Architecture is one of those things that surrounds us all, but we actually don't always notice it - or rather, we think we don't - until it's really bad. But the truth is, the spaces we inhabit affect every area of our life. We can be easily made depressed by lack of sunlight, brutalist shapes, or drab or dirty interiors. Similarly, when we live and work in appealing, bright, comfortable spaces, it confers dignity, peace of mind and contentment.
Our mental and physical health are measurably improved by good design - something that has been rigorously studied by the kinds of folks who publish in peer-reviewed journals. Indeed, companies that take time to make their offices attractive save money through lower staff turnover, and increase profits through higher productivity. Just as moving an addict into a dignified home improves their odds of staying in recovery, so theories like "defensive space" and "designing out crime" can make our streets more community-oriented, reduce crime, and improve public health. Architecture matters on a profound human level. We quit the cave lifestyle 10,000 years ago and we aren't going back.
That's why everyone has a baseline knowledge of architecture. You might not know an A-frame from a gable from a veranda, but you definitely can tell at a glance whether a structure looks ancient, modern, or something in between; what climate it was built for; how expensive it was; what it might cost to maintain; and probably which culture it hails from. You know, perhaps without knowing it, how to tell an English country cottage from an American ranch house from an Italianate villa. So let's put that knowledge to the test!
The American Craftsman, part of the American Arts and Crafts movement and philosophy, began at the end of the 19th century. Features in these homes include hand-crafted stone and woodwork, a low-pitched or gabled roof, a front porch and overall symmetry.
Colonial architectural styles differ a bit depending on the region of the country you're in, but American Colonial style homes have been built in the U.S. since the days of the Thirteen Colonies. The First Period of the style dates back to early British settlements in Virginia and Massachusetts, and includes steep roofs with large central chimneys.
The Greek Revival architecture movement, inspired by the style of early Greek temples, gained popularity in the U.S. and in Northern Europe during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Its most distinguishing characteristics are its tall (usually Doric) columns, interior and exterior moldings, and a low-pitched roof.
The ranch house is a 20th century architectural style that became popular after WWII, when vets were buying homes and starting families. The style commonly featured elements such as an open floor plan with an L-shaped or U-shaped layout, main living areas separated from bedrooms, and an attached garage. A ranch-style home with a finished basement is often known as a raised ranch.
The first Cape Cod homes, built in New England by early British settlers, were built for the elements. The rooms in this home are laid out around the large, central chimney. Its shingles are traditionally cedar, and the pitch of its roof is designed to shed snow.
Tudor Revival homes feature half-timbering, brick and stucco siding and steeply pitched roofs with dormers and overhangs. Indoors, you can count on one common characteristic: an oversized fireplace.
Art Deco isn't just an architectural style; it's a movement that includes architecture, design and the visual arts -- and when it first appeared after WWI, it was considered a representation of luxury and progress. Houses designed in this style often include elements such as flat roofs, dramatic exterior designs and smooth walls with rounded corners.
The exterior of Victorian homes often included elements such as ornate wraparound porches, decorative exterior trim, and were often multiple stories. Some Victorian homes had multifaceted gabled rooflines, many were pained in vibrant colors, and some even were designed with towers.
This type of architecture is inspired by elements of ancient Greek and Roman style. Many of the homes of this style were built in the early 20th century, and most were built on the East Coast. Its characteristics most often include an even number of grand features -- symmetry is important in this style, two-story columns, elaborate doorways, and a full-height front porch.
Today's log homes can be downright luxurious. But that wasn't always the case. When homesteaders settled in the American West, they were often constructed with simple tools, found timber and no nails -- and according to the Homestead Act of 1862, homes built by homesteaders had to be at least 10 feet by 12 feet in size with at least one glass window.
The concepts of Mid-Century Modern design are simple -- it includes elements such as clean lines and minimal ornamentation, the use of non-traditional materials (and juxtaposing those against more traditional ones), and the overall concept that less is more. But perhaps one of the most distinguishing characteristics of the style at the time it was introduced is its integration with nature and the outdoors.
At one time, wealthy British families kept two homes, the country house for getting out of town and the town house for the social season. Today, townhouses are long, narrow homes that are typically two or three stories high -- and here's one key characteristic: they are built side-by-side in a row of connected houses.
Spanish Colonial Revival-style houses typically have elements including a low-pitched tile roof, adobe or stucco exterior walls, and arched doors and windows. The style was most popular between 1915 and 1931. The two-story design, which followed, is known as the Monterey style.
Between 1780 and 1830, a new architectural style swept the U.S. -- and it included liberal use of the bald eagle symbol. These homes, often brick, typically had tall, slender columns, and curved steps. But the focus was on its ornate entrance.
American farmhouses built in early America had similar characteristics, including being a boxy house that was one or one-and-a-half stories, had a central or dominant fireplace, with thick walls, and small windows. Midwestern farmhouses were more likely to feature a large kitchen and a parlor, a front porch, and two stories of living space.
Although traditionally they'd been used for more utilitarian purposes in China, Europe, and South Pacific islands, the first modern-day A-frame house was built in Lake Arrowhead, California, in 1934 -- and by the 1950s, Americans were constructing A-frame vacation homes. They were even, for a time, sold as kits by Macy's department stores.
One of the most famous examples of this architectural style is New York's Plaza Hotel. Another is Tony and Carmella Soprano's McMansion. French Provincial style is inspired by rural manor houses of the 1600s, these brick homes have steep roofs, tall second-floor windows with arched tops, and porches with ornate balustrades (those are the spindles).
Contemporary architecture is a broad term, but the homes that fall into this style do have similar key characteristics. They rely on natural, sustainable materials that are nontoxic, low-emission, or recycled. They're designed to let the sun shine in -- with numerous and well-sized windows and skylights.
The Mediterranean Revival, which pulls from the Beaux-Arts, Italian Renaissance, Spanish Colonial, Spanish Renaissance and Venetian Gothic architecture styles, peaked in popularity among Americans in the 1920s and 1930s. Known for their red-tiled roofs and stucco exterior, these ornamental homes are most often found in Florida and California.
Cottages are most often small homes, typically one-and-a-half or two stories with cozy rooms and an oversized chimney. On the inside, they may feature built-in window seats, bookshelves, or display cases, and have a natural "lived-in" vibe.
Also known as a trailer home or a manufactured home as it's legally called, the mobile home is often part of land-lease communities. These manufactured homes are commonly available in two sizes, single-wide and double-wide. And while damage was once a big concern for these homes, those sold after 1994 are built to the same standards -- for construction, fire resistance, and wind resistance -- as homes built on-site.
Saltbox houses are a traditional style in New England, built by early colonists. These homes have a distinctive sloped roof, with two stories in the front but only a single story in back, and the home is constructed around a central fireplace.
This style of home is actually a subtype of the Colonial Revival architectural style. Originally popular in the 18th century, the Georgian Colonial style is defined by its symmetry and inspiration from ancient Greek and Roman architecture.
The classic characteristic of a chalet, or Swiss chalet, is its sloping roof with overhanging eaves. It was originally used to describe a mountain home in the Alps or other mountainous region, although today you'll find them anywhere, from mountains to beaches.
Modern architecture, or modernist as it's also called, is actually a group of styles that began to pop up throughout the first half of the 20th century and became a go-to style after WWII. It's often confused with Contemporary style, but the characteristics of the two aren't the same. Modern style homes use materials such as concrete and steel instead of wood and plaster, feature open living spaces, low-slung roofs, and have clean, geometric lines.
A key characteristic of the Dutch Colonial style is its gambrel roof. Traditionally the houses are built with clapboard siding and shutters, with a decorative entrance to the home.
Split-level homes, which began to pop up in American neighborhoods in the 1950s and 1960s, often have a casual layout, with a key characteristic: staggered floor levels. In fact, sometimes when you enter a split-level, you're actually between floors. For instance, in the entryway of a split-entry style, there are two short flights of stairs -- one heading up to the living space and bedrooms, while the other heads down into the lower living space (like a finished basement that's only partially underground).
If an igloo is correctly built, it can hold the weight of an adult on top without caving in. It's traditionally a dome, although there may be a short tunnel that functions as an entrance -- and keeps the heat in as people come and go. It may sound cold to live in a snow house, but consider this: When it's as cold as −49°F outside, body heat and the snow's insulating properties keep the temperature inside the dome as warm as up to 61°F.
Storybook houses have cottage-inspired elements, but what makes these homes what they are is the touch of whimsy. They're almost always brick or stucco with steeply-sloping roofs, and many feature rounded doorways and windows, turrets, and other charming details.
Its origins remain a bit of a mystery, but in the U.S. the "shotgun" house was first built in New Orleans in the early 19th century, and was typically home to low-income workers across the American South. These homes are unique because of their layout: houses are typically no more than 12 feet wide with two to five rooms arranged one behind the other, with the entrance and back door at opposite ends of the house.
Octagon houses were popular in the U.S. and Canada in the 1850s, briefly, after Orson Squire Fowler's book, "The Octagon House, A Home for All," was published. The most distinguishing characteristic about this style is that does, indeed, have eight sides, like an octagon. They also are built with a flat roof, except one famous for its domed roof, and often also have a wrap-around veranda. Today, there are only about 68 surviving homes listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
This style home began to emerge in the late 19th century in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Bay-and-gable houses are typically narrow homes, on narrow lots, on narrow streets. And as the name suggests, they feature a large bay window -- which goes all the way up the front façade of the house, and is topped by a gable.
What makes a Tidewater home unique is the focus on protection and shelter from the wet, hot climate as well as coastal storms and flooding. Not only are the homes built on supports to protect them from flooding, the large, wrap-around porches, a defining characteristic of the style, are protected by the broad hip roof.
The lodges, or "great camps" as they were called, in the Adirondack mountains of New York is where the Adirondack style began in the late 19th century -- before then, the Adirondacks were wilderness that wasn't fit for most vacationers. Characteristics of the Adirondack style included unpeeled cedar log siding and railings, ornately decorated gables and intricate wood and twig decoration.
The key characteristic of these houses is the protection they get by being built on piles, which protects against flooding as well as from pests -- plus the space below is usable. The style dates back to the Neolithic and Bronze Age.
These houses look like single-family homes -- but they're actually two separate homes built as two units, typically side-by-side (although stacked is not uncommon) and separated with a firewall. The units have separate entrances, and are completely separate dwellings -- except for they're under one roof.
A houseboat is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: a boat that's been fitted for use as a place to live. Because these are typically primary homes, many are kept stationary in a fixed spot or community -- however some are equipped with motors.
Treehouses aren't just for kids. Adults, too, use them for recreation, work space, observation, and, yes, as fully-functioning homes -- built above ground, at ground level, or even subterranean.
The Gothic style of the 12th to the 16th centuries was the inspiration for this 19th century Revival. Gothic Revival has Medieval and Romantic characteristics, including steeply sloped roofs, ornamental elements and pointed arches.
Prairie-style houses were most popular in the Midwestern U.S., and mirror the region's flat, wide landscapes. The style is characterized by its hipped roof and overhanging eaves, strong horizontal lines and its built-in cabinets.
Villas began as vacation homes for upper-class ancient Romans, but were turned into farming compounds after the Republic fell. It gained popularity again over the years, and today is often used to describe vacation rentals.
This style of house makes the garage the focal point -- and that turning its back to the neighborhood makes the "Snout" house controversial in some cities and towns. The design is used on single-family homes, but also duplexes and other live-in structures.
Clapboard houses, known for their exteriors constructed with thin, overlapping wooden planks, first began to appear in New England during the Colonial period of the country. They began to fall out of favor when new building techniques and materials became available.
The Garrison style shares many of the same characteristics as other traditional Colonial Revivals, including roof pitch and narrow eaves, lapped wood siding and an overall symmetry. But what makes the Garrison its own is that the second story of the two-story home overhangs the first floor in the front.
The style of these homes is heavily influenced by traditional native Pueblo structures and Spanish Colonial architecture, including flat roofs, rounded exteriors, and heavy wooden features. Pueblo Revival homes are still a common style in the American Southwest, but are usually made with stucco rather than the traditional adobe.
A man in Virginia, for example, constructed a 7-foot-wide house in the alley next to his home to stop people from walking there. Spite houses are often oddly shaped or very small; after all, the point of construction isn't about the layout.
The Italianate style, also called the Picturesque Movement, began not in Italy but in England. They're actually a pretty plainly shaped two-story house -- it's ornamentation, such as a square cupola that's placed just above the roofline or a square tower, that gives them charm and character.