Category Archives: Building

American Colonial Design Style

No pale imitation of fashionable European images, American Colonial style, although inevitably influenced by the influx of peoples of European stock, was very much a product of local materials, skills and conditions.

Starting with the arrival of settlers in the early seventeenth century, the period extends to the Declaration of Independence in the late eighteenth century. It tracks the evolution of ethnically diverse peoples, some wealthy, others arriving penniless and without possessions, who developed over the years into a homogenous sophisticated society with its own unique character and individual style.

Out of necessity, early dwellings were basic and ‘country’ in feel. They also incorporated many features adopted from local crafts and the folk culture of the indigenous people.

Towards the end of the period, with greater wealth, increased trading with the rest of the world and the availability of pattern books from Europe, the style made a shift towards the popular fashions and living room designs of Europe and yet still interpreted these in a uniquely American way.

The timing of the settlement of America was fortunate indeed from a stylistic viewpoint. Europe over-flowed with creative activity, culminating, in the latter part of the period, in what became known in England as Georgian style, elements of which were happily taken on board by the settlers who localized the designs for their own purposes. Deep terracotta paintwork and polished floorboards give this colonial kitchen a homely air.

Wood was perhaps the most readily available material to the builders in Sydney of the New World. This is evidenced by its generous use, especially in the weather-boarding of house exteriors and for shutters, both internal and external. Dwellings, in the main, were of wooden construction (though this varied from area to area), and wood was used almost exclusively for heating and cooking purposes. The interior decoration of houses also benefited from its availability: floors and walls were often decked out in the material and also added to the beauty of loft conversions west london. In the early days there would have been no skirting/base boards, but structural timbers would often have been left exposed and the fireplace wall might well have been covered with wooden boarding.

Later, a wainscoted dado was a familiar sight, and in the very best of houses full-height wall paneling was to be seen. Unless the finest wood had been used, paneling would almost invariably have been painted with a flat or grained finish.

Furniture either arrived with the settlers from Europe or was made locally out of whatever woods were available. The finest pieces were made of mahogany (imported), walnut, chestnut or cherry wood (all locally produced), while the more rudimentary pieces would have been made from maple, oak, birch or ash. Of particular interest is that, even in these very early days, the concept of built-in furniture was already being developed in the more well-appointed homes. Shelves with a cupboard below were a popular means of storage within an alcove.

In interpreting the style today we can choose to reflect the elegant grandeur of the well-established home, or the rusticity of the simpler homestead. The proportions of the space you have available to you, existing furniture and your own personal taste will no doubt dictate which is more appropriate to adopt for your home.