Victorian or Colonial revival? Modern or contemporary?
Even if you’re just curious, knowing the style of a home can be helpful for buying, selling, remodeling or decorating.
Deborah Burns, executive director of the Northern Virginia Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, said many homes have easily identifiable styles — a Colonial has a symmetrical facade, a small portico and a center hall, and a bungalow has a central roof dormer and a foundation made with patterned concrete blocks. But she also cautions that not all resources offer the correct information, and not all homes have a set style. It’s hardest to pin down suburban homes, she said.
“If you get into suburban home developments, I’m just not sure style was paramount in the design,” Burns said.
Burns said some real estate agents will incorrectly assign a home style based on one particular element, such as the window style or roof. This is because many homes are now built in a way that mixes elements of varying styles and cannot be clearly defined.
“The homes don’t necessarily conform to any single style,” Burns said. “That’s not to say they all don’t, but most don’t. A brick split-level home isn’t necessarily a Colonial style. I think builders felt free to borrow elements from styles they liked.”
If you’re curious about your home’s style, Burns suggests checking town or county resources first. Residents of the Ashton Heights neighborhood in Arlington, Va., for example, have a complete design guide provided by the county’s Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development. The guide identifies the historical neighborhood’s common styles: Colonial revival, Tudor revival, American foursquare and bungalow. The guide offers breakdowns of each type, along with tips on renovations to anything from windows to walkways.
Burns also said her go-to style reference is “What Style Is It: A Guide to American Architecture,” by John C. Poppeliers, S. Allen Chambers Jr. and Nancy Schwartz, calling it “the single most referred-to book for American architecture.”
Having a bungalow or Victorian-style home can guide interior design decisions, including window treatments and furniture. Lisa Adams of Adams Design in Washington said a home’s exterior is often a good indicator of a homeowner’s taste.
“If they are design-conscious, there is a reason they’ve selected a house,” Adams said. “Usually people are relatively consistent in their preferences. If you live in a Colonial with antique furniture, that’s your style.”
“Modern is all about positive and negative,” Adams added. “The windows are sort of piercing through the exterior. The walls and cabinetry are very minimalistic. It is very geometric, and you have to pay attention to the geometry. Color is a factor, but you don’t want it to overwhelm.”
Adams, who worked for an architectural firm before becoming an interior designer, said she enjoys working with all of the common styles.
Some of her favorites?
“I love the Cape Cod, and I lived in a Georgian house. Even Gothic revival is charming. And who wouldn’t love to live in a Victorian?”