|Early colonial house in Deerfield, Connecticutt, c. 1734.|
Note the massive central fireplace chimney.
(Image courtesy historic-deerfield.org)
Most Colonial-era houses were based on English Medieval patterns from about 1600 to 1700. These were tough times, when settlers were ecstatic just to have a roof over their heads.
|As New England grew wealthier, colonial houses|
became more elaborate. Note the flanking chimneys
on this example, a nod to English Georgian styles.
| Resurgent interest in the colonial era inspired many architects|
of the late 1800s, including the celebrated firm of
McKim, Mead, and White.
(Isaac Bell House, Newport, Rhode Island, 1883)
The fact that there never really was a “Colonial style” per se—rather, just a Colonial era whose homes were based on English models—didn’t stop anyone from creating a Colonial Revival, however. The movement traces its roots to Philadelphia’s Centennial Exposition of 1876, whose historical exhibits gave many fairgoers their first look at the relatively primitive homes of the early colonists.
|The wider availability of architectural photographs|
printed in magazines and textbooks brought a more authentic
wave of Colonial Revival homes during the 1920s.
(Image courtesy metanetworks.org)
By the end of the nineteenth century, however, growing disgust with the clutter of Victorian architecture resulted in the chaste Colonial being held up as a stylistic ideal. In 1895, one architect opined, “. . .the old Colonial grace, simplicity, and refinements are sure to make a favorable impression in contradistinction to. . . lopsided design and cheap senseless ornaments.”
|The mid-twentieth century saw the Colonial Revival style|
boiled down to a few gimcracks such as window shutters
(Image courtesy midcenturyhomestyles.com)
The straightforward simplicity of the style had tremendous influence on many architects, from McKim, Mead, and White on the east coast, to Julia Morgan, Bernard Maybeck, and Willis Polk on the west, all of whom were inspired by the Colonial’s ascetic composition. Even later Modernists such as Charles Moore managed to reinterpret Colonial simplicity in their work.
The most recent phase of the Colonial Revival occurred during the postwar era, when ranch-style tract houses were frequently done up in the kitschiest of Colonial emblems, consisting largely of false shutters, weathervanes, and brass eagles. But have no fear; in the current mania for mid-century modern architecture, these, too, have their adherents.