When working with buyers, one of the first things you probably ask about is their wishlist for a new home. You may talk about such things as layout, size, and neighborhood amenities. However, for some buyers, a specific architectural style is at the top of the list. In that case, a solid grasp of some basic architectural concepts and movements will be an important part of signing that client.
In addition, if you are listing a home of a specific style, you’ll want to understand the features that make it unique so that you can highlight them in your photographs, property description, and brochure copywriting. Staging and home improvements for a unique style of property might also involve choosing fixtures, finishes, and design elements specific to the particular home’s style.
Architectural Concepts, Styles, and Movements
What follows is an overview of some of the most common and widely available architectural styles you’ll encounter when working with clients.
Dating from the 17th century, Colonial architecture is defined by symmetry, practicality, and a connection to local climate and readily available building materials. While we often think of the United States and Canada as British colonies, there were also Spanish, French, and Dutch colonial powers in charge in various parts of the country, so Colonial architecture will differ depending on the region.
Colonial architecture generally features a steep, gabled roof and an interior layout that is one room deep and opens from a central entrance. Depending on the climate, Colonial homes may feature a single, central fireplace or a fireplace at either end of the home. Homes feature small, multi-paned windows symmetrically arranged on either side of the entrance.
Inspired by the temples and public buildings of ancient Greece, Greek Revival was a movement in Europe and North America dating from the nineteenth century and featuring an even number of grand columns with an entablature above. The style became popular because of the early American connection between their own democracy and their democratic roots in ancient Greece.
Greek Revival homes are generally painted white in order to mimic the white marble of the originals. While the style is common in public buildings in many areas along the east coast, many of the Greek Revival-style residences that survive are located in the southeastern United States.
Dating from the late 19th and early 20th century, Victorian architecture remains a beloved and popular style in many areas. With ornate trim, asymmetrical design elements, and, in some markets, unusually bright or pastel paint colors, Victorian design is considered a fun and often-quirky style. The elaborate detail and often-expensive custom finishes reflect the Gilded Age wealth of the era.
Part of the charm of many Victorian homes is their layout, consisting of a variety of nooks and crannies, small rooms, side porches, turrets, and other interesting elements. However, for contemporary buyers used to open-concept floorplans, these can be seen as drawbacks. In addition, much of the hand-hewn custom woodwork in elaborate moldings trims, and mantels are costly to duplicate when making repairs or refurbishments. It is important to properly understand and appreciate these elements and their value when advising clients and determining value.
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Unique and romantic, Tudor architecture in North America originated in the mid-19th century and is easily identified by its dark wood beams set against a white backdrop as well as brick or stonework foundations, chimneys, and other architectural elements. Tudors can range from small, cottage-style homes to expansive and elaborate mansions. Windows are another distinctive feature of this style, usually small, multi-paned, and either rectangular or diamond-shaped.
Because Tudor homes are expensive to build and maintain, they fell out of favor in new construction after the affordable housing boom of the post World War II era, but they have never gone out of style. You’ll still find a Tudor dream home at the top of many buyer wishlists, and homeowners lucky enough to own their own will no doubt expect top dollar when it’s time to sell.
The Craftsman-style home is rooted in the early 20th century Arts and Crafts movement. With low-pitched gable roofs, generous porches with squat, square columns, and prominent structural elements, the style was traditionally used for bungalows. Now, however, sprawling, newly built mansions in the Craftsman style can be found in luxury neighborhoods all over the country.
Craftsman homes have a number of unique decorative elements including square light fixtures in decorative metals like copper and bronze, double-hung windows with multiple panes in the top and a single pane in the lower half, and built-in cabinetry and other practical elements. In order to ensure long-term value, any improvements or renovations should be in keeping with the Craftsman aesthetic.
Rambling 20th-century ranch-style homes are a fixture of neighborhoods all over the United States and Canada. Beginning on the west coast, the style became popular in an era when large lots and suburban sprawl ruled the architectural world. They come in a variety of configurations including L- and U-shapes which often are arranged around a central recreational space like a pool or terrace. In addition, open-concept floorplans are uniquely suited to the ranch-style home.
While some people love a second story, many others will be drawn to the style and simplicity of a ranch design. For older couples, the style offers the opportunity to stay put after retirement without worry about accessibility as they age. For families with young children, the lack of stairs can mean an easier and more worry-free lifestyle, and the location of many ranch-style homes in suburban neighborhoods is often desirable.
Mid-century modern is currently one of the most distinctive and highly sought-after styles of home. Because they were generally produced from 1930-1960, these homes are somewhat rare, and therefore more highly valued. Combining structural elements of the ranch-style suburban home of the post-War era with artistic and design flourishes impacted by the Modernist aesthetic, these homes are truly works of art.
Mid-century modern homes have a clean, minimalist aesthetic and often feature a neutral background with pops of color on doors, light fixtures, artwork, or furnishings. They are often low-slung and built to be part of the landscape, with an emphasis on the connection between indoor and outdoor living spaces. The aesthetic also requires similarly minimalist furnishings, especially those specific to the time period, so keep this in mind when staging and showing these homes for maximum impact.
Introducing new materials and a new profile, contemporary architectural styles draw on the minimalist influences of the modern aesthetic using metal and glass to make the home feel connected to the outside world. Current contemporary homes often have an emphasis on green, sustainable design, building, and operations.
Contemporary design is often seen as cold, especially with the emphasis on hard building elements. However, the most current contemporary designers favor the use of natural stone, wood, textiles, and greenery to warm up the look and to seamlessly integrate indoors and out.
Remember, while the architectural styles listed above are fairly common throughout the United States and Canada, some coastal, historically significant, and geographically isolated areas may have their own unique architectural styles and features. It’s worth familiarizing yourself with common styles in your area so that you can be as informed as possible when working with clients.