Architectural Style Primer

Learn the pros and cons of seven popular home styles.

Just as dogs have breed-specific health issues, so do houses. Certain architectural styles are notorious among home repair professionals for having characteristic troubles ranging from the minor to the critical. Use the information noted at the end of each list of architectural details to pinpoint areas that you will want to really check out when you see homes of this style during the house hunt. Consult it again during the inspection phase should you make an offer on a house built in that style.

Bungalow

  • One or one-and-a-half stories
  • Wood, brick or stone exterior finishes
  • Rectangular building with low profile
  • Simple facade with few decorative details
  • Projecting, covered front porch with entryway set off to one side
  • Interior Characteristics: Kitchen, bedrooms and bathrooms laid around central living room
  • Breed-specific issues: Dry rot/damage to wood exterior, damage to stained and leaded glass in windows and built-in doors, damaged masonry

Colonial

  • Brick or wood exterior
  • Small front porch with white rectangular columns topped by a triangular gable or pediment leading up to the front door
  • Rectangular building
  • Symmetrical facade -- same number of windows on either side of the front door, etc.
  • Two or more stories
  • Relatively steep roof pitch
  • Interior Characteristics: Living rooms on first floor and bedrooms on higher floors
  • Breed-specific issues: Damaged timber foundation sills, weather damaged columns, damage to historic interior plaster walls and ceilings

Craftsman

  • Exterior or natural materials, like wood or stone
  • Assymetrical facade
  • Large porch with square pillars or columns holding up the corners
  • Ornamental braces
  • Stone chimney
  • One story
  • Relatively low-pitched (flat) roof
  • Interior Characteristics: Built-in china cabinets, nooks, desks, etc.
  • Breed-specific issues: Front porch or back steps with interior water damage or that are separating from main foundation. Because Craftsmans are so popular and inexpensive to build, new home developments in a faux/nouveau Craftsman style are springing up across the country. In some areas, these homes are being built so quickly and poorly that insiders have taken to describing them as "Crapsman."
Ranch Style/Rancher

  • Exterior finished in stucco, wood, brick or some combination thereof
  • Low-pitched roof with medium to wide overhanging eaves
  • Side or rear glass doors which slide open to a porch or patio area
  • Attached garage
  • Breed-specific issues: Asbestos tiles (may be under carpeting) and other asbestos-containing building materials (not a health hazard unless they are disturbed or damaged, as is possible during remodel or removal)
Spanish/Mediterranean

  • Stucco exterior finish (usually in earthy, cream, or pinkish tones)
  • Flat, red-tiled roof
  • Small, circular accent windows
  • Wide, square pillars on front facade
  • Arches over doors, large windows and porch
  • Square or polygonal towers
  • Interior Characteristics: Tile floors, arches, wrought iron light fixtures
  • Breed-specific issues: "Pooling" and water damage to flat roof and ceiling underneath, moss growing on tiles, damaged/destroyed tiles, damaged/broken custom shaped windows, damaged/deteriorated historic stucco
Tudor

  • Patterned brick or stone exterior, or plaster with half-timbers
  • Decorative exposed wood framing known as "half-timbered" construction
  • Asymmetrical facade
  • Front door of vertical wood planks
  • Tall or narrow windows with small panes
  • Steeply pitched roof, sometimes with mock thatch
  • Large rectangular chimney with an ornate, cylindrical pipe-or "chimney pot"-on top
  • Breed-specific issues: Dry rot and other damage to half-timbers, damage to decorative exterior elements, damaged custom-size windows
Victorian Queen Anne
(Note: the term Victorian actually refers to an era (mid-1800s through about 1915), and not a style. Accordingly, there are about eight styles commonly referred to as Victorian, but the Victorian Queen Anne is what most of us think of when we think of a Victorian.)

  • Any and all exterior finishes, from brick to shingles to terra cotta
  • Different exterior wall textures or materials on the same facade
  • Assymetrical facade with extensive wood or brick patterning or detailing
  • Extensive ornamental and decorative accents, usually in one of the following themes: delicate posts and spindles, raised classical columns, fancy half-timbering, or intricately patterned stone or brick
  • Front entryway and significant part (or all) of front facade covered by a porch
  • Breed-specific issues: Damaged or missing decorative accents which are no longer available, soil contamination and other lead-based paint environmental hazards, damage to historic interior plaster walls and ceilings
Modern/Contemporary

  • Extensive use of large, tall, or odd-shaped windows to create a feel of openness to the outdoors
  • Minimalist exteriors without ornamentation
  • Shed roof (steeply sloped single flat inclined planes) with exposed beams or flat roof
  • A mix of exterior finish materials, usually including glass, concrete, stone, wood and/or brick
  • Subtle, unobtrusive front entryway
  • Designed to blend with or take advantage of the surrounding natural environment
  • Interior Features: open and flexible floor plan, with large spaces for entertaining and common use, relatively smaller bedrooms, use of commercial-type building materials throughout home (e.g., concrete, glass)
  • Breed-specific issues: Custom-sized windows can be expensive to upgrade; flat-roofs require yearly maintenance to prevent leaks caused by the unavoidable pooling of water; when considering resale, some designs can be perceived as cold and dated by buyers

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