Red brick historical Federal style home.

A Guide To Federal-Style Houses

Michelle Giorlando3 minute read
November 20, 2022

One of the most popular styles of American homes is the Federal-style house. They’re timeless, attractive, and found all over the country! Let’s pull back the curtains on the style and materials of a Federal-style home, how they compare to similar styles, and some pros and cons of owning one.

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What Is A Federal-Style House?

Federal-style houses share a lot of DNA with Colonial-style houses, another one of the most popular house styles. While Colonial homes were in favor before and during the Revolutionary War, after the war, the architectural design known as Federal style began to rise in popularity. 

There are different characteristics and materials that make up the Federal style.

Characteristics

These common features define a Federal-style house:

  • Façade: Simplicity is the key to a Federal-style home. They are usually square or rectangular homes without a lot of fussy extras, though the Federal style does add more ornate features.
  • Columns: You likely won’t find a porch on a Federal-style home. Instead, you’ll find an understated entrance flanked by elegant columns.
  • Entrance: While the entrance is simple, the accents are a little grander than on Colonial homes. You may find intricate moldings or brass hardware. To add to the grand feeling, these homes often have iron balconies or other metalwork designs on the exterior.
  • Windows: Because symmetry is a key feature of this architectural style, windows tend to be laid out symmetrically across the façade. A popular feature on these homes is an elliptical fan-style window over the door.

    A half-circle window that resembles a fan sits over a door of a red brick Federal stye home in DC.
    • Roof: The roofs tend to be hipped, and gables with dormers are popular, too. These add a lot of light into the upper floors and attic spaces.
    • Interior: Inside, these homes tend to be two rooms deep, often arranged on either side of a hallway. A surprising feature that many Federal-style homes have is an oval-shaped room at the center of the home.
    • Decor: Historically, these homes have been decorated in an elegant, beautiful style. Proportion, balance and symmetry are important. Moldings are often intricate, adding to the classic flair. Popular decorating colors are pastel yellows, greens and blues.

    Materials


    Common materials of Federal-style homes generally vary by region. In the Northeast, they’re usually made of clapboard. In the South, they’re commonly constructed of brick. In cities where homes are much closer together, architects also often use brick for its fireproofing qualities. Regardless of what materials are used, the simple, elegant façades and rectangular shapes of the style are preserved.

    House Styles That Are Commonly Mistaken For Federal

    Federal-style homes are closely related to both Colonial and Georgian homes but have some differences.

    Colonial Vs. Federal Style

    A simple, symmetrical Colonial home covered in wooden shingles sits on a large green lawn.

    Federal-style houses and Colonial-style houses are frequently confused for one another. While they share many features and principles, the main difference between the two is that the Federal style tends to add a little more ornateness and elegance, whereas the Colonial-style home is much simpler and utilitarian.

    Georgian Vs. Federal Style

    A Georgian Revival home with an ornate entryway with elegant moldings and windows around the door.

    Georgian-style houses are also commonly confused with Federal-style houses. A main difference is the interior of the home – Georgian style integrates more heavy woodwork, whereas Federal style is more delicate and restrained. The Georgian style is even more ornate than the Federal style.

    The History Of Federal-Style Houses

    The Federal style is an evolution of the Colonial style of home. After the Revolutionary War and the U.S.’s independence from Britain, folks decided to move away from the Colonial style of their former mother country. This style became popular around 1783 – 1815 and continues today. The style is also called “Adam” after the Adam brothers, British designers who popularized the European neoclassical style that Federal style is based on.

    Common Examples Of Federal-Style Homes

    Some common examples of this style include family homes, town halls, schools and churches. The most famous U.S. Federal-style building is the White House, which includes a very famous example of the Federal style oval room.

    While these homes are found all over the country, they’re most commonly found on the East Coast – think Boston and New York!

    Pros And Cons Of Buying A Federalist Architecture-Style House

    There are a few pros and cons of buying a Federal-style house:

    • Pro: Each home is unique, which will set your home apart from your neighbors’ homes.
    • Pro: The simple and traditional designs make it easy to match most interior design styles.
    • Con: These houses are often difficult to modernize, so hiring a qualified craftsperson for any repairs on this historic home will likely be necessary.
    • Con: You’ll need to perform frequent upkeep tasks, and they can be expensive, especially on historic homes. You may also need permission from your city council to make any changes.

    The Bottom Line

    While they share similar features with Colonial and Georgian homes, Federal-style homes are a wonderful balance of simplicity and elegance. Looking for your dream home style? Discover it with our home buying quiz!

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    Michelle Giorlando

    Michelle Giorlando is a freelance writer who lives in metro Detroit. When she's not writing about homeownership, finances, and mortgages, she enjoys performing improv, gardening, and befriending the wildlife in her yard.