What Style is That House?
For years I had driven through a quiet, tree-lined street in my neighborhood and marveled at all the amazing homes with wide covered porches, interesting roofs, and windows. It was only a few weeks ago that I learned I was passing through a street that was a treasure trove of beautiful, well-maintained American Foursquares.
It’s a common experience for most people to be drawn to certain house architectural styles and not know much about them. The classic favorites – Colonials, Cape Cods, and Craftsman homes – are frequently mentioned on television shows and magazines on architecture and design. However, other appealing and fascinating house styles are increasing in popularity throughout the country.
Based on an analysis of home sales in more than 100 major metro areas compiled by real estate database companies, we will explore the styles that are now on the radar of many Americans. These styles appear in a number of “most popular” surveys conducted by home design and architectural magazines and real estate, construction, and online journals.
What Are the Different Architectural Styles of Homes?
As you go through this guide, you will learn more about house styles and their defining features, the differences between each style, and the variations within the designs. Most importantly, it may inspire you to choose your dream home.
We dig into the following architectural styles:
Modern (Contemporary) Farmhouse
From its humble beginnings as a home built of sod, the farmhouse has evolved into a modern and sophisticated structure with simple lines, an uncluttered look, and a welcoming, relaxed, comfortable vibe. People credit the Fixer Upper – or Joanna Gaines – effect for catapulting the farmhouse into one of the most popular and sought-after styles in the U.S.
Whether it’s the two-story classic rustic farmhouse or the contemporary version, this historic style features simple, vertical lines and wood exteriors reinforced by flat wooden boards. In two-story farmhouses, bedrooms are usually on the second floor, although some designs have master suites on the first level.
Other defining characteristics include
• A wide wrap-around covered porch, the signature feature of the farmhouse
• Large and spacious kitchens
• Fireplaces that provide warmth and comfort
• Gable roof
A classic two-story Farmhouse style home – with three bedrooms and 2.5-bathrooms – features a wide covered porch anchored by stone-based columns and a gable roof with dormers. The 3,289-square foot home also comes with large windows, two fireplaces, and a spacious kitchen with an island and a breakfast nook (Plan #165-1090).
For a 21st century look, add modern touches like glossy accents, and neutral color schemes such as cream, beige and gray. You can also mix and match vintage and contemporary furniture for comfort and style. Use a combination of natural elements – wood with stainless steel. How about stainless steel for the apron sink, appliances, and hanging light fixtures?
Step into the inviting covered front porch of this spectacular one-story contemporary Farmhouse style house and feel its warmth and relaxed comfort. The stylish home features 2,484 square feet of heated and cooled living space; three bedrooms, each with a walk-in closet; 3.5 baths; a stunning Great Room; a covered rear porch; and a patio (Plan #106-1326).
Very popular on the West Coast, especially in the Palm Springs area, the Mid-Century Modern style emerged during the Post World War II years – a period when growing families were looking to settle into new homes. To meet the skyrocketing demand, developers mass-produced “cookie-cutter homes” that were comfortable but lacked character and charm.
But Joseph Eichler, a New York City developer inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright, stepped into the picture and started building well-crafted, light-filled, and affordable homes in the Mid-Century Modern style for Post World War II American families. The Eichler homes had large rooms, open space, building materials like steel and metal, and a general aesthetic that was incredibly modern and futuristic.
Top: Large glass windows and open spaces create a dramatic light-filled atmosphere for this dazzling one-story Mid-century Modern style home with 2,331 square feet of living space. The house has two bedrooms, two baths, a family room, a mudroom, a den, and a kitchen with a kitchen island and peninsula eating bar. Bottom: Typical of the Mid-century Modern style are outdoor spaces that integrate nature with the home – as in this terrace just off the kitchen (Plan #202-1011).
Mid-Century Modern homes are generally one-story structures with an open concept layout (which was rare at that time); a clean, minimalist aesthetic; flat roofs; large floor-to-ceiling windows; and angular structures.
Other dominant characteristics include
• Sliding-glass doors that allow light to enter rooms from different angles
• Changes in elevation (small steps between rooms to create split-level spaces)
• Outdoor living spaces to bring the outside in
• Rooms that have multiple outdoor views or multiple access points.
This home style may include atriums, skylights, and indoor or outdoor pools.
Inspired by the historical art and design movement of modernism in the 1920s, modern architecture emphasizes function, simplicity, and innovative construction technologies, particularly glass, steel, and reinforced concrete. Modern style homes are characterized by clean lines, flat roofs, and flexible open interior spaces.
You can expect to see these other features in a Modern house plan:
• Rectangles and other geometric shapes in the design
• Minimal ornamentation and decor elements
• Large windows
• Vaulted ceilings
• Lots of glass
• Integrated outdoor spaces like a porch, patio, or balcony
• Neutral color palettes
This type of architecture is different from contemporary in that it follows a consistent approach in design. It is a defined style that doesn’t change, while contemporary simply refers to the latest design trends and borrows from other architectural home styles.
Top: Clean lines, balance, and interesting geometric shapes add to the curb appeal of this stunning two-story Modern house with a roof terrace. The 2,562-square-foot home features an open floor plan with three bedrooms and 3.5 baths, with a main-floor master bedroom suite and junior suite. Bottom: This lush courtyard behind the garage is a private oasis with a swimming pool, grilling area, and covered lanai (Plan #117-1121).
Unlike other styles defined by a distinct design and a time period, contemporary architecture is more free-form and fluid and combines different architectural styles. As the “style of the moment,” it’s an example of evolving designs of the 21st century, and it incorporates the latest trends and popular features.
While it continues to change, there are specific characteristics that distinguish the Contemporary style. Typically one to two stories with the master suite on the first floor, these houses also feature the following elements:
• Shallow-pitch roofs
• An irregular, asymmetrical facade
• Large windows that allow a lot of natural light into the space
• Clerestory windows
• Geometric shapes
• Mixed materials – usually wood, brick, stone, stucco – on the exterior
• A open floor plan
• A flexible layout to suit the family’s needs
• Use of natural or recycled materials
• Ecosystems for plumbing, heating, and air conditioning
This dazzling two-story, 3,587-square-foot Contemporary style home packs charm and appeal in its stunning asymmetrical facade, different levels and shapes of the roof, and stone-stucco-wood combination on the exterior walls. The home includes three bedrooms, three baths, two half baths, a covered porch, sundeck, a main-floor master suite, a mudroom, and main-floor laundry (Plan #161-1106).
Images of the quaint English countryside, fairy tales, and picturesque storybooks come to mind when the Cottage style comes up in design conversations. Usually a modest, small structure, these houses gained popularity in the U.S. during the 20th century (the 1920s and 30s); and are a great option in seaside, mountain, or lake areas.
Informal and comfortable, with modern touches that make it functional and efficient, a Cottage style home is generally a one-story or a one-and-a-half story structure, with two to three bedrooms and one to two baths. It is ideal as a primary residence, a vacation home, or an in-law dwelling.
This delightful Cottage style home is a wonderful sight with its cozy and inviting front porch bordered by the short white fence and courtyard filled with colorful blooms and shrubs. The one-story, 1,277-square-foot home – with a simple gable roof of asphalt shingles – has an open floor plan, three bedrooms, and two baths (Plan #178-1248).
Typical features include
• Open floor plan, often with an inviting hearth and kitchen
• Brick, stone, or stucco exterior walls
• Gable roof
• Covered front porch and balcony
• Arched doors
• Casement windows with multiple small panes.
Described as pure Americana, the Country style is perhaps the single most popular house design in the U.S. With its wide covered porch, dormers, and shutters, the Country style home evokes idyllic images of simpler times and tradition.
From farmhouses to cottages, cabins, and vacation homes, the Country style includes a wide range of designs. While it has a relaxed and cozy feel, it can also be elegant and stylish – and comes with all the modern touches, color palettes, and technology.
Imagine yourself on a lovely summer’s day relaxing on the wrap-around porch of this magnificent six-bedroom, four-bath Country style home. Take in the beautiful outdoor views and all the delightful features of the one-story residence, including the gable roof and dormers (Plan #193-1017).
In addition to the signature wide front porch that overlooks a landscaped courtyard, this style home has these basic features:
• Gable roofs
• Windows with small panes
• Exposed wood beams
• Brick-stone-wood exterior
• Large kitchen with a walk-in pantry
The elegance of Old World charm and the modern conveniences of the 21st century come together seamlessly in European homes. A popular home architectural style that brings together the influences from England, France, and Italy, this style is adaptable to every region in the country. While commonly perceived as majestic homes and large manor estates, they come in a broad range of sizes.
Top: The arched entrance, landscaped front courtyard, the asymmetrical exterior facade of rock and stone – and especially the steep, asphalt-shingled roofline – are the eye-catching features of this stunning two-story, 4,376-square-foot European-style home. The four-bedroom, 4.5-bath residence has a main-floor master suite with a sitting area and a library, formal dining room, and family room. Bottom: From the front porch of this gorgeous European style home, you walk into a two-story vaulted foyer and the curved staircase that leads to the second floor (Plan #198-1054).
Among the style’s fascinating elements are steep roofs, mini-towers, and turrets, elaborate woodwork (Victorian homes, anyone?), as well as amazing exteriors and courtyard entries. European plans are typically one-and-a-half to two-story structures and may also come with basements.
Here’s a closer look at other features:
• Stucco, brick, wood, or stone exteriors
• Asymmetrical facades
• Steep rooflines, often with clay tiles
• Arched doors and huge windows, dormers, decorative woodwork
• Vaulted ceilings
• Open floor layout
• Fireplaces and landscaped inner courtyards
• Grand foyer with sweeping staircase
• Elegant formal rooms such as conservatories and salons
Typically used as a vacation home in a seaside or lake town, Coastal style homes come in a wide range of designs and sizes. From simple cottages to modern beachfront residences, Coastal architecture speaks to those who love a relaxed lifestyle and want to take in their surrounding views.
Designed as one-story or multi-level structures, they typically include a raised or pier foundation as protection from rising tides and flooding when placed near a waterfront. Special paint, siding, and different building materials are also necessary to weather the climate and withstand saltwater erosion.
This amazing three-bedroom, 2-bath Coastal house plan perfectly illustrates the “pier and pile” foundation – with a raised level for “underground” parking and storage. The home has an open floor plan and features a large master suite with a private deck for waterfront views. (Plan #116-1085).
What are the other architectural elements of a Coastal home?
• Open floor plan
• Porches (stacked, wrap-around, and screened), decks, and balconies that provide terrific spaces for outdoor living
• Lots of large windows for natural light and cross-ventilation
• Stucco, concrete, aluminum/vinyl/wood siding for exteriors
• Asphalt shingle, tile, and metal roofs
Not all Coastal homes need a stilt base – as long as they are located far enough inland as in this magnificent two-story, 5,653-square-foot home with contemporary Southern Colonial touches. The gorgeous home features five bedrooms, five baths, two half-baths, stacked porches with ceiling fans, and is accessed through large French doors. There’s an elevator, swimming pool, a home office, library, and in-law suite (Plan #175-1243).
While inland Coastal homes are not usually built on a pier foundation, beach or seaside homes more often than not feature a main living area that is raised one level. These homes are all about taking in the beautiful surroundings – the ocean views, warm breezes, plants, and nature in general.
Beach homes usually come with stylish outdoor living spaces like roomy wrap-around porches, verandas, sundecks, private master balconies, and outdoor kitchens.
Other features include
• Open floor plan with spacious Great Room
• Informal and relaxed interior with comfortable furniture and accessories
• Large windows that provide spectacular views
• Master suites and bedrooms with private decks and balconies
• Extra storage space.
This charming, cozy two-story Beachfront home comes with an open floor plan, front and rear covered porches, and two bedrooms with two baths. The upper-level master bedroom suite has a private covered "watch" deck for relaxing and great water views (Plan #116-1089).
How about a mix of Colonial style, Country, Cape Cod, Georgian, Ranch, Saltbox, Tudor, and Victorian for your house? Considered the most common house style in the United States, the Traditional style is also the most difficult to describe because of its mix of many classic designs.
With its simple gable and hip rooflines, attractive dormers, and welcoming front porch, this impressive one-story, 3,194-square-foot Traditional home shows some of the signature features of the style. The brick and wood siding and the symmetrically balanced windows give the house significant curb appeal. The home includes four bedrooms, 3.5 baths, and a bonus room above the three-car side-entry garage (Plan #142-1167).
Designed to accommodate the American way of life – practical, flexible, accessible, comfortable, and welcoming – the Traditional style has a number of features that emphasize these concepts. Typically one-level structures – but can also be two or three stories – the Traditional home’s basic elements include:
• Open floor plan with Great Room for family gatherings
• Open island kitchens for cooking meals together
• Simple, often hip rooflines
• Symmetrically spaced windows, dormers
• Some combination of brick, stucco, and wood (vinyl) exteriors in soft neutral shades and earth tones
• Covered porches, open foyer, simple entryway
• Loft and/or bonus room
• Fireplace, sunroom, home office, recreation/entertainment space
Classic with a contemporary twist. That’s the Transitional style, which mixes the traditional and the modern to create a balanced and sophisticated space in harmony with the tastes and lifestyle needs of the homeowner. It’s all about bringing various architectural home styles and designs together in a cohesive fashion to facilitate modern living with main-floor living to facilitate the transition for empty-nest or retirement living.
Basically, it’s taking Colonial, Cape Cod, and/or Farmhouse style from the traditional design by adding varied rooflines, a metal roof, wide overhangs, a vertical or angled wood siding, and lots of glass to give it a more contemporary look.
A short front porch with exposed wood beams, a metal roof, and lots of large-paned windows give a new updated look to a Country Farmhouse. Inside the charming four-bedroom, 2,742-square-foot home Transitional style home is luxuriously modern features: an expansive Great Room that opens to a chef’s kitchen equipped with an island, an eating bar, tons of counter space, a butler’s pantry, and a walk-in pantry. The huge master suite is vaulted and split from the other bedrooms (Plan #142-1185).
Among the Transitional style’s distinct qualities are cleaner lines, sleek profiles, and open floor plans. Also, look for:
• Main-level master bedroom suites
• Courtyards, covered outdoor rooms, and balconies that connect the interior to the outdoors
• Transom windows and windows that wrap around corners
• Industrial elements such as metal roof, vertical siding, and grid railing
• Contrasting color tones and shades in both the exteriors and interiors
• Stone block and/or brick, often with vertical wood siding, in the exterior facade
The Transitional home’s interiors feature more options for flexible space that can adapt and change according to lifestyle needs. And because it’s not as defined as other home designs, it’s more adaptable to technology and sustainable elements.
A big hit in areas with temperate climates – especially the West Coast – the Tuscan style combines Old World appeal and a contemporary touch. Drawing inspiration from the Tuscany region of Central Italy – Florence, Pisa, Siena – Tuscan architecture is refined, distinctive, sophisticated, and comfortable.
Similar to the Mediterranean style, Tuscan designs usually feature stone and stucco exteriors, terra-cotta roof tiles, tall narrow windows with shutters, and enclosed courtyards.
They are also known for their
• Open floor layout
• Arched entrances, doorways, and windows that provide abundant sunlight and breezes
• Decorative ceilings with wood beams
• Color palette of warm tones, usually warm red, gold, olive green, ochre, eggplant, deep brown, and sky blue
• Informal interiors
• Large fireplaces bordered with stone for a medieval look
• Stone, granite, and marble floors.
A spacious, beautifully landscaped front courtyard is an inviting feature of this spectacular two-story Tuscan style home with rustic touches. Some of the distinct elements of the style on display are an arched entrance, terracotta-tiled roof, brick-rock-stone exterior facade, and a color palette of warm hues. The home - which spreads out on a 6,041 square-foot area - includes five bedrooms, four bathrooms, three half-baths, a main floor master suite, a media room, a wine cellar, and other amenities. (Plan #161-1026)
How small is small? The square footage most often quoted for small homes is less than 2,000 square feet or up to 1,500 square feet when it comes to house plans.
We’re not talking about tiny homes here – where everything has to be squeezed in 600 square feet or less. It’s surprising how much style and function you can pack into a 1,500-square-foot home.
Top: Look closely at this attractive one-story Country Ranch/Farmhouse style home that has a total of 1,185 square feet of space. As you can see, the size has nothing to do with its charming style and features. Step onto that cozy front porch and walk into the home’s open floor plan, which features three bedrooms, three baths, a master suite with a spacious walk-in closet and tray ceiling, and a kitchen with an island and eating bar. Bottom: The floor plan of the “small” home shows the split bedroom layout, sizable rooms, and social/entertaining spaces (Plan #100-1210).
While smaller in footprint and layout, this more affordable style focuses on simplicity, efficient design, and comfort. Across the board, small homes are attractive to the eco-conscious, to those with tight budgets, and to people looking for a space that’s easy to maintain and clean.
Small house plans are typically one-story or two-story homes with a main level master – or a split bedroom blueprint that separates the master suite from the other bedrooms.
The most common features include
• Open floor plan with a Great Room – kitchen/living/dining area
• Front and back porches, and patios that extend the living space to the outdoors
• Attached garage or carport
• Eco-friendly design
And the beauty of the style is that there are so many architectural designs to choose from – ranging from quaint Cottage style plans to Farmhouses, Craftsman, and many more.
Remember that you don’t have to be an architect to explore and appreciate these amazing house styles on the market. If you’re starting your search for your next home, use our advanced search tool and filter by the styles you love.
Footnote: The bottom left picture in the lead image of this article is a three-bedroom, 2.5-bath Transitional Farmhouse with modern touches. For more details on this eye-catching home, go to Plan #142-1180.