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HISTORIC HOUSE STYLES

Period Revivals

When GIs returned from World War I, they brought back admiring memories of English country houses and French chateaus. Architectural historians attribute the popularity of houses with English, French, Italian, and Spanish details to the influence of veterans returning from European postings. The period revival styles suited the new suburban developments with large lots made possible by extended streetcars lines and automobiles.

The upper-middle classes cast aside the hand-made Craftsman aesthetic and embraced the aristocratic European look of half-timbered facades, tile roofs, and leaded glass windows. For a walk through the period revival styles, search out 1920s upper or upper-middle class neighborhoods in Indiana—the North Meridian Street Historic District in Indianapolis, for example, and the Illsley Place-West Rudisill Boulevard Historic District in Fort Wayne.

Tudor Revival

1900 – 1940

Tudor Revival in the U.S. does not accurately reflect the architecture of the Tudor period in England but is instead an interpretation based on nostalgia that combines elements from several historical periods.

These picturesque houses range in size from mansion to cottage, yet they all manage to incorporate at least one steeply-pitched gable, and half-timbering or decorative brick accents. The most imposing examples have slate roofs, leaded glass casement windows, and prominent chimneys capped by clay chimney pots. While some display the Tudor arch, which appears slightly flattened with a point at the top, a simple round arch is more common.

Advances in construction technology, like brick veneer, also added to the style’s popularity. This meant that unlike their medieval English counterparts, which had solid brick or stucco walls, Tudor Revival houses have half timbers applied to veneered masonry walls as decoration rather than structural reinforcement. In the early 1920s, the style achieved such popularity among the upper-middle class, it was nicknamed “Stockbroker Tudor.”

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The actual Tudor period lasted from 1485 until 1603, a period marked by the English Reformation and Henry VIII. Traditionally considered a “golden age,” this Tudor myth has since received a bit more scrutiny, since historians love a good argument.


French Eclectic

1915 – 1940

Architectural historians believe the admiration of French chateaux on the part of returning World War I vets caused a mini-boom of American chateau-building. Among the vets were architects whose work was promoted through photographs and articles.

The Americanized version of the style features a steeply-pitched hipped roof with slightly flared eaves. Roofs are often slate, but you may also find examples with roofs of clay tile. Like the French originals, some houses have towers and dormer windows. In Indiana, French Eclectic houses typically use masonry construction—either brick, stone, or a combination. Half-timbers infilled with stucco or brick may accentuate the second stories.

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Spanish Revival Style was popular around this same time, and Italian Renaissance. If you weren’t a fan of European style, it was probably a very difficult period.

 


Mission or Spanish Colonial Revival

1900 – 1920

Don’t confuse Mission furniture with Mission architecture. The furniture reflects simple, sturdy, hand-made aesthetic of the Arts and Crafts design movement. The architectural style takes its inspiration from the early Spanish Colonial missions of Mexico and the southwest United States.

San Francisco architect Willis Polk promoted the style through his residential designs for his hometown after the 1906 earthquake and for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition. And like so many other early twentieth-century styles, mail-order catalogs promoted Mission designs from coast-to-coast.

What distinguishes the Mission style from Spanish Revival style is the use of a parapet —a low wall that rises above the roofline. Like their historic counterparts, the parapets of Mission houses are scalloped. Red clay tile roofs and stucco walls also impart the Old World Spanish feel in early suburban Indiana neighborhoods. Given Indiana’s stucco-unfriendly climate, it’s not uncommon to see Mission buildings constructed in brick.

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Stucco doesn’t do so well in rainy climates or during harsh winters, making Indiana a tough place for it. However it does hold up better than adobe.


Spanish Revival

1915 – 1940

In the 1920s, architects frequently followed a more academic Spanish Revival that drew from the broad variety of Spanish architecture for inspiration. Like the Mission style, Spanish Revival houses feature stucco walls and clay tile roofs but lack the distinctive scalloped parapet—think more hacienda, less mission. While they look more at home in the south and southwest, examples of the style in large and small versions dot the suburbs of early twentieth-century Indiana. And though Indiana’s harsh winters are not kind to stucco, it is the preferred material for the authentic look.

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This style was popularized by American architect Bertram Goodhue. While his influence can be seen in Indiana, it went over like gangbusters in Hawaii, where he designed the influential Honolulu Museum of Art.


Italian Renaissance

1900 – 1930s

If you remember the nineteenth-century Italianate style with its low-pitched hipped roof and brackets below the eaves, you’ll recognize similar characteristics in the Italian Renaissance of the twentieth century. But as with most twentieth-century styles, Italian Renaissance houses are much larger in scale than their nineteenth-century Italianate counterparts. The Italian Renaissance also incorporates clay tile roofs and stucco not found on Italianate designs.

Their overall appearance is rather formal, often symmetrical, and may incorporate columns on porches or balustrades on balconies. Like the Italianate style, Italian Renaissance houses display overhanging eaves with decorative brackets. Brick, stone, and plaster are the most common construction materials.

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Clay tile roofs are quite well-suited for Indiana weather, able to withstand the heat, the cold, and the rain. They last a long time, too. It’s a wonder we don’t see more of them.


Art Deco and Art Moderne

1925 – 1940

While these early modern styles are commonly lumped together as Art Deco, there is a difference between the two, distinguished by the use of curved or angular surfaces with horizontal versus vertical emphasis.

Art Deco takes its name from a 1925 Paris exhibition, the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, which highlighted the latest in modern design. At the time, the style was referred to as “Modernistic.” English art historian Bevis Hillier popularized the name Art Deco in his 1968 book by the same name.

While the style took inspiration from many sources, the fascination with the opening of King Tut’s tomb in 1923 led to the incorporation of many Egyptian details. Art Deco houses usually have flat roofs and stucco exteriors highlighted by geometric decorations such as chevrons or zigzags emphasizing verticality. While there are few Art Deco houses in Indiana, it’s common to find the style used for movie theaters and commercial buildings.

Art Moderne (or Streamline Moderne) also uses flat roofs and stucco walls, but in contrast has smooth curves making it feel more horizontal. American industrial designers, rather than architects, led the movement starting in the 1930s by making everything from furniture to toasters look more aerodynamic and efficient. No surprise that the style was especially popular for gas and bus stations.

The use of portholes and curved windows suggest streamlined ocean liners. While it may seem odd to make buildings appear aerodynamic and fast, architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner argued that “bogus streamlining” was “functionally unjustifiable, but emotionally justifiable.” It provided a sense of technological advancement and modernity for a society suffering through the Great Depression.

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{Did you know?}

King Tut wasn’t much to squawk about if you were an Ancient Egyptian. But the largely intact tomb provided a wealth of insight to archaeologists, and led to the boy king’s current renown.


International Style

1930s – Present

Architects associated with the German Bauhaus school of design developed the style, and Americans Philip Johnson and Henry-Russell Hitchcock gave it the name International Style in a 1932 exhibit at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Bauhaus architects Walter Gropius, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Le Corbusier used steel, glass, and reinforced concrete to create a modern style whose details related to the building’s function. International-style houses are otherwise devoid of ornamentation.

Characteristics of the style include flat roofs, windows set flush with the wall and often banded with wrap-around corners, and plain, flat walls historically in white stucco, but Indiana also has examples constructed in brick. The style appears in Indiana as early as the late 1930s but experienced a revival from 1960-1985, when it is known as Late International.

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{Did you know?}

Walter Gropius couldn’t actually draw very well, which you might think a disadvantage for an architect. But the man knew how to delegate, and thus history was made.


Shed House

1960s – 1980s

In the 1970s, Americans stopped throwing litter from their car windows, established Earth Day and the Environmental Protection Agency, and learned about the evils of DDT and paving paradise, all to save the Spaceship Earth. Shed designs were a passive solar energy response to the oil crisis.

The style began in an architect-designed community of vacation homes north of San Francisco that featured unpainted wood siding and south facing windows. The style appealed to back-to-nature fans who found plenty of examples in pattern books. The style combines multiple shed roofs to create a very asymmetrical plan and a variety of window sizes, often including south-facing clerestory windows and skylights. Though the environmental movement continued, the style faded from popularity in the 1980s.

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Passive solar design is all about putting the sun to work for you: Home orientation, window placement, and shading are all situated to ensure the sun’s natural progress through the sky keeps the house comfortable.


Wrightian House

1950s – Present

Remember Frank Lloyd Wright from his early twentieth-century Prairie designs? The horizontal emphasis, flat roofs, and wide eaves of Wright’s designs inspired architects working from the 1950s through the present to incorporate the master’s organic philosophy. The idea that a building would blend in with nature, rather than sit upon it—like International style structures—fit perfectly with the growing environmental movement.

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More than 500 of Wright’s designs were completed, and he published books and articles constantly. Of course he was influential in the field.


Contemporary

1950s – Present

Created after the 1960s. And while the 1960s still seem “modern” to many, 50 years is the minimum age for most buildings to qualify as historic according to the National Park Service, which maintains the National Register of Historic Places. For now, we’re giving the name Contemporary to many mid-twentieth-century houses. No doubt revisions and further classification will occur with the passage of time and greater perspective on the more recent past.

Contemporary houses are typically designed by architects and custom built. The style displays the horizontal emphasis of its Ranch kin but offers a more futuristic appearance with placement of windows in non-traditional locations just below the roofline, flat or very low-pitched roofs, and large stretches of walls with no openings. It’s definitely not the practical, conservative look the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) approved in the 1930s! The FHA relaxed its guidelines in the 1950s, allowing more contemporary designs.

Architects brought the outside in by using large expanses of glass on the rear of the house, making the outdoors immediately present in all seasons. They fostered privacy by creating walled courtyards in front or large patios in the rear. Elements like the projecting roof rafters and purlins of the Craftsman style appear in a modern guise, revealing the post-and-beam structure of most Contemporary houses.
created after the 1960s. And while the 1960s still seem “modern” to many, 50 years is the minimum age for most buildings to qualify as historic according to the National Park Service, which maintains the National Register of Historic Places. For now, we’re giving the name Contemporary to many mid-twentieth-century houses. No doubt revisions and further classification will occur with the passage of time and greater perspective on the more recent past.

Contemporary houses are typically designed by architects and custom built. The style displays the horizontal emphasis of its Ranch kin but offers a more futuristic appearance with placement of windows in non-traditional locations just below the roofline, flat or very low-pitched roofs, and large stretches of walls with no openings. It’s definitely not the practical, conservative look the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) approved in the 1930s! The FHA relaxed its guidelines in the 1950s, allowing more contemporary designs.

Architects brought the outside in by using large expanses of glass on the rear of the house, making the outdoors immediately present in all seasons. They fostered privacy by creating walled courtyards in front or large patios in the rear. Elements like the projecting roof rafters and purlins of the Craftsman style appear in a modern guise, revealing the post-and-beam structure of most Contemporary houses.

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{Did you know?}

The National Register of Historic Places was authorized in 1966, serving as part of a national effort to bolster public and private support for preservation.


The Neos

1960s – Present

Neo-Craftsman
Neo-Queen Anne

From the 1960s through today, you’ll find a variety of historic styles constructed in modern materials but on a very large scale. Look back to the section on period revivals and you’ll find the inspiration for houses in some subdivisions of more recent vintage. To separate these newer homes from those of the 1920s-30s, add “Neo” to the style name.

For example, a Colonial style house built in 1990 is Neo-Colonial. The pattern repeats with Neo-Tudor, Neo-French, Neo-Mediterranean, Neo-Craftsman, etc. But what do you do when you get to a new Neoclassical? Just add “revival.” A Neoclassical style house built in 2000 is Neoclassical Revival. This also works for nineteenth-century styles. In some New Urbanism suburbs, you’ll see Neo-Italianate and Neo-Gothic, and Neo-Queen Anne houses. An exception arises with the Second Empire style. Houses built in the mid-to late-twentieth century with a prominent mansard roof are known as Mansard, not Neo-Second Empire.

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The mansard roof was perfected by a Frenchman named Francois Mansart in the 17th century, for whom it was named. Why the discrepancy in spelling? It’s just one of those things!