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The Best of What’s Around: Material Availability & Home Design Styles

Home-building styles have historically been subject to building material access; from the simplicity of the log cabins, sod houses and adobe clay pueblos of the American frontier and southwest, to the igloos of the arctic and up to the wealth of materials and opulence owing to the vastness of the Roman empire. Necessity being the mother of invention, these modest and ingenious home styles were utilitarian and developed as a result of experimentation with limited local materials.

On the other hand, Ancient Roman architects benefitted from broad access to a variety of materials and borrowed architectural styles (particularly Greek), developing of new techniques & blended aesthetics that are the hallmark of the classical Roman style. Each new version of architectural movements draw on these tendencies to use the best local materials, with the following function. As new technologies and capabilities arose, function became easier to attain and allowed design to get equal billing. As a result, more attention was paid to aesthetics and the home design profession was born.  

But let’s take a look at where it started – with the basics.

Geographical, Environmental & Economical Impact on Home Building Styles

Historically, home styles were often influenced by the excess of certain materials and the absence of others. They could also be reactions to the excesses of certain other styles happening in the period. This often varied by region, culture, and era (among other things). Similarly, access to building materials can be traced through studying trends of home design throughout the centuries. The popularity of certain design styles were also dependent on economic factors, which might also dictate the size, material makeup and popularity of early home build styles.

Origins – Colonial Styles

Most modern styles have their roots in more basic home designs used throughout history, and many are adaptations of home styles from colonial eras of many different countries.

  • Dutch Colonial: first found around the Hudson River Valley
    • Features: gambrel roofs, stone walls steep roofs and 2nd floor lofts
  • Colonial Georgian: often found around Massachusetts settlements
    • Features: Usually brick construction, side-gabled or gambrel roofs, dual chimneys 
  • French Colonial: found in French-settled areas of the US (along the Mississippi River, New Orleans)
    •  Features: double pitched, hipped roofs, wrap around porches with overhangs supported by cedar logs
  • Spanish Colonial: found in the Florida area and the U.S. Southwest
    • Features: influences from Pueblo designs, often two stories with exteriors made from lime and shell aggregate in the Florida area, more often adobe in the Southwest.
  • German Colonial: found in early settlement in the Delaware River Valley area
    • Features: a mix of timber and masonry, typically two stories

Colonial Revival Styles

Like most revival styles, these were an enhanced versions of previous colonial architecture styles that relied on basic techniques and traditions taken from England and other parts of Europe. Earliest versions of original colonial architecture appeared in the US in the 17th century, and most were made primarily of local woods with regional stones for chimneys and featured basic layouts with steep roofs.

A prime example of these is the saltbox home. Cape cods were also offshoots of these styles lent from Western Europe. Each region of the United States adopted different styles lifted from the historical colonial powers of each region.

Cape Cod Style

Often made use of oak or pine for framing and cedar for exteriors – all were plentiful to the New England region. Its low, steep roof profile and squat design paired with a centralized open hearth fireplace reflected the need to accommodate the weather extremes of New England. The re-emergence of these modest styles during the colonial revival (1930-1950) reflected a need for inexpensive housing to accommodate a growing middle class and were often used to model tract housing.

Craftsman Style

This style exploded on the scene and hit its zenith in the 1930s, most prominently in the southern California area – hence the aka: “California Bungalow”. It was a stylistic response to the Victorian style, which many considered to be over-elaborate and unnecessarily decorative. With roots in the British Arts & Crafts movement (which rebelled against the industrialization of design and craftsmanship), the craftsman style centered on simple styling with clean lines and often incorporated local materials and often integrated with the lot’s natural vegetation.

Early craftsman homes were often modest, inexpensive homes with broad low angled roofs that could be built using mail-order plans, which made it a good fitting home style for returning World War 1 veterans. Typical materials include locally-sourced lumber, wood shingles and stucco (though in colder climates, local brick was substituted).

Ranch Style

A true encapsulation of American expansionism, ranch homes take advantage of larger building lots and took cues from various Spanish colonial architecture types, and originally made use of regional building materials like adobe brick which was then covered in lime aggregate plaster. Ranch homes saw their peak in popularity in the 1950s, but still remain a popular style as the basis of custom home designs, often mixed with other popular architectural aesthetics. Ranches are often single storied-homes, with long and low rooflines and attached garages. Today’s ranch exteriors are often mixed wood, brick, stone or stucco.

Custom Designed Homes

People seeking to build new homes have a wealth of options not available to early home builders. The proliferation of efficient material transport and mass production gives new home builders the types of options that were historically only available to the wealthiest and most centralized civilizations. With such unprecedented access to materials paired with centuries of shared knowledge, modern custom home builders like J&J Custom Homes can create nearly any type of aesthetic clients are looking for. When you’re ready to get started building your dream home, contact the pro home designers at J&J Contractors.