Looking for a Distinctive Home Plan? Here’s a Guide to Seven Top American Design Styles
Lots of terms get thrown your way when you are in the process of buying or building a home: Cape Cod, Queen Anne, Foursquare … and a lot more. But even if you know the word, you may not know exactly what a Foursquare looks like or what distinguishing features it has.
To make your quest for a new house plan a little easier, we have compiled seven of the most popular home architectural styles in America to help you decide which suits you.
Perhaps best known by the Swiss chalet expression of the style, A-Frame houses are popular as vacation homes (Plan # 146-2827).
Defining Features: A triangular shape; steep, angled roofline that often extends to or near the ground; large windows; deep eaves and gables
A Short History: Although A-frame architecture has existed for centuries, the best-known expression perhaps being the Swiss chalet, some of the earlier versions of modern A-frame homes in the U.S. were built in the post-WWII years by Wally Reemelin in Berkeley, California; the home and others like it garnered much attention for their unique architecture. The style quickly became popular across America as the “Leisure House” vacation home, thanks to John Campbell’s submission to Interiors magazine of the style as an “affordable and attractive design that engendered more initial interest in the triangular form than any other.”
Why It’s Popular: Many A-frame homes built in the 1950s and 1960s have been either demolished or remodeled to a point that the original style is lost, but there has been a resurgence in popularity in recent years due to its unique look. Homebuyers have begun restoring the few existing homes that had fallen prey to over-remodeling; they have also started building new A-frame-style homes that incorporate the classic features but add modern elements, like more bathrooms, and large closet space, and mudrooms.
2. American Foursquare
As its name implies, the American Foursquare style is square and therefore easier to build than other designs with more-complicated structures (Plan # 106-1183).
Defining Features: Boxy shape; often wide porch; large windows; two and a half stories; square rooms; hip roof
A Short History: This economical style, also called the prairie square in one variation, came into existence in the mid-1890s and remained popular until the 1930s. Its popularity was due to its affordability, as the homes tend to be small and easily built. In fact, many homes were built with prefab parts; as a result, there are numerous examples of the style around the country.
Why It’s Popular: Building an American Foursquare home is a relatively simple task (standard, repetitious framing), and one particularly suited to new families or young couples—it is less costly per square foot compared with other building styles and easy to build or modify. There are also many variants to the style, allowing for personalization of the home without breaking the bank.
3. Cape Cod
A good example of the Cape Cod Revival style, this home has dormers and a front porch, but no chimney. (Plan # 187-1006).
Defining Features: Simple, rectangular shape; steep gable roof; two to three rooms; one and a half stories; often a large central chimney
A Short History: Two versions of the Cape Cod-style home exist: the original 17th-century homes and the style’s revival in the 1930s–1950s. The original style comes from British colonists’ arrival in New England when they began building homes reminiscent of the “hall and parlor” style common in England, incorporating elements that could withstand New England’s severe weather. The term “Cape Cod” was coined by Reverend Timothy Dwight, president of Yale University, during a visit to New England in which he observed many homes built in this style. In the 1930s–1950s, the Cape Cod Revival began, and with it, a new take on the style. Architect Royal Barry Wills of Boston led the charge to modernize Cape Cods, while retaining its character in its gable roof, shutter-equipped windows, and chimneys.
Why It’s Popular: Its simplicity, practicality, and efficiency as a style are ideal as a starter home, but its form allows it to grow along with the family. For new home builders, its form can be easily adapted to be as large and luxurious as you like—but still hold onto its roots.
Georgian houses like this one tend to be larger and are therefore popular as “move-up” homes for those with growing families (Plan # 137-1322).
Defining Features: Symmetrical and balanced design; gable or hip roof with dormers; center hall and staircase; paired chimneys; multi-pane aligned windows; short, often covered porch
A Short History: This style—its name a nod to the succession of kings named George who ruled England during the 1700s—originated in England, becoming popular and remaining so throughout the 18th century. The Georgian architectural style was developed by architects Christopher Wren and Inigo Jones, among many others, and was influenced by styles of the Italian Renaissance, Gothic, Greek Revival, and more. It eventually fell out of favor, as do all styles, but has regained some popularity in the modern world.
Why It’s Popular: It hasn’t remained a popular style for no reason—there are still many homes being constructed in this style and many still remain, most often found along the Eastern seaboard. It evokes elegance and sophistication in its symmetry and stately appearance. Many Georgian-style homes are featured in Hollywood as the “typical mansion,” making it a desirable prospect for homeowners looking to upgrade.
5. Prairie House
Popular in Midwest and championed by famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright, among others, the Prairie style is popular across America and is one of the styles that has helped make open floor plans so ubiquitous (Plan #161-1085).
A Short History: The Prairie house style comes right out of the Prairie School, an architectural movement particularly popular in the American Midwest that occurred in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Although famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright is one of the most well-known champions of this style, it was architect Louis Sullivan who put forth the Prairie School style, which was, in turn, evocative of the Arts and Crafts movement of the 19th century.
Why It’s Popular: The Prairie house is a quaint Midwestern home, though its appeal has attracted homeowners from all across the country due to its open floor plan and appreciation of the surrounding landscape. Original Prairie homes are being restored, and new homes in this style have been constructed—all following the open floor plan and simplistic design of its predecessors.
6. Queen Anne
Though actually appearing at the tail end of the Victorian era, Queen Anne houses like this are thought of as quintessentially Victorian (Plan #126-1248).
A Short History: The Queen Anne style is one example of the effect the Victorian era had on the United States. It originated in England with architect Richard Norman Shaw and was later brought to America by architect Henry Hobson Richardson. Though at first, the American Queen Anne homes echoed England’s with its elaborate style and use of masonry, the style evolved to American tastes. More-open floor plans were designed, and wood shingles were used for the exterior, in contrast with the very compartmentalized, brick-and-stone construction of England’s Queen Anne houses. The style’s great popularity lasted only a few decades, from 1880 to 1910.
Why It’s Popular: Victorian houses are ornate and elaborate, offering a sophistication that many homeowners in suburbia (or even the big cities) desire these days. Many Queen Anne-style homes are large, offering plenty of space; however, new construction allows for smaller, quainter Queen Anne-style homes.
An American original, the Ranch style went somewhat out of favor in the 1970s but has experienced a resurgence in recent decades, especially among elderly homeowners because of its typically smaller size and lack of stairs (Plan # 129-1026).
Defining Features: One story; sometimes L- or U-shaped; open floor plan; large windows; sliding glass doors that open to a patio; low roof pitch; wide eaves; attached garage
A Short History: This is one of America’s own designs, first developed in the early to the mid-19th century in the Southwest (hence its other name, the California ranch) and modeled after the homes built by ranchers who were used to the intense heat in the region. These early ranch homes were indeed ranch homes in that they were located on ranches; their style was very much influenced by heat, as many were built with porches that extended the length of the home to act as hallways and allow for breezes and light while blocking the sun’s heat. A revival occurred in the 20th century when California architects Cliff May, H. Roy Kelley, and William W. Wurster, among others, adapted the ranch style to suit middle-class families. The designs were promoted, and soon the style spread across the country. Though sometimes mocked as a “simple” style, it was adapted to each region as it moved throughout America.
Why It’s Popular: Ranches fell out of fashion by the ’70s, pushed aside by home styles that were much larger and more elaborate. However, the typical open floor plan of a ranch remains incredibly popular among homeowners and homebuyers today. The ranch style—with modern versions often sporting steeper roofs and ornamentation like window shutters and flower boxes—has recovered in popularity, and preservation groups are now seeking to restore these homes to their original glory.
So now that you have a better understanding of some of the more popular architectural styles, you’ll be prepared to focus your attention on what suits you and your family as you search for your own dream house plan!