Here's What Distinguishes the Most Popular American House Styles

white home with both modern and traditional elements
Photo: Brie Williams

In a world full of so many different house styles, it can be a little challenging just to narrow down your own home's architectural style, let alone edit the list down to your favorite style or understand the distinctions characteristic to each house style. We'll show you the 10 most popular American house styles, including Cape Cod, French Country, Colonial, Victorian, Tudor, Craftsman, Cottage, Mediterranean, ranch-style, and Contemporary.

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What Style Is Your House?

white home with both modern and traditional elements
Brie Williams

Whether you're shopping for homes, remodeling, adding a second level, or just giving your home some extra curb appeal, knowing which house styles you prefer and the style of your house can help you develop a successful plan. If you're working on your current home, you'll also gain a greater appreciation of the way your house was designed and built.

This guide to different styles of houses will help you understand the many variations within the variety of designs. You can also find architecture guides online, at your local library, or in larger bookstores that will help you identify a particular style or design. If you're renovating, using the original style of your house as a starting point for an exterior makeover is usually the best technique, but, in some cases, mixing styles can energize a design.

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Cape Cod House Style

neutral cape code-style home exterior and driveway
Michael Luppino

Cape Cod was a popular home architecture style in the 1930s, but it dates back to the late 17th century. Typically one story (or sometimes with another half story), the Cape Cod style features a steep roofline, wood siding, multi-pane windows, and hardwood floors. Original Cape Cod-style homes were fairly small, but they often added space, light, and ventilation with dormer windows. If you're in need of more space, an addition to your current Cape Cod house plans can go on the side or back depending on the site. Many original Cape Cod-style houses did not have a finished space upstairs, so you might find that the upstairs area is either incomplete or previously remodeled and can easily be changed to fit your needs.

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French Country House Styles

exterior of brown country french home entrance
Reed Davis

Country French-style homes in the United States date back to the 18th century. At that time, France occupied much of eastern North America, with settlements scattered along the principal waterways, such as the St. Lawrence, Great Lakes, and Mississippi valleys. French building traditions started to fade after President Thomas Jefferson purchased Louisiana in 1803, but this house style remained popular in New Orleans and other areas for another half-century.

Country French homes are often one story with many narrow windows and paired shutters, steeply pitched roofs (either hipped or side-gabled), stucco walls, and a half-timbered frame. The curb appeal really stands out and often features stunning driveways and landscape designs.

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Colonial House Style

large traditional colonial home exterior
Emily Followill

Naturally this American house style had its roots in the colonial era, but it has evolved constantly, including the late 19th-century style known as Colonial Revival. Colonial-style houses usually have two or three stories, fireplaces, and brick or wood facades. The classic Colonial-style house floor plan has the kitchen and family room on the first floor and the bedrooms on the second floor.

Colonial-style homes are easy to add onto. A brick facade can be difficult to match, but a builder or designer can help you find complementary siding materials. Search online for reproduction Colonial-style materials, such as divided-light windows, to help you make a smooth exterior transition.

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Victorian House Styles

neutral victorian facade with red front door
John Bessler

There are several styles of houses (such as Queen Anne) that fall within the Victorian era, which lasted from 1837 to 1901. Homes of the Victorian Era had interiors that were romantic, distinctive, and abundant in detail, from the patterns of their fabrics to their colors and textures. Contemporary Victorian house design retains the traditional characteristics but uses more modern fabrics and colors. Traditional and contemporary can be combined nicely in these houses.

Victorian homes often feature a steeply pitched roof, a dominant front-facing gable, patterned shingles, and cutaway bay windows. Victorian-style houses usually have an asymmetrical facade with a partial or full-width front porch.

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Tudor House Styles

brick stucco and frame tudor-style home with stone
Jeff Herr

This style's name suggests a close connection to the 16th-century architecture of England's Tudor dynasty. But the Tudor houses we see today are modern-day reinventions loosely based on a variety of Late Medieval English prototypes.

Common features of Tudor-style homes include a steeply pitched roof, prominent cross gables, decorative half-timbering, and tall, narrow windows with small windowpanes.

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Play Up Tudor Style

No matter what house style you have, it's all about the curb appeal. Watch and learn how to enhance your home's elegant Tudor style using these signature exterior details. Use these ideas to play up the different materials, colors, and textures found in Tudor-style houses.

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Craftsman House Styles

tan craftsman-style house and front lawn
Jon Jensen

The Craftsman bungalow (also known as Arts and Crafts style) was popular between 1900 and 1930, and it's making a comeback today. If you're wondering what a Craftsman-style house interior looks like, pay attention to the woodwork. One distinguishing feature of the style is the large amount of interior woodwork, such as built-in shelving and seating.

As for the exterior, Craftsman-style houses often have low-pitched roofs with wide eave overhangs, exposed roof rafters, decorative beams or braces under gables, and porches framed by tapered square columns. Craftsman bungalows often have unfinished but usable space in the attic that can offer great renovation opportunities.

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Add Craftsman Style

Craftsman-style houses hold a lot of potential. See how to play up your home's charming Craftsman aesthetic with these curb appeal ideas. Your patio and front yard will look better than ever.

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Cottage House Styles

traditional cottage with muted green shakers
Stacey Branford

The thatched-roof cottages of the Medieval English countryside inspired American architects to design the charming and cozy cottage-style houses we know today. The style became especially popular in the United States during the 1920s and 1930s.

Common features of cottage-style house plans include a warm, storybook character, steep roof pitches and cross gables, arched doors, casement windows with small panes, and brick, stone, or stucco siding.

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Mediterranean House Styles

traditional mediterranean-style home with stone
Edward Gohlich

Mediterranean-style architecture gave birth to the Spanish Colonial Revival style that flourished in Southern California during the 1920s and 1930s following a noteworthy appearance at the Panama-California Exposition of 1915.

Mediterranean-style homes often feature a low-pitched red tile roof, arches, grillwork, and a stucco or adobe exterior. The typical U-shape Mediterranean floor plan is oriented around a central courtyard and fountain, making the garden an extension of the living space. The rooms in Spanish-style houses often open to the courtyard, promoting cooling cross-ventilation and the flow of fresh air.

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Traditional Ranch-Style Houses

modern gray ranch home with red front door
Laurie Black

Traditional ranch-style homes usually have simple floor plans, attached garages, and efficient living spaces. The style dates back to 1932 and is still being built today. It was one of the most popular styles in the postwar suburban home-building boom of the 1950s and 1960s.

Although they might appear plain or cookie-cutter on the outside, ranch-style houses offer great potential for additions. Bi-level and tri-level homes evolved from the ranch style and were built during the same era. Because of their simplicity, ranch-style house plans are easy to upgrade with additions.

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Contemporary House Styles

mid-century modern home exterior in warm climate
Michael Garland

Originally describing architect-designed homes built from about 1950 to 1970, the term "contemporary" has come to describe a wide range of modern house styles built in recent decades that concentrate on simple forms and geometric lines. Contemporary-style homes reflect the experimentation and dynamism of the postwar period, in which many modernist ideas were integrated into the American aesthetic.

Many contemporary homes feature lots of glass, open floor plans, and inventive designs. Without elaborate ornamentation and unnecessary detail, the exteriors of contemporary homes often feature a dynamic mix of contrasting materials and textures, exposed roof beams, and flat or low-pitched roofs.

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New Home Additions

new home addition on red brick home in country
Jim Westphalen

Not every home abides by a single house style. You will often see elements of different house styles combined in one home. It's a product of one era moving into another while retaining some features of the previous period, and it can easily be adapted to your design scheme. Although you should avoid a hodgepodge of house styles, you can alter a particular style for your addition. Once you understand the style of your existing home, you can thoughtfully move forward with the design of your addition.

For example, juxtaposing building materials and mixing window shapes creates architectural intrigue between this home and its addition. Although they were built at different times and feature contrasting materials and elements, they are connected by the use of angles and strong geometry.

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