Everything You Need to Know About Colonial-Style Homes

Ginny Bartolone
Written by Ginny Bartolone
Updated September 15, 2022
Colonial style house
Photo: JenniferPhotographyImaging / E+ / Getty Images

From its symmetrical exterior to a traditional floor plan, colonial architecture is one of the most popular options for classic homes in the U.S.

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Between the 16th and 19th centuries, wave after wave of settlers brought their home architectural styles to the states—or soon-to-be states. While American Colonial homes came over with the British, similar styles developed from the Spanish, Dutch, and French over the next several hundred years.

If you're considering buying a home with this signature look, there are some key things to know about the colonial style.

What Do Colonial Homes Look Like?

Drive down any suburban street around Boston and you're bound to see an American colonial home. The houses are nearly symmetrical at first glance: They typically feature wood, brick, or stone siding, symmetrical windows, and a door front and center.

The roof pitches steeply down and may feature deep eaves, one or more gables, and windows with overhanging dormers. Step inside, and you'll likely encounter a sprawling staircase headed up to the second floor right in the center of the house.

Other colonial homes, while similar, include a range of unique accents and building materials depending on who built them and when or where they first appeared. The style even made a comeback in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Here's a quick rundown of how to spot most colonial homes:

Exterior

The outside of a colonial home ranges from country-rustic to regal and stately.

  • Two or three stories

  • Symmetrical facade (symmetrical windows, for example)

  • Multi-paned windows

  • Center front door

  • Steep roofs

  • May have gables

  • Siding is brick, stone, or wood

  • Centralized or alternate-ended chimneys

Interior

Nearly all colonial homes keep a traditional floor plan with even space on either side of the staircase.

  • Symmetrical floor plans and room layout

  • Staircase in the center of the home

  • Kitchen, living room, and dining room downstairs

  • Bedrooms upstairs

  • Fireplace in the center or at either end of the home

Colonial style house with flag
Photo: KenWiedemann / E+ / Getty Images

What Are the Main Types of Colonial Homes?

6 types of colonial homes, including american, cape cod and dutch

As mentioned, colonial homes developed as more people moved to the U.S. over the centuries. If you're looking to buy a new home, hiring a custom home builder, or are simply passionate about architecture, remember these unique details about each style.

American Colonial (aka British or English Colonial)

Depending on when it was built, American colonial homes range anywhere from large Lincoln Log cabins to the house from Little Women. Primarily, these early homes have a:

  • Wooden facade

  • Rectangular shape

  • Sloped roof (some in the saltbox style sloping forwards)

  • Set of symmetrical window

Cape Cod Colonial

The iconic look of a Massachusetts home (hence the name), the Cape Cod colonial typically has a sloped, saltbox roof. This term comes from the shape of colonial salt containers. These homes also include:

  • Between and three stories

  • Top story ceilings slant with the shape of the saltbox roof

  • Symmetrical windows

  • Wood siding

  • Cables or dormers over the windows

Dutch Colonial

If you're from the tri-state area, you'll recognize this style in a heartbeat. Typically featuring what is known as a gambrel roof, the barn-like top of the house splits down the middle with a steep slope on either side. Dutch colonials:

  • Are symmetrical

  • Are rectangular or topped with a triangle roof

  • Include a center or off-center door

  • May feature columns, outdoor porch, or prominent exterior chimney

Spanish Colonial

Head out west or deep into sunny Florida and Spanish Colonials become the style of choice. White stone walls, clay roofs, and wooden accents make it easy to distinguish. Overall, the style is:

  • Minimalistic indoors and out

  • May include colorful tile, brass, or wooden accents

  • Windows are small

  • May feature rounded doorways and window frames

French Colonial

French-style homes are most common in the South, particularly in areas such as New Orleans. While wooden siding is the most common choice in older homes, you may see stone in modern revivals. French colonials typically have:

  • Multiple, symmetrical columns

  • Large porches

  • Large windows across front and sides

  • Tall gabled windows

  • Highly sloped roof

Colonial Revival

Blend all these classic styles together and you get the range of colonial revival homes built between the late 19th century and today.

Depending on the preference of the architect, you may find a quaint suburban home with wooden siding, symmetrical windows, and a sloped roof. In more elaborate cases, large mansions may feature towering columns, tall gables, or elaborate entrance ways.

Where Will You Find Colonial Homes?

If you recall middle school American history, you can take a guess where each style of colonial home resides. "American" colonial homes—traditionally brought over from England—pop up around the Northeast and in the South. You typically won't find an early colonial style west of the Mississippi.

Dutch colonials can be found throughout the same region, but are more concentrated in the suburbs of New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania. French colonial homes are more common in the South, though you'll spot them in the midwest as well. Spanish colonials—perhaps the most unique on this list—appear in the Southwest, Florida, and California.

Lastly, you'll come across colonial revivals all over the country. As the style took off, luxury variations of the style melded with local architecture from coast to coast.

Choosing a Home Style

If you're just starting your hunt for a new home or are working with an architect for a new space, these classic styles provide inspiration from the U.S.’s past. Similar styles, like Georgian-style homes and Chalet-style homes, offer even more architectural accents from around the world.

In the end, it all comes down to choosing a space that reflects your personal style and welcomes you home at the end of the day.

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