Thursday, July 25, 2013

Historical Preservation, Your Property and Your Community Part I: Determining the Architectural Style

Most people think that historical preservation is just maintaining the original splendor of castles, battlefields, mansions, and other important buildings. However, some of the most important historical preservation is being done on a smaller, more local scale. The heart of historical preservation is not just to protect national monuments and relics, but largely to protect local stories. Every region in every country has some story to tell, whether it happened 60 years ago or 600 years ago. These stories are important and that is what historical preservation seeks to protect. Local preservation has become extremely important in the last few years. Whether it is an old house that has been in your house for years or a local storefront that dates back to one of the gold rushes, it is important to try to restore these historical buildings into their original state.

This past week I was participating in a Youth Heritage Project in Ebey's Landing National Reserve in Western Washington. Throughout the week I explored options to help restore both the cultural and natural environment within the reserve. Over the next few days I hope to show you some of what I have learned, from re-glazing old windows to maintaining the original environment around your property.

In Part I I am going to cover one of the most important parts of restoring or putting an addition on an old building, determining the styles that influence it.

The buildings made before the suburban movement at the end of WWII were significantly unlike those made today because they were usually made to match a specific style or local flair, while today's houses are more a mixture of many styles. When planning to remodel or put an addition on an old house it is important to research what styles were used and incorporate those into your design. There are many designs that have been used throughout American history and across the country. I am going to highlight a few of the most common building styles in America. However,  it is important to remember that there are others and that many styles have multiple subdivisions.

Cape Cod Style

Cape Cod House

While this style is hard to find outside of New England it is still very common and is one of the quintessential styles of early America. The style was commonly built along the New England coasts from the 18th century to about 1810. Cape Cod houses usually have one story with an attic, which original owners would have rented out to seafarers. Other common features of the Cape Cod style include:
  • a large, central fireplace with a chimney in the middle of the roof.
  • a steep gable roof, often with two or more dormers
  • one or two double hung window to either side of the door
  • shingled siding
  • narrow staircase inside house
  • shutters on windows

Federalist Style

Mansion built during the Federal Period
Federalist style house

This is one of the oldest national architectural styles in America. It was common in New England, the Middle Colonies, and the Northern Chesapeake from the 1780s until the 1830s. The style relies heavily on brick construction, as clay soil is very common on the east coast. Other common features of the style include:
  • symmetrical patterns of double hung windows
  • a fanlight over the door
  • crowning around the roof
  • elaborate molding around the front door
  • a raised foundation
  • slender columns
  • a two story high and two room back "four by four" layout 

Gothic Revival

Gothic Revival House

During the Gilded Age, between the Civil War and about 1900, American Architecture borrowed heavily from European styles. One of those styles was Gothic Revival. Gothic Revival was first introduced in Europe by British Author Horace Walpole in the 1700s. It became extremely popular in America after the 1850s. One of the key features is the use of large, pointed windows. Other features of the style include:
  • the use of small shingles
  • increasing use of stone as an exterior building material
  • a steeply sloped gable or mansard roof
  • the use of ornate dormers
  • the use of decorative shutters
  • the use of elaborate molding over doors, windows, and along the edge of the roof.
  • a large, covered porch with elaborate columns
  • chair rails throughout the house with ornate crowning and grand doorways
  • large buildings of this style may even have a tower or parapet


a rural house that features the italianate cupola and wide eaves as well as a wrap-around porch
Italianate mansion

One of my favorite styles to form in America, Italianate architecture combined the gentile feel of the Victorian period with the grand designs of Italian villas. Italianate architecture was inspired by the work of the architect Andrew Jackson Downing, who used the style in his book Cottage Residences (1842). There are two forms of Italianate architecture, the rural form, which was directly inspired bu Downing, and the Urban form, which was adapted to fit rows of houses. The main feature of both rural and urban Italianate houses was the presence of a large, overhanging eave with decorative cornices, often coupled into pairs. Other features of this style include:
  •  the use of ornate windows and doors which were sometimes framed with iron
  • a low sloping roof. In rural houses it was often a hip roof with a cupola on top
  • A large porch. In rural houses it wrapped around the house while in townhouses it often covered the extent of the front
  • houses commonly had curved windows or narrow windows with elaborate trim
  • the use of windows on doors became popular in the Italianate movement
  • bay windows were often used in townhouses, but can also be seen in rural homes as well

Tudor revival

This house features half timbering on the sides and brick siding that is clearly Tudor Revival in nature
Tudor Revival house

 Toward the end of the 1800s and up until the great depression one of the overarching themes of all architecture was to model and improve off of old styles from days past. One of these prominent styles was Tudor revival.In Great Britain Tudor Revival style was characterized as modeling the grand castles and cathedrals of the Elizabethan era, while in America architects received their inspiration from the more tame Elizabethan cottage. The goal of the style was to move away from overly ornate houses and mansions in favor of more simple houses that were both beautiful and functional. One of the key components of Tudor Revival is the use of stucco walls with half timbering. Other features of the style include:
  • an asymmetrical design
  • brick siding in places
  • a steep, shingled, gable roof
  • a large fireplace
  • arched wooden doors, often unpainted so that the grain of the wood is emphasized
  • a use of cast iron on casement windows
  • the use of both dormers and overhanging second floors
  • a large, brick and scale chimney
  • a recessed, arched entryway
  • the windows were often found in groups of three

Mission Revival

This Mission Revival building features a large porch and a red tile rood
Mission Revival style building

This is another revival style that is mostly found in the southwestern states. It celebrated the heritage of the Spanish colonies found in the region in the 17th and 18th centuries. The style became popular as states such as California became very wealthy from gold mining. The style is still used today in the area for larger houses because it incorporates local materials. It is one of the easiest styles to recognize because it is one of the few styles used in America that doesn't have British, French, or Greco-Roman inspiration. The style features stucco siding with elaborate, curved parapets. Other features of the style include:
  • the use of exterior, covered walkways
  • the use of curved windows and doors
  • a small or medium sized tower, often used as decoration
  • recessed windows and doors
  • large, square or rounded columns
  • an exterior wall around the property
  • a red or brown accent on parapets and around windows, doors, and the foundation
  • a fountain can often be found on the property
  • a large, decorative window can sometimes be found over the door

Pueblo Revival

This pueblo style house is easy to categorize because of its flat roof, curves walls, and exposed timbers.
Pueblo Revival style house

Also known as Adobe style for its reliance on the material, Pueblo Revival style is interesting because it combines Native American themes with styles found along Mediterranean. Pueblo style became popular in California and New Mexico shortly after 1900 and was brought to Florida in 1920 by the famous aviator Glenn Curtiss and his partner James Bright. The style features stark, adobe walls with rounded corners and often exposed timbers. Other features of the style include:
  •  a flat roof with round parapets and built in rainwater spouts
  • deep window and door recesses
  • benches extending out of exterior walls
  • niches in the walls which were originally used to hold religious or family items.
  • small, simple windows
  • the use of heavy wooden doors 
  • a beehive style fireplace
  • waist-high walls that line exterior paths
  • a possible simple wooden porch
  • a second or possible third story that "steps up from the first one, leaving multiple levels of roofs.

Art Deco

You can tell by the dominant horizontal and vertical lines and ornamentation over the balcony that this building is made in the Art Deco style.

During the 1920s, architecture in America moved away from imitating other models as architects and artists started trying to idealize the American society as the greatest on Earth. The result was the Art Deco style, whose stark vertical and horizontal lines give it a decidedly upbeat rhythm. While the style can largely be seen in large buildings such as theaters and even skyscrapers such as the Chrysler building. However, the Art Deco movement still found its way into the construction of homes. Houses modeled after the Art Deco movement often were very asymmetrical with rounded sides and stark white or tan color. Other features of the style include:
  • the use of stucco on the walls
  • a flat roof
  • colored trim or decorative molding along the edge of the roof
  • many large windows across the house
  • the sparing use of brightly colored accents over doors or on a higher part of the building
  • the extension of the second story over the first
  • a lack of visible structure and support

Craftsman Style

The raised stone founation and wide eaves clearly denote this Craftsman house.
Craftsman bungalow

During the Art Deco age their was a recoil against the modern movement that sought to build picturesque cottages and bungalows that resonated with the classic American themes of Manifest Destiny and independent living. During this time houses were built out of wood and stone, and were made to look like the ideal country house by combining the styles used in the 1800s with modern structure and utilities. The resulting houses are known for there large eves and casement windows. Other features of the style include:
  • a covered porch with thick wood columns
  • exposed rafters in main interior rooms
  • the use of horizontal and vertical beams throughout interior that reduce the number of walls and create an open feeling
  • stone supports on the exterior
  • a large, stone chimney
  • dark siding and roofing contrasted with white or off-white trim
  • an asymmetrical design which often featured a broken gable roof
There are many other styles and variations that have been used across America since the colonial age. These are only a few that are very common.Whatever style you find that your house is will affect everything from the materials you use to what furniture and paint you use on the inside. However, remember that the house is still yours, and part of its history lies in you, so feel free to take some liberties and make it completely yours.

For a more exhaustive list of architectural styles in America click here

In Part II I will discuss how to decide whether to repair, restore, or replace a part of your house and how to go about that.

In Part III I will discuss how your community can get involved to help save any important building in your area.

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