Colonial Revival c.1880 – c.1955

The Philadelphia Centennial of 1876 is usually credited as the starting point for a rebirth of interest in the colonial architectural heritage of this country and the early English and Dutch houses of the Atlantic seaboard. It is not surprising that in celebrating one hundred years as an independent nation Americans proudly looked to the past for inspiration. The increasing popularity of colonial influences on contemporary architecture motivated a highly publicized tour of a group of architects in 1877 who observed and recorded Georgian and Federal houses of New England. These men would go on to form the well-known firm of McKim, Mead & White a year later. It was also this trip that influenced the first two landmark examples of the Colonial Revival style designed by the firm: the Appleton House in Lenox, Massachusetts, and the HAC Taylor House in Newport, Rhode Island. The simplicity of colonial designs and honest use of materials with more economical plans than the recently popular picturesque homes also contributed to the growing popularity of the style. Even a century after “modern” architecture was introduced, Colonial Revival motifs continue to be popular in new construction. 

Early Colonial Revival examples were rarely historically accurate, with exaggerated forms and elements which took inspiration from the details of colonial precedents. Georgian and Federal examples had the largest influence on the revival with elements such as colonial door surrounds, multi-pane sash windows, and cornice dentils on a symmetrical façade. Secondary influences came from First Period Post-Medieval English and Dutch Colonial examples, evident in gambrel-roofed examples or later Colonial Revival examples with second-story overhangs. More researched and accurate examples appeared between 1915 and 1935, aided by the publication of a large number of books and periodicals on the subject of colonial architecture. However, the economic depression of the 1930s followed by the Second World War led to a simplification of the style in later examples with stylized door surrounds, cornices, or windows merely suggesting a colonial precedent. 

Geographic Range: 

Domestic construction during the first half of the twentieth century was dominated by Colonial Revival examples in a multitude of various sub-types. Examples well-suited for domestic architecture can be found throughout the country. 

Typical Features: 

  • Accentuated front door with decorative pediment supported by pilasters or extended forward and supported by slender columns to form entry porch  
  • Fanlights and sidelights common; Palladian windows common  
  • Façade symmetry; centered door; aligned windows  
  • Double-hung sash windows usually with multi-pane glazing; frequently in adjacent pairs; multi-pane upper sash with single pane lower sash and bay windows (not historically accurate) were popular  
  • One-story wings, usually with a flat roof and commonly embellished with a balustrade  
  • Broken pediments, rare on original colonial structures popular in Colonial Revival examples  
  • Door surrounds tend to be shallow (less deep) than originals and exhibit machine-planed smoothness  
  • Dormers, often with exaggerated, eclectic pediments  
  • Masonry cladding grew in popularity as technology for using brick or stone veneer improved after 1920  
  • Gable, Hipped, or Gambrel roofs  
  • Details tend to be exaggerated with larger proportions than original elements  
  • Details from two or more types of colonial styles often combined so pure replicas of a particular style are far less common than eclectic mixtures  
  • Interior floor plans are not symmetrical and are more open than historic examples