Early American home design was about distancing itself from its oppressive "Mother England." The young nation's great thinkers, such as architect Thomas Jefferson, incorporated architectural elements from ancient cultures like Rome (hence the name Romantic). Still, other early American architects chose to recall ancient Greece in the Early Classical and Colonial Revival styles, so revered by citizens living in the "Mother of All Democracies."
So what does life in a Romantic home look like?
Greek Revival Style predominated from about 1830 until 1850, when it was overtaken by the second Romantic home design, a Renaissance style heavily influenced by the castles, manor houses and cathedrals of the Middle Ages. It's referred to as the Gothic Revival style, and it appeared in the 1840s. In 1850, the Italianate style emerged, influenced by airily constructed villas of Northern Italy.
- Greek Revival Style is characterized by marked symmetry and strong horizontal and vertical lines. The effect is created with the following architectural elements: heavy, pedimented gables (the big, low-pitched triangular elements at the front), big cornices (exterior molding just beneath the roof), heavy supporting columns and smaller, ornamental pilasters (which look like flattened columns). Greek Revival style first appeared on public buildings in Philadelphia, including the country's first capitol building. It proliferated starting with New England and working its way to the mid-Atlantic states, westward to the nation's mid-section. You can find many examples today in New York, Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia, but also in Chicago and New Orleans.
- Gothic Revival Style homes departed from the rigid symmetry of Greek Revival in favor of an asymmetrical floor plan. These homes got the fairytale princess treatment with steep roof-lines, parapets and pinnacles (the pointed things extending above the roof-line), decorative leaded glass and fanciful clover-shaped windows. An offshoot of Gothic Revival is Carpenter's Gothic, which flourished mostly in New England and is notable for its use of sawn wood decoration, instead of stone. While the greatest concentration of Gothic Revival houses is in New England, the style became so popular that modest versions can be found from coast-to-coast with them.
- Italianate style homes were usually constructed in rectangular sections, like Italian villas, with lots of decoration: wings, towers, cornices, Corinthian-columned porches, angled bay windows, and a square tower or cupola. Floor plans are asymmetrical. Italianate homes were particularly popular on the West Coast, and the Italianate versions of San Francisco's beloved "Painted Ladies" are still celebrated today. What chiefly distinguishes the Italianate style houses from other popular Victorian designs is the flat roofline -- perfect for mild West Coast winters, where roofs needn't be pitched to shed snow.
We "heart" Romantic homes!
It's been more than two centuries, since America made a break from England and began to develop its own blend of culture, one voice of which is architecture. Modern American houses are less about politics and more about aesthetics. Whether you prefer your romance with Greek Revival gravitas, in a Gothic Revival home reminiscent of a fairytale castle, or are drawn to airy Italianate architecture, old homes in these old house styles can be found in many popular cities and quiet towns across the U.S.
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