What is an American Foursquare House?

The American Foursquare is an architectural style unique to the United States. It has a square shape, a symmetrical facade, and simple ornamentation.

All American Foursquare houses share the same basic form, but the decorative details differ. Some of the most popular types of Foursquare homes were Colonial Revival, Craftsmen, and Mission style.

The American Foursquare house was popular beginning in the 1890s. But, the use of Foursquare house plans faded by 1930.

The Rise of the American Foursquare

American foursquare house design
Image by Steven Martin

American Foursquares began showing up in American cities in the 1890s. The symmetric and uncomplicated design was a reaction against the high ornamentation and asymmetry of the Queen Anne style in the United States.

Foursquare houses became popular because they were more budget-conscious to build, occupied less land, and provided more interior square footage.

Many experts credit the origins of the Foursquare house to the work of Frank Lloyd Wright and his Prairie style. The early Foursquare homes feature many of the same characteristics of the Prairie style, including a boxy shape, symmetrical facades, strong horizontal lines, and efficient designs. Yet, there are key differences between Prairie architecture and American Foursquares.

The use of nature and integration into the surroundings is important in Prairie architecture, while simplicity and efficiency are more important in American Foursquare architecture.

Two other reasons American Foursquare homes soared in popularity were pattern books advancing common designs and because people could buy kits to build these homes.

Large stores like Sears, Roebuck and Company, and Aladdin Homes sold these kits. These stores shipped the house kits in boxcars with detailed instructions and pre-cut pieces.

New economic conditions and style trends in the 1930s led to the downfall of the American Foursquare. The Great Depression caused a temporary decline in the number of people who could afford these large houses.

Architects began innovating ways to create smaller, more efficient house styles like the bungalow. New style trends allowed people to move away from prefabricated houses to homes with greater variation.

American Foursquare Characteristics

The details of American Foursquares will differ, but the shape and size are one of the most recognizable features of this classic American style.

Exterior Features

  • Symmetrical facade – Boxy and rectangular shape with symmetrical windows arranged on either side of the front door
  • Roof – Hipped roof style with gabled or pedimented dormer windows
  • Central entrance – Central front door, sometimes surrounded by sidelights or a transom window
  • Porches – Wide and wrap-around one-story porches
  • One and a half or two stories – Living space on the first floor with bedrooms above. Some have partial or full basements
  • Construction materials – Mass-produced materials to construct Foursquares, including brick, wood, and stucco
  • Simple facade – Simple and unadorned facade with little to no decorative exterior detailing
  • Window style – Symmetrical window arrangements using casement or double-hung windows.

Interior Features

  • Interior hallway – Large central hallway that connects the other rooms and serves as a hub for the house
  • First floor – First floor of Foursquares featured common living spaces like the living room, dining room, and kitchen. Some houses connect these rooms via a central hallway. Other Foursquare styles feature a more open floor plan.
  • Second floor – The second floor of an American Foursquare features private areas like bedrooms and bathrooms.
  • Staircase – Staircases that connect the first and second floors. Open or closed stairway designs feature straight or curved lines.
  • Simple decoration – Functionality, and budget were the main priority of Foursquare design, so builders kept ornamentation to a minimum.
  • Natural materials – The use of natural materials, such as wood, brick, and stone, to give the interior texture and warmth

Design Styles of American Foursquares

American Foursquare House Style

Foursquare houses are a common design type but vary in their decorative details by design style.

Colonial Revival Foursquare Houses

Colonial Revival Foursquares feature a pedimented gable over the porch and classical-style columns. These homes also have other neoclassical elements, including dormers with Palladian windows and cornice molding using dentils or medallions. Colonial Revival Foursquares were the most popular in the early days of the style.

Craftsman Foursquare Homes

Craftsman-style Foursquares became more popular in the 1910s. In this home style, tapered columns replaced the classical columns. These homes had wide, overhanging eaves with exposed rafters and knee braces. They also featured low-pitched roofs with large gabled or shed dormer windows.

Mission-Style Foursquare Houses

The Mission style was another Foursquare style house similar to the Craftsman style.

One popular Mission-style Foursquare was the Alhambra design from Sears, Roebuck and Co. It was a four-square house kit with Spanish flair. It featured stucco siding, a red brick foundation, a red tiled roof, and curved exterior detailing.