exterior or colonial style home

The Colonial-Style House: Everything You Need To Know

Kevin Graham5-Minute Read
August 29, 2022

If you’re thinking about moving on from your starter home, you might be looking into specific styles like a Colonial home.

This architectural style is popular in certain parts of the U.S., along with ranch, Craftsmen, Cape Cod and Tudor houses. Let’s take a look at the different types of colonial houses, what defines them and why they’re so appealing to so many home buyers.

What Is A Colonial-Style House?

A colonial-style home usually has a simple, borderline minimalist rectangular shape. They tend to be two to three stories tall with fireplaces and brick or wood facades. Colonial homes are traditionally found on the east coast of the United States.

Origins Of The Colonial Design Style

There are a few types of colonial architecture – including Dutch, French and Spanish in addition to the more common British – found in the United States. Colonial style dates back to the 1600s. The design elements are derived from the homes the colonists had back in England. Homes following this design were popular throughout the British colonies in America. This style of home is still considered among the most popular, particularly in New England and the northeastern United States.

Is There An American Colonial Style?

Some people might call the British colonial style “American colonial style.” But since the style originated with British colonists in the Americas, that’s not really accurate.

Key Features Of A Colonial Home

While no two homes will be identical, there are a few specific identifying characteristics that home buyers can look out for when shopping for a colonial-style home, and you’ll find these elements whether the home is British, Dutch or French colonial (we’ll talk about these in-depth soon, along with Spanish colonial homes).

Two Stories

Colonial homes are traditionally either two or three stories tall – never one story. They are rectangular in profile. These homes have steep roofs with gables. They are traditionally built with wood, stone or brick.

The floor plan of a colonial home usually features the kitchen and living spaces downstairs with all bedrooms upstairs. There is usually either one central fireplace or a fireplace on either end of the home. Spanish colonial houses are an exception to this because they’re usually one story.

Symmetrical Architecture

One key feature of colonial homes is symmetry. The front door is always centered and there are an equal number of windows on either side of the door. The windows are traditionally multipaned with shutters in contrasting colors.

Symmetrical Floor Plans

Colonial homes traditionally have a central hallway with symmetrical rooms on either side. Usually, the formal living and dining rooms are in the front with a kitchen and family room in the rear. The bedrooms are upstairs, and spacious attics are often converted to playrooms or movie rooms. Colonial homes are generally not open-concept.

Decorative Entryways

Colonial homes often have decorative entryways. While the front door is always centered, it might have something interesting around it. Transom windows are popular to put over an entryway. Pediments are often used to create a covered porch. Some colonial homes even have columns for a more dramatic look.

Pitched Roofs

Colonial homes traditionally have pitched roofs, which means that you only see the triangle from the sides. From the front of the home, you only see shingles. When there is a third story, there are often dormer windows popping out of the roof.


Colonial homes almost always have a fireplace – if not two. A large fireplace can be centered in the rear of a home, or you can have two more standard-sized fireplaces, one on either end of the home. This dates back to the pre-HVAC days when fireplaces were needed for warmth all over the house. Of course, with fireplaces comes chimney maintenance. If a colonial house is on your wish list, be sure to keep this in mind.

Multipaned Windows

Colonial homes traditionally have windows placed symmetrically across the front of the home. They have lots of small panes, giving them a grid-like look. There is usually at least one window on either side of the entry and three or five windows on the second floor, lending to the symmetrical look. This type of multipane window shouldn’t be mistaken for modern energy-efficient windows.

Popularity Of Colonial-Style Homes Today

While colonial-style homes have been in the United States for hundreds of years, they are still one of the most popular styles today. This style seems to be timeless and well loved. Colonial-style homes are most often found in the Northeastern part of the United States, though you may see similarly inspired homes anywhere.

In addition to the traditional British colonial style, there are also Dutch colonial, French colonial, and Spanish colonial homes in the United States. These styles were designed by colonists from those countries to emulate the style of their homes in their native land.

These are some of the most popular colonial styles in many states across the country. If you like the look of a colonial home, it is fairly likely that you can find one near you.

Dutch Colonial

Dutch colonial style homes were originally built in the United States by Dutch and German colonists. These homes consist of gambrel-style roofs with flaring eaves and are traditionally built from stone or brick.

French Colonial

French colonial homes are most common in Illinois and Louisiana, as well as in Quebec. French colonial homes have very steep roofs with wide overhangs. They usually have stucco exteriors and lots of windows.

Spanish Colonial

Spanish colonial homes are most common on the west coast of the United States and in Florida. They often include stucco walls, red tile roofs and interior courtyards. Windows are small and often have wrought iron grates. They are almost always one story tall.

Smart Upgrades For A Colonial House

Architecture from the 17th century is timeless and cozy, but the 21st century has a lot to offer as well. If you’re interested in upgrading your colonial house, here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Smart home features: Make your life more convenient with smart home features, from energy-efficient appliances to LED bulbs.
  • Updated flooring: There is no shortage of options today for modern flooring, from sustainable cork to tile.
  • Modern kitchens: British colonists didn’t have granite countertops, magnetic induction cooktops or stainless-steel appliances, but that doesn’t mean you should deprive yourself.
  • Solar panels: Even if you’re not in the sunniest area, solar panels for your home can still reduce your carbon footprint.

The Bottom Line

If you live in a region where colonial homes are popular, they’re a great option. Having all the bedrooms upstairs in this floor plan is typically beneficial for families with young children. The symmetrical exteriors are noncontroversial and are loved by many. If you’re interested in buying a colonial house, work with a Rocket Homes® Verified Partner Agent to find the perfect home.

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Kevin Graham

Kevin Graham is a Senior Blog Writer for Rocket Companies. He specializes in economics, mortgage qualification and personal finance topics. As someone with cerebral palsy spastic quadriplegia that requires the use of a wheelchair, he also takes on articles around modifying your home for physical challenges and smart home tech. Kevin has a BA in Journalism from Oakland University. Prior to joining Rocket Mortgage he freelanced for various newspapers in the Metro Detroit area.