Federal House (Style Spotlight)

By Steele Marcoux

Federal home design style comes with another confusing name. In design, the word "federal" simply indicates the time period (1780–1820) when the style, known among architecture aficionados as the American phase of the "Adam" style, prevailed in the fledgling United States. The style borrowed heavily from contemporary European influences, particularly the English Adams brothers. The brothers had traveled to Italy and are credited with popularizing architectural details from original Roman and Greek buildings instead of their Renaissance interpretations.

The Elements of Federal Style
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Federal House (Style Spotlight)

The typical form of original federal, or Adam, houses is a simple box shape, usually two to three rooms deep, with a symmetrical arrangement of doors and windows, especially on the front. Additions to the sides and rear are common.

The most common embellishment to the simple box form is the addition of a projecting gable, centered on the house's entry. Sometimes the facade beneath the gable, or pediment, remains on the same plane as the rest of the facade, while sometimes it projects slightly forward.

Federal houses in the Northern U.S. tend to be built with clapboard siding, often painted white,  with details like doors and shutters painted black.

In the Southern U.S., or in urban row house variations, these homes tend to be built with brick.

Federal-style homes typically emphasize the cornice (horizontal trim that marks the crown of a building element, like a wall or a window) with decorative molding, most typically toothlike dentils or blocklike projections.


Where to find it: All along the Eastern Seaboard, from Provincetown, Mass., to Savannah, Ga.

Why you'll love it: If you're an American history buff, you pride yourself on your patriotism, and you're drawn to places like Boston, Georgetown in Washington, D.C., and Savannah, this style has got your name all over it.

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