding an original colonial style home (i.e. a house not simply built to look like one) is very uncommon west of the Mississippi River.
The Colonial style follows the architectural design styles of the first immigrants to the New World, i.e., northern and western Europe, primarily Great Britain (of course), France, The Netherlands, and Spain. Great Britain and The Netherlands especially influenced the original colonies of New England and the Mid-Atlantic.
Classically Colonial in the Federal style of Jefferson and company, this 4-bedroom, 3.5-bath house seems imposing and huge, though it contains "only" 3270 sq. ft. of heated living space. Although it has "the look," it is not original and may even be considered transitional, with its master suite appearing on the main floor. True Colonial-period homes of more than 1 story almost always had the sleeping quarters upstairs, with the main floor reserved for meeting, eating, and relaxation rooms (Plan 178-1034).
7 Things to Look for in a Dutch Colonial
A Dutch Colonial style home is actually one of the easiest to spot, even to the untrained eye. That's because modern builders still incorporate the style’s main features, just as they were almost 400 years ago.
You might know the style by its more colloquial name “barn house.” But either way, here are just a few of the most distinctive features that each true Dutch Colonial style home should be sure to have:
1. Gambrel Roof
This is perhaps the most distinguishing feature of the style, so much so that you might often hear it called a “Dutch Roof” instead. A Gambrel roof is a roof with two sides, each of which has a shallower slope above a steeper one.
Sometimes, you might see a Dutch Colonial roof with flared eaves as well. An eave is the part of a roof that meets or overhangs the walls of a building.
These roofs were favored among the classically “cheap” Dutchmen for a simple reason: tax avoidance.
If you take a look at various American Federal Direct Tax records from the 1790s, you’ll see that homes with a Gambrel-style roof were still classified as one-story homes. That's because the second story had no attic above it; the upper level itself was considered the attic. Because of this, the ever-budget-conscious Dutch were able to sneak in an entire second story (or at least half of one) under the lofty ceilings while only needing to pay property taxes for a one-story building.
The main advantage of a gambrel roof like this one on a 3-bedroom, 3.5-bath Barn-style home in the Dutch Colonial tradition is the large amount of floor space possible upstairs with acceptable headroom. (In the case of this home, the designer chose to devote much of that space to a voluminous 2-story Great Room.) But a gambrel roof is also a strong design able to withstand heavy snow loads. Because there's no attic above, the design was popular among those in the know living in the Colonies to circumvent the property tax law by being able to claim the structure as a 1-story house (Plan #193-1102).
It’s similar to what one sees along the canals in the Old Country – homes there were taxed based on their width, not height. So the Netherlands is brimming with teeteringly-tall buildings, some of which hardly seem wider than a grown man’s shoulders.
Pretty smart, if you ask us!
These Dutch Colonial Revival buldings on Pearl Street in lower Manhattan, New York, have stepped gables typical of decorative Dutch architecture, but their slimness in relation to their height recalls the Dutch penchant for building narrow but tall to avoid high property taxes based on the width of a building (photo credit: Pearl Street by Decumanus under license CC BY-SA 3.0).
2. 1 ½ to 2 Stories
To be a true Dutch Colonial house, the structure cannot be only one story. There needs to be at least a sort of “loft” to create one-half of a second floor.
3. Classic Siding
To be a true Dutch Colonial, the siding needs to be wood clapboard, shingle, brick, or stone. Vinyl or other synthetic siding is not an option.
4. Distinctive Facade
The facade of a true Dutch Colonial may be truly symmetrical; however, it’s also pretty common to see side entries and the like – all features that provide a balanced strand of asymmetry.
5. Recognizable Gable Ends
Typically, this style of Colonial house will have chimneys on its gable ends, as well as decorative windows on each end to complete the look.
A quick reminder: a gable is the part of an end wall that encloses the vertical finished end of a sloped roof.
This home in Planifield, New Jersey, displays some of the characteristic features of the Dutch Colonial style: gambrel roof with flared eaves, painted wood shake siding, and distinctive gable end complete with masonry chimney and decorative windows (photo by Gmyersnj, Public Domain).
6. Prime Porch Location
If you love a cup of coffee on the front porch in the morning (or enjoy taking in the sunsets – depending on which way your home faces), then you’ll love this classic feature of the Dutch Colonial.
There is typically a porch under the overhanging eaves. And, as an added treat, it normally runs the entire width of the house. Along with the porch, you might also expect a decorative hood over the entryway, sometimes even with columns.
7. Dormer Windows
The windows in a Dutch Colonial home should be multi-light, such as six-over-one, six-over-six, or eight-over-eight, and have shed, hip, or gable dormers.
The front (top) and rear (bottom) views of a grand, luxurious Dutch Colonial style home is far from the simple, practical ideals of the original concept. It still, however, illustrates the some key features, including the gambrel roofs; the prime location front porch, which spans almost the entire width of the house (and continues to the back ro reveal a massive rear porch); shed dormers that extend off the top slope of the gambrel roof; natural siding materials; multiple chimneys; and recognizable gable ends (Plan #158-1297).
The Dutch Colonial style home has also inspired many more modern home layouts.
These include (but are definitely not limited to) the following styles:
A home with a barn's past history – or at least one designed in that style – feels timeless and modern at the same time. In fact, these homes often look like they stepped right out of an episode of Fixer Upper.
It wouldnt be mistaken for a Dutch Colonial, but this 4-bedroom, 3-bath home designed to evoke the classic, iconic red barn displays the influence of the style from the Netherlands in its well-executed gambrel rooflines (Plan #132-1656).
Some people might also call these homes Pole Barn house plans; however, they do have foundations (unlike a traditional Pole Barn). Barnhouse plans have clean, classic, and rustic outsides with a gambrel – or gable but never hip – roof and barn doors.
Country House plans tend to share a lot of similar characteristics with Cottage homes and Farmhouse style homes.
However, a true Country style house will tend to be a bit larger and have the more intricate and engaging wooden elements that you'd find in Dutch Colonial homes, like porch posts, siding, and trim.
Though not immediately apparent, this 3-bedroom, 2.5 bath home exhibits details "borrowed" from the Dutch Colonial style, including large multi-pane windows on the main level and smaller multi-pane windows upstairs, decorative trim treatments in the gable ends, the use of natural materials in the siding, and the shed-roof window bump-out, which echoes the iconic shed dormers of Dutch Colonials (Plan 142-1168).
As you might be able to tell from the name, a Traditional style home has all the “typical” features of a home, like formal living and dining rooms, often a den, a master suite, and guest bedrooms. They also typically have the spacious porches and built-in fireplaces of Dutch Colonial style homes. Traditional house plans can be one or two stories.
One could easily envision this stout 2-story, 4-bedroom, 3.5-bath Traditional style home as a Dutch Colonial if it had a gambrel roof because its width to height ratio is in keeping with the style, as are the multi-pane windows, gable-end detailing, and dormers – even though they're eyebrow dormers and not shed dormers (Plan #106-1181).
Short History of the Dutch Colonial Home
The term Dutch Colonial style derives from the wave of Dutch settlers who emigrated to the New World Colonies in the early to mid-1600s and began building homes in their new land in a similar style to those of the “Old Country.” They continued to build homes in this style until about the mid-1800s or so.
These settlers founded their new homesteads mainly in the modern states of New York – remember that New York City used to be New Amsterdam, but there were also many Dutch settlers in the Hudson River Valley – New Jersey, and Pennsylvania but also up into New Englands Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.
The Dutch were the “Old World’s” best masons. Because of this, we can’t be surprised that they quickly constructed sturdy new homes out of readily available brick and local stone. Due to its ease of livability and definitive style, the Dutch Colonial style home was one of the most popular classic home layouts.
However, as Dutch immigrant populations aged and were replaced by their American-born children, the style preferences of the region began to shift in favor of more “modern” layouts. So for almost 100 years after the mid-1800s, there were very few new Dutch Colonial style homes built anywhere in the country.
Top: Claimed to be the oldest house in Rhode Island, the Dutch Colonial style Henry Bull House was said to have been buillt – at least in part – in 1639. The gambrel roof, shed dormers, multi-pane windows, and chimneys are all standard features of the style. The house burned down at the end of 1912 (photo credt: Public Domain). Bottom: The Alexander Standish house in Duxbury, Massachusetts, is also in the primitive Dutch Colonial style. Purported to have been built in 1666, evidence seems to suggest that it actually dates from the mid-1700s (photo credit: Duxbury, MA, Alexander Standish House by Magicpiano under license CC BY-SA 4.0).
The Dutch Colonial Revival Home
In the early-to-mid-1900s, the style experienced a widespread revival. Dutch Colonial style homes began to pop up in more areas of the United States, and replicas continue to do so even today. We call these newer homes “Dutch Colonial Revival” style homes, as they were not built in the first wave. But the style was back and better than ever.
When purchasing (or building an imitation of) a true Dutch Colonial Revival home, there are a few classic things to look out for.
For example, the new wave of homes kept a few of the big classic characteristics (like the famous roof, siding options, and windows); however, a few of the other features changed to accommodate more modern living styles.
This contemporary 5-bedroom, 2.5-bath Traditional Country home is designed in the Dutch Colonial Revival style. It keeps the gambrel roof and shed dormer of the original style but little else. The advantage of the design, of course, is the roomy upper level, which houses all 5 bedrooms, including a master suite wtih walk-in closet and split bathroom (Plan #126-1069).
This means that these homes are often larger and have additional house wings, often sprouting from the sides or rear of the home. These newer homes tended not to revolve around the central hearth as much as their older counterparts because the new builders and residents had other sources of heat available.
This particular style was very popular throughout the 1920s, but during the hard times of the 1930s, the Dutch Colonial style again became rarer and rarer. It follows that it’s pretty difficult to find a true Dutch Colonial Revival home (and not just one built in a copycat style) built after the Second World War.
Top: This 5-bedroom, 5.5-bath luxury home has a definite contemporary Dutch Colonial Revival vibe. The three doors and walkways almost make it look like a multi-unit house, but the right-side door/walkway is the main entrance; the middle door is the laundry room/mudroom entrance, and the left-side door is an entrance to the side-facing garage. The stout stance, gambrel roof treatments, shed dormer, and wood shake siding pay homage to the Dutch Colonial Revival style (Plan #120-2600). Bottom: Not strictly a Dutch Colonial Revival home, this 4-bedroom, 3.5-bath Farmhouse borrows liberally from the style: Front-facing gambrel roof, shed dormers, wide covered front porch on the eave side, and stone chimney on the gable end. But it doesn't have the essential main gambrel roof (it's a gable roof) and the stout Dutch Colonial stature (Plan #201-1017).
If you’re looking for a definitively built home with ample amounts of privacy, livability, functionality, and charm, then you’re looking for a Dutch Colonial style home. These houses make great use of style and square footage, so they are both comfy and spacious. They are truly classic buildings and the perfect place to live.