Basic Architectural Styles Everyone Should Know

When you put together your wish list for your new home, your REALTOR will likely want to know what architectural style you’re looking for. Though you might not have your heart set on a certain type, knowing a few basic architectural designs will help you build a vocabulary to properly express what it is you really want. It’ll most likely impress your REALTOR too!

Realizing that this is far from a complete list, each one of these home types has its own unique bit of history and charm. When you’re looking for your next home, don’t spend all of your time touring the inside—make sure to take a look at the outside as well, admiring the design and layout.


American colonial architecture started in the 1600s and we still see throwback styles built like the original colonist homes today. Colonial homes draw attention to the front door by their symmetrical, square style. This symmetry also guides window design and placement, usually with windows on either side of the door, paired with similar windows on the second floor. Colonial homes carry much history and are lovely in their simple lines and inviting feel.


Also from an early era of American history, neoclassical designs hearken back to Greek pillars and frames. Early American founders believed that government should be based off of Greek notions of democracy and free speech, and this aesthetic carried over into the way homes were built as well. Anything with domes or columns that also reminds you of Greece or Rome probably has a neoclassical influence.


Victorian culture in the United States peaked in the mid to late 19th century—when the namesake Queen Victoria was on the throne in England. Vaults, intricate decoration, and spires characterize Victorian architecture. Victorian homes are lovely in their grace and lasting beauty.


Ranch style homes are unique to the United States and grew out of the modernist movement of the early to mid-20th century. Ranch style homes are known for their minimalist approach to exterior decorations and their length. Ranch homes tend to be close to the ground and are built for a working family, highlighting the importance of informal, casual living (in contrast to the heavily ornamented Victorian style in the late 19th century).


This house design started in the mid-20th century. They tend to be compact, and efficient in their floor design, with a central living room for the whole family to enjoy. Interestingly, the bungalow houses you see today are inspired by India where English colonists used single-family homes. American architects caught on to the European trend of efficient living by designing their own family-centered housing type.


Contemporary architecture can mean a lot of things including innovative exteriors with a variety of different finishes (think wood, brick, and other materials all on one home). Other contemporary designs utilize lines and boxes in interesting ways to create a visual appeal that is unique to the 21st century. The definition of contemporary architecture keeps changing as history moves forward, so we’ll see what that word means in 10 or 20 years!

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