Colonial Architecture

Colonial Style Homes of New England

When people say that "colonial homes" are their favorite housing style, they are probably picturing a two-story structure with a center entrance and a symmetrical arrangement of windows, often fondly summed up as "five-over-four-and-a-door." In New England, colonial homes, both old and new are generally built of wood.

The towns that Barrett & Company serves have many beautiful examples of Colonial homes, and a surprising number of these are the real McCoy, dating from between 1640 and 1776. These antique homes usually have been lovingly cared for and sensitively updated over the years. They offer their owners history and a homey warmth.

Some traits of Colonial-era homes:

  • Post and beam construction -- now a current trend in modern home-building, showing that what is old is new again.
  • True divided light windows.
  • Construction around a central chimney. This huge masonry chimney runs through the middle of the house and was originally the only heat source for the upper floor. Later, to gain more interior space, early American homes had a chimney on either end of the house.

The Colonial Revival

The Boston area also has a stunning collection of Colonial Revival homes, which were extremely popular at the turn of the 20th century through the 1930s.

Colonial Revival homes:

Were inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement, which honored the craftsmanship of a bygone era.  Wallace Nutting, a famed collector of early American furniture, produced hand-colored photographs of Colonial interiors, helping spread interest in the revival.

Tend to have a bigger layout and larger windows than true Colonial-era homes because of course central heating was part of the original design. Glass-walled sunrooms and formal gardens set these homes apart from their homey, utilitarian forebears.

Usually have a fine level of workmanship in the moldings and mantels, many historically accurate but sometimes "pumped up" for added drama.

Can range from houses that would be considered estates to modest Dutch Colonials (to be discussed in a future blog).

May include Arts and Crafts elements in the interior, such as an inglenook or a built-in sideboard in the dining room.

Modern Classics

New England residential architects continue to draw on Colonial design traits when building new homes. A large, 5,000 square foot "Colonial" can have game rooms, large walk-in closets, and other high-end amenities but will still rely on classic Colonial details, such as dentil molding, side panels on either side of the front door, and an overall symmetry of design.

Built for the Landscape

Colonial homes of any time period function well in the New England climate. They have simple rooflines and a maximum of usable space for the footprint of the house, making them easier to heat than more "sprawling" styles.

Antique Colonials: Beyond the Borning Room*

We all follow the trends of home sales and what is hot among buyers. Recently, square footage is no longer the be-all-and-end-all of buyers' requirements. Many are looking for quality and unique design. Here are some things on discerning buyers' wish lists:

  • quality construction
  • fine woodworking and detail
  • spaces for gracious entertaining
  • custom-built, not "cookie-cutter"
  • a connection to nature
  • mature and lovely landscaping
  • Lastly, everyone's dream -- all of the above features at an affordable price in the desirable towns west of Boston.

Surprisingly, many antique homes (primarily ones built in the 18th and early 19th centuries) fit the bill and offer even more amenities.

First, it should be noted that the most popular home style remains the Colonial. They are still being built today. But New England is blessed with the real thing, and if you have spent any time in a true antique Colonial, you will recognize that the proportion and functionality are aesthetically perfect. Unless you go with a high-end custom builder, I'm willing to wager that a new "Colonial" will simply not be as well proportioned (or even as well built). It's analogous to Greek vs. Roman art. The Romans copied the Greek originals and rarely surpassed them.

But back to today's home buyers. They covet woodwork, built-ins and fireplaces. The antique Colonial has these high-end features and even the bragging rights that all the work was hand done by the best-trained craftsmen. You won't find comparable moldings at Home Depot!

Someone considering an antique will have to balance the likely small closets or small bathrooms with the advantages of multiple fireplaces and those quality features, like wide pine floors and wainscoting. That is a trade-off I would be willing to make. I value a formal dining room with its own elegant fireplace and a large built-in china cabinet more than a large master bath. The pleasures I get entertaining at holidays or even coming together for a relaxed evening meal trumps any activity I do in a bathroom. But that is just me.

Today, people talk about the home's connection to nature. We live in a lovely part of the country and want to enjoy the outdoors. The typical antique Colonial will likely maintain at least some pastoral views from its windows. I was recently at an antique home for sale in Lincoln Massachusetts and oohed and aahed at the views of stone walls and a sylvan tree that stood in the back yard. If you long for a sylvan tree, an antique home is the place to find one. And since many antiques are located in the center of town, people moving from the city will continue to enjoy the walk-to-everything convenience.

One shouldn't be too afraid of exploring the possibility of expansion, as well. While towns will rightly want to make sure that additions are sympathetic, the reality is that many of these New England homes were added on to over the years. That contributes to their picturesque appearance. In fact, today's high-end builders sometimes design large homes to look as if they had been expanded over the generations. This is a much more New England aesthetic than just building large right from the start.

So look to antiques. They are not just for history buffs. Antique homes provide warmth, charm, and beauty, which make them truly timeless.

*It seems that many antique Colonial homes have a small first-floor room called the borning room. Colonial-era women, who often had 12 or more children, were stationed in this room for their deliveries. Borning rooms never seem to make it onto modern buyers' wish lists, but they do make a great story (or maybe a great closet).

Click to search all Massachusetts homes for sale built prior to 1900.

Making a Splash on Pinterest

The meteorologists describe a "heat wave" as "a prolonged period of excessively hot weather, which may be accompanied by high humidity". Here in New England we are in the midst of our third heat wave of the summer.

HOT HOT HOT

And whether you love the heat or hate it, nothing sounds better than a cool, refreshing dip in a soothing aquamarine-colored swimming pool. Since we can't actually give you a pool to dive into to cool off, how about taking a look at some of the stunning images we have collected on one of our favorite Pinterest boards "Making a Splash" for a little imaginative plunge.

Sotheby's Inaugural Designer Showhouse in New York

Sotheby's auction house in New York recently presented an inaugural Designer Showhouse exhibition. The event, which is sponsored by Sotheby's International Realty, Inc., is an innovative approach to highlighting the treasure trove of fine art, furniture and decorative arts offered each season at Sotheby's.

A select group of talented interior designers were given exclusive access to the auction house's inventory and shopped the "stacks" to select a group of objects from which six distinctive interior spaces were devised. These objects include paintings, sculptures, prints, furniture and decorative arts which range in date from the 1st century A.D. through the end of the 20th century and encompass a range of artistic and architectural styles from around the world. Here is a peek at their masterful spaces the designers created.

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RYAN KORBAN, known for his retail design including Alexander Wang's flagship store, Balenciaga's men's and women's flagship stores and Fivestory New York; ann-pyne-crop

ANN PYNE from McMillen Inc., the oldest full service interior design and decorating firm in America;daun-curry-1-crop

DAUN CURRY from Modern Declaration, named one of Vogue's hottest new designers; os-1-crop

New York design duo CATHERINE CASTEEL OLASKY and MAXIMILIAN P. SINSTEDEN from Olasky & Sinsteden whose collective background includes time working for renowned names including Bunny Williams, Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler, David Easton Inc., Charlotte Moss;

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SHALER LADD of Shaler Ladd Design Corporation who has built his business by providing exceptional service and quality to a loyal client base for which he curates interiors tailored to the distinct lifestyle and tastes of each individual; and, rush-jenkins-1-crop

RUSH JENKINS and KLAUS BAER from WRJ Design Associates, who are renowned for curating and designing exhibits for such luminaries as Mrs. Nancy Reagan and Bill Blass.

These designers were given the freedom to create any type of space and impose any type of aesthetic that he or she desired. The hope is that these spaces will demonstrate how good pieces of fine and decorative art can transcend time and space and that the dialogue between these pieces within a contemporary context not only allows the viewer an opportunity to reflect upon the pieces' historical and artistic importance, but also gives the pieces new meaning and significance in the world of today.