New England Style Home Definition Essay

Geographic Range:

Greek Revival was the dominant style of domestic architecture between 1830 and 1850. In New England large groups of Greek Revival houses can be found in cities that industrialized during this period such as New Haven and Hartford, Connecticut, and Cambridge and New Bedford, Massachusetts. Vernacular examples in rural areas of New England are also common.

Typical Features:

  • Heavy entablature and cornices
  • Gable-front orientation common in northeast; also gable-front and wing subtype
  • Generally symmetrical façade, though entry is often to one side
  • Front door surrounded by narrow sidelights and rectangular transom, usually incorporated into more elaborate door surround
  • Windows typically six over six double-hung sash
  • Small frieze-band windows set into wide band trim below cornice not uncommon
  • Chimneys are not prominent
  • Gable or hipped roof of low pitch
  • Cornice lines emphasized with wide band of trim (plain or with incised decoration, representing classical entablature)
  • Porches common, either entry or full-width supported by prominent square (vernacular) or rounded columns (typically Doric style)
  • Columns typically in Greek orders, many still have Roman details (Doric, Ionic or Corinthian), vernacular examples may have no clear classical precedents

High-Style Elaborations:

  • One or two story with full height columns supporting front pediment gable
  • Pilasters, particularly at the corners of the building, occasionally across entire façade
  • Full-width colonnaded porch giving appearance of Greek temple

Historic New England Example:Sarah Orne Jewett Visitor Center

Gothic Revival: 1840 – 1880

Originally, Gothic architecture was primarily used in religious construction and was popular between the twelfth and sixteenth centuries, giving rise to the monumental cathedrals of England and northern France. Its revival in Europe began during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as part of the Picturesque movement. A design philosophy, this movement sought to break free from the rigid geometric nature of classicism and to create naturalistic and relaxed designed landscapes and homes. Gothic Revival architecture was admired for its asymmetrical variety and symbolized an idealized version of Europe’s medieval past, one that was virtuous and chaste in contrast with the materialism of the Industrial Age.

As in previous centuries, Americans of the early nineteenth century were influenced by the cultural movements of Europe, including the Picturesque. In 1832 the first example of Gothic Revival architecture in the United States was designed by architect Alexander Jackson Davis (1803-1892). He was the first to champion the style for use in domestic construction and his 1837 book Rural Residences was the first house plan book published in the United States to include three-dimensional views and floor plans. Davis’s friend, landscape architect Andrew Jackson Downing (1815-1852), expanded on this work with Cottage Residences (1842) and The Architecture of Country Houses (1850), which truly popularized the style. Americans put their own twist on the Gothic style, using details such as pointed arches on light wood-framed construction in a variation that is known as Carpenter Gothic.

By 1865 the Gothic Revival style was declining in popularity. It enjoyed a brief resurgence in the 1870s, stimulated by the writings of English art historian critic John Ruskin. This High Victorian Gothic phase was principally applied to public buildings such as churches and libraries with a few landmark houses with the definitive polychrome cladding (distinctive linear patterns in masonry distinguished by horizontal bands of contrasting colors or textures of brick or stonework).

Geographic Range: Never as popular as the contemporary Greek Revival or Italianate styles for domestic architecture, most surviving examples exist in northeastern states where architects first popularized the style. Few urban examples exist largely because Davis and Downing emphasized rural style, compatible with nature, and later High Victorian Gothic examples are rarely domestic buildings.

Typical Features:

  • Common forms are side-gabled with prominent central cross-gable and asymmetrical L-shaped plan
  • Steeply pitched roofs, usually with steep cross gables and deeply overhanging eaves
  • Gables commonly decorated with bargeboards or vergeboards, particularly in Carpenter Gothic examples
  • Open cornices and exposed rafters
  • Wall surface extends into gable without break; no eave trim
  • Wood-frame “Carpenter Gothic” predominate; some masonry examples in high-style or public buildings
  • Vertical board-and-batten siding common
  • Windows commonly extend into gables, frequently with pointed arches
  • Square-topped windows with hood molds common
  • Doors with pointed arches or Gothic motifs and decorative crowns; some batten doors
  • Broad one-story porches common (entry or full-width) usually supported by flattened Gothic arches
  • Chimneys tall and slim, sometimes medieval in character
  • Looser/irregular floor plans allowed because of advances in framing technologies (balloon frame)

High-Style Elaborations:

  • Polychromed exterior cladding (High Victorian Gothic)
  • Oriel windows
  • Drip moldings above windows
  • Castle-style towers, turrets, and parapeted gables
  • Finials at gable peaks, window tracery, leaded stained glass
  • Intricate wooden ornamentation using scroll saw technology at windows, roof-wall junctions, porches and doors

Historic New England Example:Roseland Cottage

Italianate: 1840 – 1885

As with Gothic Revival, the Italianate style began in Europe as part of the Picturesque movement, a reaction against the formal classical ideals in art and architecture that had dominated the previous two centuries. It was inspired by the rambling, informal Italian villas of northern Italy with their characteristic square towers and asymmetrical, open floor plans. The first Italianate houses in the United States were constructed in the late 1830s, popularized by the pattern books of Andrew Jackson Downing similar to the Gothic Revival discussed above. By the 1860s however, the Italianate style surpassed the slightly earlier Gothic Revival in popularity. In the United States two separate approaches can be seen in domestic examples. One was more directly inspired by the traditional Italian villa with its masonry construction, square towers, and irregular massing and floor plans.

This is distinguished from a more formal, symmetrical, and familiar townhouse or detached Greek Revival box to which Italianate ornamentation such as eave brackets and arched windows were applied. The combination of a familiar form and the “picturesque” decoration helped the style maintain its dominance through the third quarter of the nineteenth century. In fact, vernacular examples developed into a truly American style with only passing reference to Italian models. The financial panic of 1873 and the subsequent economic depression directly led to the decline of the Italianate style.

Geographic Range:

Examples of Italian villas and houses with Italianate detailing are common in expanding towns and cities of this era in the Midwest as well as older but still growing cities of the northeastern seaboard. They were least commonly constructed in the southeastern United States.

Typical Features:

  • Two or three stories; typically asymmetrical, two-story L- or T-shaped plans
  • Low-pitched, hipped roof with widely overhanging eaves
  • Large eave brackets dominate cornice lines arranged singly or in pairs
  • Tall, narrow windows, with 1:1 glazing; commonly arched or curved upper sash
  • Paired and triple windows frequent; bay windows common
  • Windows frequently embellished with heavy crown molding or pediments in inverted U-shape
  • Smooth exterior finish, often stucco; less commonly clapboard or board and batten siding
  • Porches nearly universal, centered, or full-width; small entry porches most common
  • Paired doorways common; large-pane glazing in door itself; arched doors; elaborate framing decorations

High-Style Elaborations:

  • Square cupolas or towers (campaniles); less frequently octagonal
  • Horizontal belt courses and corner quoins
  • Balconies with balustrades

Second Empire: 1855 – 1885

Following the Civil War, a population explosion in the cities and towns of the northern and western United States naturally led to a huge demand for new housing. At the same time, house design books and building parts catalogues were becoming available nationally and streetcars and trains brought newer, more distant suburbs with space for large new houses within commuting distance of major cities. These factors along with a postwar industrial and economic energy resulted in the flowering of a variety of new architectural styles. Overall floor plans and forms became more varied and complex, with styles increasingly defined by the shapes of door and window openings and applied decoration at windows, doors, porches, and particularly front entries.

The Second Empire (or French Second Empire) style was considered to be the modern fashion of the late nineteenth century, mimicking the latest French building styles. Its distinctive mansard roof was named for an early French architect, Francois Mansart (1598-1666), and was used extensively during the reign of Napoleon III (1852 – 1870), France’s Second Empire. Exhibitions in Paris in 1855 and 1867 helped to popularize the style internationally. The mansard roof became particularly popular in urban areas where it provided a full attic story of living space and was also commonly used in remodeling older buildings.

Houses in the Second Empire style are essentially defined by this distinctive roof type, with other detailing reflecting a number of different fashions (most commonly Italianate details) or even a combination of several different styles. The Second Empire style was used for many public buildings during the Presidency of Ulysses S. Grant (1869-1977) and is therefore sometimes referred to as the General Grant style. The Second Empire style rapidly faded from popularity following the panic of 1873 and subsequent economic depression.

Geographic Range:

This style was most popular in the northeastern and mid-western states and less common on the Pacific Coast or in the southeastern United States. Second Empire townhouses were particularly popular in urban areas where the mansard roof provided a full upper story of usable attic living space.

Typical Features:

  • Mansard (dual-pitched) roof with dormer windows on steep, lower slope; roof profile can be straight, flared, or curved; colored roof shingles and slate or tin tiles form decorative patterns
  • Molded cornices bound lower roof slope above and below
  • Decorative brackets beneath eaves
  • Beneath roofline decorative details are usually similar to Italianate (windows, doors, and porch details), though also may find details suggesting other styles
  • Typically square or L-shaped blocks of between two and four stories
  • One or two-story bay windows common
  • Full porches common
  • Tall first-story windows; elaborate window surrounds (arched, hooded, pedimented, or dentiled)
  • Tall chimneys
  • Typically stone but also brick or wood frame with clapboard siding

High-Style Elaborations:

  • Rectangular or square towers, usually centered on the front façade, less commonly at junction of main block and L-shaped wing.
  • Ornate cast-iron cresting at roof ridges and tower

Stick Style: 1860 – 1890

The Stick Style is often considered to be a transitional style, linking the preceding Gothic Revival with the subsequent Queen Anne. All three were inspired by the building traditions of Medieval English half-timbered construction with its visible structural elements, steeply pitched roofs, and projecting gables. Unlike Gothic Revival, the Stick Style stressed the wall surface itself rather than applying decorative elements merely at windows, doors, and cornices. Various patterns of wood clapboards or board-and-batten siding were applied within square and triangular spaces created by the raised stick work. This detailing was applied to a variety of nineteenth-century building forms, making it the defining element of the style.

The focus on patterned siding is reminiscent of High Victorian Gothic detailing, except that the latter were universally executed in masonry rather than wood. In fact, the Stick Style is a celebration of wood construction and in many ways the “structure” as defined by the stick work is the decoration. The undecorated, square-milled lumber gives a precise, geometric quality to Stick Style homes. Advocates additionally promoted the Stick Style’s structural “honesty” because the stick work was meant to express the building’s internal structure. However, unlike true half-timbering, stick work was merely applied decoration with no true relation to the underlying balloon-frame construction. During the 1880s the Stick Style was rapidly replaced by the related Queen Anne movement, which was both more widespread and influential.

Geographic Range:

The Stick Style was less common than the contemporaneous Italianate or

Second Empire styles. Examples survive primarily in the northeastern United States and date from the 1860s and ’70s. It is likely that many original examples are now obscured, as their characteristic wall patterns and detailing, susceptible to deterioration, have been removed rather than repaired or replaced.

Typical Features:

  • Asymmetrical two or three-storied form with emphasis on vertical
  • Complex gable roofs, usually steeply pitched with cross gables and overhanging eaves
  • Decorative trusses at gable ends common
  • Exposed rafter tails
  • Wooden wall cladding (either clapboards or board-and-batten siding) interrupted by patterns of horizontal, vertical, or diagonal boards (stick work) raised from the wall surface for emphasis and meant to represent the underlying framework
  • Extensive porches and verandas; porches plainly trimmed but commonly have diagonal or curved braces
  • Large 1:1 or 2:2 windows; frequently paired; fit within patterns created by stick work
  • Corbeled chimneys

High-Style Elaborations:

  • Towers and projecting pavilions with decorative trusses and stick work
  • Jerkin-head gables

Read More

7 Elements of New England Style | Read how the elements of the different regions of New England influence decor and architecture in a Massachusetts home.

For a long time, I had difficulty when it came to categorizing my style. To clarify, I don’t actually believe that most people fit into one neat little category in any part of life, and decor style is no exception. I would go bananas if I boxed myself into something like “farmhouse” without leaving the door open to other styles. My decor has always been a blend, and I don’t forsee that changing anytime soon!

I love farmhouse style, but I also love coastal style, and cottage. Sometimes I even bring in hints of primitive, traditional, and rustic style. It took me way too long to realize what perhaps should have been obvious from the beginning- I have New England style. I’m inspired by this region that I was born in and I am head over heels in love with the architecture of. Every single element of my design style can be traced back to the things I love about living here. 


1. Coastal

Photo via Jane Ellsworth

I am and always have been inspired by the weather-beaten coast, with its proud lighthouses and salty cedar shingles. When it comes to yard choices, Nantucket is my ultimate inspiration with its Adirondack chairs, abundant gardens, and most of all- hydrangeas the size of dinner plates. Ogunquit, Maine calls to me with its rocky coastline, crystal blue water, stunning homes, and quaint little Perkin’s Cove. Whenever I pull blue into my home- both navy and lighter shades, those are the places I’m imagining.

Our Camp Porch

Elements of New England Coastal Style:

  • cedar shake shingles
  • white trim
  • white outdoor furniture
  • hydrangeas and abundant gardens
  • shades of blue, specifically navy
  • white picket fence

2. Farmhouse

Sootheby’s Realty via Hooked on Houses

I know “farmhouse” is a buzzy style right now, and it means something different in New England than perhaps it does in other parts of the country. As much as I love the idea of acreage, farmers here usually didn’t have large plots of land as far as the eye could see. They had tidy yards and lived somewhat close together out of solidarity in a new and wild land. They fought and struggled to get things to grow in the rocky soil, and what they grew was to feed their family and hopefully even to share with their parish in an abundant year. 

via Country Living

I will admit, sometimes I play the comparison game and I wish for a big airy farmhouse with tall ceilings and sprawling porches on a big piece of land. However, our Massachusetts colonial with its low ceilings and neighborhood is actually much more accurate to 1800s “New England Farmhouse” style. In fact, part of our neighborhood (which was a huge selling point for me) includes historic farmhouses with beautiful barns that seamlessly give way to the new homes. Those old farmhouses are the homes I draw inspiration from when it comes to the atmosphere of our outdoor space. Having a farmer’s porch and a backyard garden (and even backyard chickens- maybe someday) is very similar to how my ancestors would have lived, and having a stonewall in our backyard made it feel just like home. 

Our Exterior Makeover

Speaking of ancestors, I would be remiss to talk about New England Farmhouses without talking about my home state of New Hampshire. Both sides of my family had beautiful homes of historic farmhouses filled with antiques, big barns, and stonewalls that were my playscapes as a child. Nothing has influenced my style quite as much as those homes. I intend to get photos this summer of the specific farmhouses that were in my family when I was growing up! 

Elements of New England Farmhouse Style:

  • colonial style home (often white) with additions
  • low ceilings
  • central hearth/fireplace
  • barn (often red)
  • stonewalls
  • vegetable garden
  • chickens/animals

3. Primitive

Strawberry Banke via Old House Journal

Primitive style is kind of the precursor to New England farmhouse style. It’s based more on the communities and villages of the 1600s Puritans.

I’m obviously biased, but my parents home (my childhood home) is a nice blend of New England Farmhouse and Rustic/Primitive style. It is a reproduction antique saltbox colonial with beautiful wood beams and tongue-and-groove ceilings. It brings to mind the oldest homes in this country, the 1600s puritan homesteads in Plymouth, Salem, and Strawberry Banke. 

Our Breakfast Nook

When you see me bring in raw wood and antiques, it’s often influenced by my parents’ decor. However, I went the other direction with my love of painting tongue-and-groove white (my dad cringes when I paint things white), so I didn’t adopt the style outright. However, I do appreciate it and I love to dream up ways to decorate in their home. 

Elements of New England Primitive Style:

  • brick hearths
  • wood ceilings & beams 
    (or even post & beam)
  • shaker-style furniture, simple lines
  • color, but muted (mustard yellow, rust, slate, etc.)

4. Rustic 

via SD Architects

Rustic log cabin style is another common New England staple. Personally, I think it can be overwhelming in large quantities (like the interior of Camp), so I think it’s best to have a few of these focal points in a room without necessarily having a whole room that is floor to ceiling wood with wood furniture. Mack is most drawn to rustic log cabin style because of Camp. I can’t pretend it’s my favorite, but it is important to include in our home because it’s the only thing he really somewhat gives an opinion on. 

via Country Living

For this style, think hunting lodge. Lots of wood, plaid, fur, leather- you get the idea. In our Massachusetts home, this translates to things like our wood mantle and pine dining room furniture, which were wood pieces in otherwise light rooms. In our decor, I bring in things for Mack like a dark fur throw, wooden signs, etc. Small doses. 

Our Camp

At Camp, I haven’t done much yet. I intend to try to preserve the log cabin character but lighten things up with softer fabrics and white furniture. We’re going the other direction- breaking up an incredible amount of rustic orange-toned wood. 

One element of rustic style I can get on board with is the coziness, especially in the winter. There’s nothing I love more than a warm knit blanket and a fire!

Elements of New England Rustic Style:

  • log cabin
  • large windows
  • wood- lots and lots of wood
  • leather or dark furniture
  • furs and plaid accents
  • wildlife motif- deer, bears, etc. 

5. Cottage

via Country Living

While the Maine coast stirs something in me, the Lakes Region of New Hampshire is my true heart and home. New England Lake Cottage style is a blend of the four styles I mentioned above. Like all of the styles, its inclusion in my home was once again influenced by family, from my part, my grandparents’ A-frame lake cottage, which we simply call “The Cottage”. Mack, of course, has the hundred year family history of “Camp” and the dwellings that were there prior to the 1980s log cabin. Camps and cottages are an important component to New England style. Unfortunately, they are somewhat a fading component, as the trend seems to be to tear them down in favor of larger Cape Cod style homes. I get it- they were generally built cheaply and quickly and were not winterized. However, I adore updated cottages with their exposed walls painted a crisp white.

Our Dining Room

When you see planking and board-and-batten in our home, that is what it is influenced by, as well as any light and bright colors. 

Elements of New England Cottage Style:
(a mixture of many other styles)

  • tidy, small homes
  • wood walls, planked or tongue-and-groove, or exposed (sometimes painted white)
  • white outdoor furniture
  • hydrangeas and abundant gardens
  • light or bright colors 
  • lake or nautical inspired decor: fish, signs, paddles, boats

6. Seaport Style

via The Daily Portsmouth

This was hard to define. However, I wanted to make sure to mention that I appreciate the historic elements of New England coastal cities. Portsmouth, NH is one of my favorite places to visit (and eat- oh my gosh, the restaurants!). It blends the new and old so beautifully. While I prefer Portsmouth, I love the historic elements of Boston and the Old Port in Portland, Maine, as well.

Our Exterior Updates

When I bring in dark metal finishes and lanterns, those places are what I’m picturing. My plans for a brick patio are influenced by Market Square in Portsmouth.

Elements of New England Seaport Style:

  • cast iron lanterns
  • bouys, boats, and other nautical decor
  • lobster traps
  • brick homes
  • brick walkways
  • colonial homes
  • white trim
  • window boxes
  • small front gardens 

7. Traditional

via Boston Design Guide

Similar to rustic style, traditional style isn’t necessarily at the top of my list, but the influence is there. I feel like I could have pushed in that direction with this house and decor when we moved in, but I also think it would have felt forced and inauthentic to my personality.

Our Kitchen

With that being said, the dark wood floors, white trim, white cabinets, and white built-ins throughout our home are a nod to traditional New England style. If you removed the accessories, the base in a lot of the rooms in our home is pretty traditional. 

Elements of New England Traditional Style:

  • colonial style home 
  • columns
  • palladian windows
  • dormers
  • white kitchens
  • white millwork and paneling

All of that being said, I love the area I’m from, and I’m so proud to be a New Englander. I love that it has played so heavily into my decor style developing into what it is. Do you love New England style? What’s your favorite element?

Join the Weekly Newsletter

Subscribe to get our latest content by email and access to our File Library. Download organizing and home decor printables FREE!

Success! Now check your email to confirm your subscription.

0 Thoughts to “New England Style Home Definition Essay

Leave a comment

L'indirizzo email non verrà pubblicato. I campi obbligatori sono contrassegnati *