Henry VIII, the king of England during the 1500s, was a jolly chap. Amidst all the divorces, beheadings, forcing his subjects to have public displays of happiness and double-dealings between countries, he also found some time to spar with Rome, namely the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church, which exercised all sorts of authority, even over kings, at that time, displeased Henry. So he kicked them out of England.
Not in so many words, actually, but the effect was about the same. Henry dissolved the monasteries, chopping the land up to make manor houses for his lords. On that land, a housing boom occurred, tenant farms popping up all over the place, each with the precursor to what we know as the English Colonial. Years later, because of their simple design and ease to build, they would be the go-to house in the early American colonies.
Now, when the word “colonial” is thrown around regarding houses, it’s pretty much understood to mean English Colonial, a universally square house with a steep roof and centrally located door, small windows but a large amount of them, and a great central chimney. But there were a lot of colonies in America and, despite popular belief, they weren’t all from England, and even the ones that were had some notable variations. Which I’ll now describe for your reading pleasure. You’re welcome.
Dutch colonial houses originally were found in what is now known as New York, but was then known as New Netherlands. They were made mostly with brick, which were transported by ship as ballast. They were fond of the split doors, which could open half on the top or bottom. Overhangs were added to protect the mostly mud mortar used in the stone walls and foundations. The distinct characteristic we know today, that of the flared eaves, was not adopted until 20-30 years after settling in America.
French colonies settled in little dots around the Mississippi, notably in Louisiana. They started with very steeply pitched roofs, a necessary habit in France, where thatched roofs would collapse under snow or rain if they couldn’t shed them fast enough. They quickly adopted a double-pitched roof, basically a small colonial house surrounded by a roofed porch, or gallery, to survive the hot summer climates. I imagine these would be good for parties, if having friends and doing things with them is up your alley.
Of the English Colonial designs, two styles became fairly popular, for entirely different reasons. The Cape Cod cottage, sprouted up around, you guessed it, Cape Cod. It was a smaller house with a steeply pitched roof to shed the snows of harsh New England winters, and shutters that were actually functional, instead of today’s purely aesthetic ones. They faced south to maximize sun exposure as an additional source of heat, and because of fluctuating temperatures around Cape Cod, which would introduce moisture inside interior walls, they used wainscoting, something still popular today.
The most hilarious design variation of the colonial is the Saltbox. Imagine a one-story house with a two-story house behind it that has a severely sloping roof to cover the two. That’s a Saltbox home. Not that taxes now aren’t crazy, but early English ones were really out there, and a viable tax shelter came in the form of the Saltbox design. They would put the one-story side facing the street, and, by doing so, because the roof came all the way down to that first floor, they evaded a two-story house tax. Pretty clever, those early Colonial folks.
There are so many other nationalities I could put in here, like Spanish and German, and probably countless variations. This is just a tiny slice of the gigantic colonial pie (I’d like to think of it as a pumpkin pie, but that’s just me) that make up our history. If you’re interested in a colonially inspired home, be sure to contact us.