Colonial Homes and Everything You Need To Know About Them

Colonial homes are a fixture in American residential architecture in New England and along the East Coast.

Colonial Homes

If you grew up in the U.S., you probably went to some kind of museum in a historical home. Scattered across the country, they all smell like dust and memories. Maybe you noticed that the house looked just like the previous old home you toured. Most likely, it was an example of Colonial Revival architecture.

While touring a traditional old Colonial home is a fun experience, living in one presents challenges. You have an urge to protect its history while making the space livable for your family. Learning about the history of the home can help you decide what is important and what you can change.

Here is everything you need to know about Colonial houses.

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Colonial HomesView in gallery

Origins of Colonial Houses

Colonial architecture came with the landscape of the early American colonies. The styles varied by what power controlled the region. Classic Colonial homes were modeled after the ever-popular Georgian houses, rooted in British colonial architecture. These were constructed with a strict nine window grid and front door on the facade.

Mostly wood, you might also find double chimneys and in grander houses, a wing or two off the sides. Later homes boasted brick across the front with siding around the back. No matter the date, Colonial houses are still quite symmetrical because they are easier to build.

The same traditional symmetry can be found in different types of styles, such as French Colonial or Spanish Colonial.

Colonial Exteriors

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A true historic Colonial house will probably be quite plain. You’ll find the traditional window grid across the front and wood siding around the exterior. But thanks to Georgian styles and British colonial architecture, Colonial homes will often have a pediment that keeps them from looking too straightlaced.

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While clapboard siding was the most common among historic Colonial architecture, you could find brick facades as well. And, you might prefer that for your American Colonial style house. With a straightforward design, the brick pattern provides interest that British Colonial architecture lacks.

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Every so often, you might come across a traditional Colonial home with a stone exterior. Know that you’ve hit the jackpot. Houses built as stone Colonials are hard to find. If you can snap it up, make sure you do everything possible to preserve its historical integrity for future generations.

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A historic American Colonial style house would rely on fireplaces for heat in the harsh winters and use them for symmetry on the exterior. Embrace those brick columns as you design your exterior.

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A modern Colonial style house is rarely so authentic due to our contemporary needs. It’s common to find a wing off the side of the house that serves as a garage, but with similar window styles, it can blend with the rest of the house.

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Does your American Colonial-style home have one wing off one side? Add another off the opposite side for the cherished symmetry of Colonial architecture. You’ll also make your home’s facade look more grand.

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You might not realize how easy it would be to turn Colonial architecture into a mock Georgian. Add flourishes at the corners, around the roof and by the front door. This easily a facade of grandeur and elegance for colonial style houses.

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Don’t think that the exterior of modern colonial homes is limited to plain colors. Painting your siding with an eye-catching shade like dusty gray, blue or even black can bring your home up to date with the rest of the neighborhood.

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Even the littlest pop of color can bring a total home refresh. If you don’t have the funds to paint your entire house, paint your front door. Unexpected colors like red, turquoise or purple will give your American Colonial style home’s exterior new life.

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Colonial Style House Interiors

Expanded entryway

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If you thought that the Georgian similarities stopped at that Colonial door, think again. Most Colonial architecture opens to an entryway-like hall that often went the length of the home with rooms off of it. This creates separate rooms and not an open floor plan.

Low ceilings

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Low ceilings were just a part of colonial architecture so don’t be surprised if your Colonial style home has them. Rather than expand, work with the height if it doesn’t make it uncomfortable for you or your family. It will save your budget and add to the home’s history.

Architectural style

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Hello, details. Just like Georgian homes, Colonial style houses can show off just as many architectural pretties. Look for detailed ceilings, decorative molding and ornate trim around the house. While you might have to paint and touch up, it will save you from installing entirely new details .{found on architecturaldigest}.

Exposed beams

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If you thought that a Victorian home had some cool old beams, you should see the attic bedrooms in Colonial houses. As long as their age doesn’t impact the structural soundness of your home, they can have a powerful effect on your decor, especially in bedrooms.


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lamp out to remove curio cabinet

Remember what we said about exterior chimneys? That means you probably have at least one fireplace to work with. Thank goodness they’re usually an eye-catcher. Decorate the mantel to your heart’s desire and if the fireplace is non-working, you get to be creative on the inside too.


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Wallpaper was definitely a thing back in colonial days. While you probably won’t find it in historic Colonial houses, you can definitely install it yourself. Choose a close pattern in bright colors to make your space feel like you’ve stepped back in time.{found on architecturaldigest}.

Neutral palette

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When you want to find the perfect in-between for a historic home and the decor that it holds, neutral colors will never let you down. Fill your home with creams, browns and beiges to create a feeling of authenticity even though all the decor is contemporary.

Use antiques

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If you have a little cash to spend, frequent antique shops. You can fill your home with pieces that look like they belong in a past life. Bonus points if the piece comes with a story.

Go modern instead

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Don’t worry if your house style choices veer to the modern. Try to keep the details of the Colonial architectural style but decorate however you like! Modern art and furniture look even better when unexpected.

Create a sleek interior

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It might seem contrary but sleek and clean can be a good combination against the historic values of a Colonial home. If you’re revamping a space like a kitchen or a bathroom, consider going modern with your big pieces for a seriously custom home.

You can never have too much inspiration when it comes to colonial homes, so let’s look at a few more. There are plenty of beautiful examples of this style. Each is beautiful and unique in its own way so it’s always worth checking them out.

A colonial house on a lake in Minnesota

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This home is located close to Turtle Lake in Minnesota and has a lovely view and beautiful landscape. Murphy & Co. Design created this American colonial style house with a big L-shaped floor plan. The main entrance has a little roofed porch area with more of these outdoor nooks all around the house.

The color palette used for the exterior is light and warm. The house features weathered shingles on the roof which match the aesthetic of the exterior walls. The windows have blue wooden shutters which add a little bit of color to the facades. The front door is also blue and the interior has a very similar chromatic palette as well. The staircase which leads upstairs features blue carpet and there’s more blue accents in each room in various different forms like the backsplash in the kitchen or the little side table in the sitting room.

A colonial farmhouse with a modern interior

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The inspiration behind the design of this American Colonial style house came from the farmsteads found in Pennsylvania back in the 18th and 19th centuries. Studio Murphy & Co. Design applied a similar aesthetic to this colonial farmhouse in Minneapolis.

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They also made sure it is suitable for a modern lifestyle. The exterior has American colonial architecture. It is adorned with white cedar cladding and wooden shingles, windows with shutters and prominent roof lines.

Colonial HomesView in gallery

Colonial HomesView in gallery

The interior, on the other hand, has a modern flair with open-concept layouts. It does of course also have a charming, warm and inviting look and feel. However, it’s also meant to look refined and bright and airy with plenty of windows. It’s a nice mix of architectural styles, giving it lots of character.

The designers used a selection of traditional and modern materials, finishes and furnishings to create a unique environment, including the bedrooms.

A Dutch colonial style home in New York

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This home is located in New York, in an area populated with lots of old and classic structures. As such, the owners wanted it to blend in and to look as if it has been there for generations. They worked closely with Mackin Architects.

They settled on a Dutch colonial-style home design and wanted to keep the scale of the Colonial house similar to those of neighboring homes. Thus, the architects integrated the second story of the building into the roofline and constructed dormer windows for the bedrooms.

This design strategy allowed the Colonial house to be quite big on the inside while maintaining a scaled-down aesthetic that matches the overall community. The interior rooms have plentiful windows and extend onto large wraparound porches. Some of these features come from French colonial homes.

The interior is inviting, light and airy and has a classical vibe while also being optimized for a modern lifestyle.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)FAQ

What defines colonial style?

Typically found on the US East Coast and New England, rooted in a British colonial tradition, colonial style homes have a distinct look. They have a simple rectangular shape and tend to be two to three stories tall. Facades are usually wood and sometimes stone. A colonial house has one, perhaps two fireplaces.

The specific country that colonized an area drives the architectural styles. These include Spanish colonial and French colonial style houses.

What makes a house colonial style?

Colonial styles have two or three stories, brick or wood facades and at least one fireplace if not two. The floor plan puts the kitchen and living spaces as separate rooms on the first floor and the bedrooms upstairs.

What is colonial style decor?

American Colonial style homes typically have decor that is neutral in color. Interiors have large entrance halls, wood floors, simple color schemes, wainscoting and millwork that is not too over the top.

What style is Colonial Revival?

Colonial Revival is basically a mish-mash of styles creating a quintessentially American colonial architecture. Roofs can be gabled, hipped, or gambrel. A Colonial house can also include dormer windows. It’s a diverse style that can easily be adapted to contemporary lifestyle needs. Cape Cod style in New England is an example.


Modern colonial homes improve on the best elements of an architectural style that grew out of British colonial rule. Many colonial houses are modest, but they can also be quite grand. As popular as they are if you want a one, you can surely find a colonial house to fit your budget and your family.

US residential home styles vary across the country’s landscape. Here are other types of exterior house styles.