ou have to know what you want before you go searching for it--especially if you’re house hunting. You can spend hours scrolling through realtor’s pages and browsing Zillow, but until you have an idea of the type of house you’re looking for you’ll find it difficult to narrow down your search.

If you’re in the market to buy a house, you’ve likely already heard a few common phrases thrown around, phrases like “ranch style” and “Craftsman.” What do they mean and how can they influence your decision making?

Most people have a vague idea of their preferred architectural style. Maybe you know you want big windows and sloping roofs--this leaves you with several styles to choose from, and seeing how your desired design elements interact with each other might further influence you.

Each style of architecture has its own story, its own pros and cons. Architecture is deeply influenced by history, with styles borrowed from other countries developing their own regional flair. For those interested in houses with their own stories and history, understanding the basics of architectural style will help you in your quest for the perfect house.

This crash course on American house styles will introduce you to America’s most enduring popular styles and walk you through the basics of their history and unique design elements.

10 Styles That Have Stood the Test of Time

The Houses Americans Love to Call Home

While some of these designs are unique to American architectural proclivities, many shapes are borrowed from other cultures and more classical design styles. Some of these styles are more well-known than others, while many have undergone revivals responsible for bringing them back into the spotlight.

Everyone has a dream home. Even if you’re not in the market for a new house or can’t afford to build your own, knowing what styles speak to you can help you cultivate a personal style that you can infuse into your own home.

a yellow colonial revival home with green shutters available for purchase
These houses, although large, have a simple layout that makes them easy to navigate and helps ensure a steady flow between the rooms. Image courtesy of Home Stratosphere.

Georgian or Colonial Revival

Developed between 1714 and 1830 and remaining a popular marker of class ever since, Georgian style houses are also known as Colonial Revival style homes in the United States.

Proportion and balance are the key-words here. Georgian style homes are designed based on mathematical rules determining optimal symmetry--windows must be proportionate to the rest of the house and rooms are often built as double cubes. The entryway is centered in the front of the house and most homes in this style are two stories high with evenly spaced and equal sized windows on both floors.

These houses tend to be large, many incorporating symmetrical wings flanking the main portion of the house. This style pairs well with a spacious circular drive and highly ornamented interiors. Historical buildings built in the Georgian tradition might even include secluded courtyards at the back of the house, perfect for elaborate fountains.

There are two distinct branches of Colonial architecture, influenced by geography. New England Colonial and Southern Colonial houses take Colonial design elements but modify them to fit the climate. Brick versus wood siding is one difference, as is ceiling height--Southern Colonial houses boast taller ceilings to maximize air flow.

This two-story saltbox is full of charm, with a mustard exterior and gently curved roof evocative of a cottage-style home. Image courtesy of Bob Vila.


Saltbox is a classic New England home style found throughout the East Coast. Characterized by simple fronts and a one-way sloping roof, this style was originally created as a way to make existing houses larger. The simplicity of the design made it perfect for renovations while the sloping roof is compatible with harsh New England winters.

Modern houses often borrow the simplicity and clean lines of saltbox houses to create aesthetic contemporaries to the classic design. Since saltboxes used to be popular with farmers, many historical homes still reside on large plots of land, perfect for those looking to establish small scale farms or seeking room to expand.

The sloped roofs of saltbox style houses also make them uniquely compatible with solar panels, the ultimate exterior ornament for the environmentally conscious homeowner.

The wrap-around porches and wide steps common of the Craftsman house make for an inviting exterior. Image courtesy of Home Stratosphere.


The Arts and Crafts movement that swept through the United States at the beginning of the 20th century was a direct response to the Industrial Revolution and the rise of prefabricated, mass produced commodities. The Craftsman style is designed to emphasize craftsmanship and raw materials--exposed beams are frequently featured in the design.

Low, gabled roofs and plenty of porches and terraces to facilitate a flow between interior and exterior are staples of the Craftsman style. These homes are cozy and functional--thick window trim, built in bookcases, and stone fireplaces are often featured.

Ranch houses are the predecessor of shotgun houses, so named because the single story, linear layout enables one to have a clear shot from one side of the house to the other. Image courtesy of Home Stratosphere.


Ranch homes are efficient, with open layouts and a rambling one-story frame. Big picture windows and sliding glass doors are often included, as are some design elements associated with Craftsman style homes like exposed beams.

Ranch homes rose to popularity in the mid 1900s and were developed primarily along the West Coast. These asymmetrical homes have now spread across the country and are still charming house hunters with their casual, informal design.

These houses are a stark contrast to more elaborate or classical homes, but have been steadily rising in popularity due to their energy efficiency, accessibility, and status as a family-friendly house. Many also incorporate attached garages, an added bonus for those without the land space for sheds.

These houses look like they come straight out of a storybook, even when found in the heart of a city. Image courtesy of Home Stratosphere.

English Cottage

These charming little houses are straight out of a cottagecore aesthetic--English Cottage style homes are cozy and charming, evoking rustic simplicity and an escape from urban living. Many of these homes feature stone detailing and whimsical floor plans heavy on small rooms and window seats.

While you can of course scale up a cottage to create a hybrid mansion, traditional cottages are of a more modest size, which led to their being marketed as vacation homes. What’s great about these story-book worthy homes is how fun they are--with an English Cottage you have the chance to create something unique, a welcome contrast to the rigid symmetry and restrictive design of many other styles.

Cape houses feature a centered door flanked by windows, oftentimes topped by a column-supported roof. Image courtesy of House Beautiful.

Cape Cod

The Cape Cod is a classic, simple, cozy house imbued with a nostalgia and aura of Americana. When people dream of the quintessentially American white picket fence, the Cape Cod is usually the house beyond the fence.

Cape Cod’s incorporate the warmth and coziness of the cottage with the no-frills exterior of the saltbox. Manageable and timeless, this home adapts itself to any stage of life.  

Detached garages are a popular, modern addition to historical federal houses. Image courtesy of Classic Colonial Homes.


In the 18th and 19th centuries, Federal style houses were the preferred homes of the rich and famous. Although the shape is simple, there are plenty of design elements that can be included to make this design much more lavish--four chimneys, for example.

The doors and windows of Federal style homes are arranged symmetrically as in Colonial architecture, often with double shutters adorning the windows and column supported roofs over the main entryway.

Made predominantly of brick, Federal style houses are often found in cities and arranged into townhouses. No matter where they’re located, homes in this style are sure to include fanlights, the decorative semi-circular windows found over doorways.  

Turrets and circular rooms are the ultimate design challenge, forcing many to answer the age-old question: can you fit square furniture in a round room? Image courtesy of ThoughtCo.

Queen Anne

The Queen Anne style of house is an elaborate interpretation of the Victorian style, frequently featuring gingerbread decoration or ornate iron grillwork as an homage to the Industrial era in which these houses rose to popularity.

These romantic houses often have turrets and bay windows, although the style is so eclectic that specific elements are often combined in different ways. In some renditions of the Queen Anne style, spindles are replaced with columns, and thick porch posts replace the lacy and fancifully worked posts popular in spindle-equipped homes.

These houses can be made of wood or brick or even stone--the most important and attractive element is their elegance and borderline excessiveness.

Mediterranean homes often have a more organic shape than British-inspired homes, with curves and arches that mix well with plenty of greenery. Image courtesy of Home Edit.


Inspired by Italian, Greek, and Spanish architecture, Mediterranean style homes are built of white or brown stucco and are topped with those iconic red tiled roofs. They feature arched doorways and windows, heavy doors, and wrought iron accents.

The houses were originally made popular by West Coast elites looking to emphasize their wealth and so many historic houses feature large courtyards with fountains and citrus trees as natural ornaments. These homes are great for gardens, since their shape leaves plenty of spots for smaller garden beds and accent trees.

Central heating and electricity make log homes even more charming than they were two centuries ago, when they lacked even running water. Image courtesy of Architectural Designs.


Log houses have been growing in popularity, their rustic charm receiving modern updates that take this style from vacation cabins to forever homes. Spacious layouts and squared logs help adapt this style to meet the needs of modern families while the raw, natural look still carries with it the charm associated with log homes of yore.

Many of these houses use natural materials like wood and stone throughout the interior as well as exterior, helping to prevent off gassing associated with synthetic materials. Wholesome and comfortable, log houses look best when surrounded by wooded areas and equipped with a deep porch perfect for rocking chairs.

Exploring home styles can have a big impact on your house-search--some styles are more prevalent in specific areas, meaning you might want to narrow your search down to regions filled with the style of your choice.

While some might find themselves won over completely by one style or another, there are those who prefer to design their own houses, mixing and matching different elements to create unique, fun homes. First step: knowing what you want. Second step: finding it!

Nov 16, 2020