Classical Revivals

Colonial Revival and Neoclassical Revival

Plantatioin Style ArchitecturePlantatioin Style Architecture
Georgian plantation of Westover, Virginia (circa 1750), in 1993.
Late 1700 American Homes
Dutch Colonial house in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia (late 1700s, reconstruction), in 1993.

N THE UNITED STATES, the Colonial Revival and Neoclassical Revival styles share some Classical design features. The Colonial Revival style, where architectural massing and details are copied from period Colonial examples, originated with the Philadelphia Centennial International Exposition of 1876. A growing wave of historical patriotism found visual form through historic interiors as well, designed to show how our founding fathers lived during the late 1700s and early 1800s. In turn, many Colo nial and early Federal styles were loosely based on Greco-Roman design sources in an attempt to associate the greatness of past civilizations with our nascent democracy. The revivalist styles continued in their popularity, particularly at the end of the nineteenth century. The 1913 Seattle publication, Homes and Gardens of the Pacific Coast, noted the public acceptance of the style, and commented that, "There is no type of architecture which the American People more admire and none that is more appropriate for them to use than the 'colonial.' " In Seattle, European-born architects Bebb and Mendel were often retained by clients interested in Classical Revival designs.


While people from many countries lived in colonial America, the term "Colonial Revival" in architecture generally refers to houses based on early English and Dutch designs. The symmetrical Georgian and Federal style buildings had a number of architectural features that found favor, including extensive paneling of entryways and primary living spaces, center hallways, four-square plans, Palladian windows, Classical columns, and shuttered mul-tilighted windows. Secondary influences came from Dutch Colonial examples, which sport a gambrel roof, sometimes described as a "barn" roof. While the dominant architectural style at the time of the Philadelphia exhibition was Victorian, it did not take long for designers to add Palladian windows and Classical columns to rambling irregularly massed Victorian structures, which are often identified as Queen Anne Free Classics. Colonial Revival styles gained further publicity when the well-known architecture firm of McKim, Mead, and White designed a Colonial Revival house in 1882 for H. A. C. Taylor of Newport, Rhode Island, a summer playground for America's elite.

A variety of design details used in English Colonial revival homes include the following: they generally have regular massing, with hipped or side-facing gables. Windows are evenly spaced, with the front door frequently holding the center position. A columned porch or small portico marks the primary entrance, and the paneled door is surrounded by sidelights and occasionally a Federal style fanlight above. Windows are double hung, with both sections displaying multiple lights. During the Colonial

Preceding pages: (far left) Edwin G. Ames Colonial Revival residence, 808 36th Avenue North. University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, UW2462; (chapter title page, upper left) Colonial Revival house, Mount Baker neighborhood; (upper right) Neoclassical Revival residence, 310 19th Avenue East, in 1951.

WernerLenggenhager. Seattle Public Library, 22417; (below) Colonial Revival house in Ballard.

period, large windows required the joining of multiple small panes of glass, since window glass was imported from Europe and large sheets were expensive and prone to breakage on the long sea crossing. Thus, for these revival styles, "old fashioned" multilighted windows were often specified. Palladian windows were popular: a tripartite design with either a larger central arched window or a regular window topped with an arch flanked by smaller double-hung windows.

Shutters reappear in Colonial Revival styles as well. Solid and louvered shutters were operable during the Colonial period, and could be used to block light or protect windows. Shutter catches—small pieces of metal hardware—held the shutters open against the side of the house, and could be turned to release the shutters for closing. While shutter catches were used in many early Colonial Revival homes, later examples often omit the catches. Some Colonial Revival houses may lack shutters entirely, since they were no longer functional by the late 1800s and were purely decorative. (Most Victorian, Craftsman, and Tudor Revival styles lacked shutters, due to their obsolescence and because the combination of two or three windows together would not allow functional shutters.) Roof eaves are articulated with multiple layers of molding. Dentil work, a series of small square blocks, is one of the more typical examples. Some houses sport quoins, masonry details on the corners of buildings, distinguished from the primary masonry by size, texture, and/or color. Occasionally even wood clad houses have quoins. Quoins accented a building's corners, making them appear large and structurally sound. Other design details might include a balustraded roof, or widow's walk, and pediments over doors or windows.

Early examples of Colonial Revival were rarely historically accurate copies. Instead they were rather loose interpretations of the style. Colonial Revival homes were built from the late 1800s, and while their popularity has fluxu-ated, they remain popular to this day, particularly on the East Coast where the style originated. In 1898 The American

Sears Dutch Colonial Pinterest
Dutch Colonial house featured in the V. W. Voorhees pattern book, Western Home Builder, circa 1910 University of Washington, Special Collections, UW23599
Parson Capon House, 1683, Topsfield, Massachusetts, in 2003.

Architect and Building News published a series of photographs and measured drawings of Colonial architecture. (They were republished in 1923.) Other publications, including Boston architect Joseph Chandler's Colonial Architecture of Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia (1892), and Fiske Kimball's Domestic Architecture of the American Colonies and of the Early Republic (1922) also enhanced interest in the style, as did the much publicized documentation and restoration of Colonial Williamsburg during the 1930s. Williamsburg had been the capital of Virginia during the eighteenth century, and the multimillion dollar restoration and reconstruction of the town by John D. Rockefeller Jr. attracted national attention. One result of this intense documentation is that Colonial Revival houses constructed between 1910 and 1935 were more likely to duplicate the original prototypes. The style continued to be popular after World War II, but designs were usually simplified for economic reasons.

Dutch Colonial Revival houses achieved popularity somewhat later, around 1900. The Dutch Colonial, with the second story placed up under the roof, was a favorite of house plan books, and appeared frequently in the Standard Homes Company (Washington, DC) plan books from the 1920s. Most people were probably unaware of the style's Dutch origins, since the plans were given English names like "Oxford," "Washington," and "Jefferson." A jettied Colonial variation is more common post World War II, which has a second floor slightly overhanging the first, based on examples like the Parson Capon House of Tops-field, Massachusetts (1683). Smaller one-story or one-and-a-half-story Colonial Revivals appear in the twentieth century as well. These examples frequently retain the multilighted windows, shutters, and occasional front portal pediment, but remove many of the more complex (and expensive) design details. The 1976 U.S. bicentennial celebration kept Colonial Revival forms in design periodicals during the late twentieth century.


Another architectural style that utilizes some of the same design elements as the Colonial Revival style, although frequently in different proportions, is the Neoclassical Revival, sometimes referred to as Beaux Arts. The Neoclassical Revival style was popular from about 1895 to 1950. As with its Colonial Revival cousin, façades are generally symmetrical, and roof types are commonly side gabled or hipped. The style was also popular during two main periods, the first from 1900 to 1920 and the second from the 1920s until the 1950s. The first version of the style utilized hipped roofs and elaborate Ionic or Corinthian columns. The later version has more examples of side-gabled roofs, and columns typically are simpler. Unlike the Colonial Revival style, Neoclassical Revival houses are generally grand, and smaller vernacular examples are almost unknown.

Neoclassical Revival houses generally have porches that are monumental in scale, reaching the full doublestory height of the building. As a result the columns are large, usually referred to as "colossal." Porticos, instead of full façade porches, are common, further emphasizing the height of the columns. Windows and doors are placed symmetrically, and the multiple lights that were common with Colonial Revival are less frequent, with sometimes only the top portion of the window having multiple panes. Clustering multiple windows is more likely in this design than in the Colonial Revival style. Other features are side wings, roofline and porch-level balustrades, exaggerated broken pediments, and paneled front doors.

Neoclassical Revival architecture developed in part from the public's earlier interest in Colonial Georgian and Federal forms. But other styles blended into the mix, including civic architecture from Greece and Rome, and Neoclassical forms from the Italian Renaissance (which were loosely based on Greco-Italian forms). Designers blended architectural details from these periods. The World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago displayed many Neoclassical buildings to the American public. The fair, a celebration of America's discovery by Columbus in 1492, was monumental. The event's planners

A Neoclassical Revival house featured in the V. W. Voorhees pattern book, Western Home Builder, circa 1910.

University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, UW23596

A Neoclassical Revival house featured in the V. W. Voorhees pattern book, Western Home Builder, circa 1910.

University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, UW23596

selected a classical theme, to the dismay of some architects (including Chicago's Louis Sullivan) who wanted to showcase a more modern or "American" style. Some of the best-known architects of the time designed monumental colonnaded buildings, all arranged around a central fountain court. The buildings were temporary, and most were constructed of white plaster, earning the exposition the nickname "the White City."

The huge, gleaming buildings, lit up at night and filled with fountains, flowers, and statuary, were unified through design and arranged around public spaces. An interest developed in recreating this type of urban environment. Consequently numerous cities across the country developed Beaux Arts plans for their downtowns. (Seattle, too, was not immune from this trend. The ambitious Bogue Plan [1911] drawn up to unify the commercial district failed to receive adequate support.) The exposition was widely publicized and heavily visited, with more than 27 million visitors during the year. While the main exhibition halls were large and weren't easily modified prototypes for residences, their grandeur could easily be adapted to the large mansions of Newport, Rhode Island and other wealthy enclaves. Individual states had smaller pavilions at the fair which were more domestic in scale. Virginia, Connecticut, Kentucky, Ohio, Utah, Nebraska, and South Dakota all had buildings with columned entry porches. Massachusetts, New York, and West Virginia's buildings had Colonial or Neoclassical detailing.

Library, Frederick K. Struve residence, period photograph. Furnishings for this "gentleman's" room are darker than those of the "ladies' " drawing room in the home. University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, UW13839

Library, Frederick K. Struve residence, period photograph. Furnishings for this "gentleman's" room are darker than those of the "ladies' " drawing room in the home. University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, UW13839


The interiors of Colonial Revival and Neoclassical Revival houses vary almost as much as their exteriors. Foyers with grand staircases are usually visible in the larger homes. Staircase railings and newelposts are often simpler in form than their Victorian counterparts. The section of the banister that meets the newelpost sometimes spirals back, mimicking curved bottom stairs. Wood paneling is common in the main rooms, sometimes Georgian and geometric in pattern, other times more fanciful, carved with swags and other Neoclassical ornamentation. Woodwork is either darkly stained or painted white. Fireplaces often have marble surrounds with Classical pilasters and sometimes overmantel paneling. Plasterwork can be elaborate in larger houses, particularly on ceilings where it would accent chandeliers. Stained glass sometimes appears over particularly lavish central staircases. Smaller working-class houses might have little if any interior details to suggest the period—perhaps a simple paneled fireplace, or a deeper plaster or wood ceiling molding. Some original Colonial buildings had vibrant paint colors. The dining room at Mount Vernon, for example, was originally painted a vivid blue-green. But historical revivalists were unaware of the original colors and revival style dwellings were more likely to be painted in subdued shades of mustard yellow, dusty blue, rose, and soft greens. White was also popular.

Colonial Revival furniture was easily acquired, since a great number of furniture manufacturers reproduced the style. Even Gustav Stickley, a proponent of the Craftsman movement, admired Colonial architecture and furniture. His earliest experimentation in furniture was a chair

Drawing room, Frederick K. Struve residence, period photograph. The delicate wall paneling is more Louis XV than American in its style. The Struve residence, at 1221 Minor Avenue, was destroyed in 1958. Museum of History and Industry, Seattle, 12294

inspired by a simple, "old Colonial Windsor" example, which was different from mass-produced, intricately carved Victorian pieces. While most of his work remained Craftsman in style, his company also made traditional style Colonial Revival pieces, including Windsor and Jacobean pieces. Sears and Roebuck sold inexpensive examples of the style, while wealthier patrons could acquire original antiques or a number of finely crafted period reproduction pieces. Mahogany, cherry, and maple were common furniture woods; most decorative lock plates and handles were brass.

Colonial furniture came in a variety of styles. The Queen Anne period (1730-1760) was known for curved cabriole legs, pediments, and crests. Tables, chairs, combination desk and bookcases, high chest of drawers, and four-poster beds were the most common pieces of furniture from this period. Chippendale furniture (1755-1790), with its graceful lines and ornate decorations, was popular as well, and was ornamented with occasional Chinese details, Gothic arches, floral elements, and ornate carvings. Occasionally these were combined with details from the Queen Anne period. Claw-and-ball feet were frequent in later examples. Some homeowners decorated with Folk German or Pennsylvania Dutch style furniture which featured painted flora and fauna, hearts, or stars.

Western Style Floor Plans

A Colonial Revival house featured in the V. W. Voorhees pattern book, Western Home Builder, circa 1910.

University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, UW23594

A Colonial Revival house featured in the V. W. Voorhees pattern book, Western Home Builder, circa 1910.

University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, UW23594

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