The Most Popular House Styles Through the Decades

published Aug 18, 2021
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The United States is a vastly different place than it was 100 years ago. While there’s plenty to compare and contrast, many stylistic changes can be seen in the evolution of the country’s residential architecture. 

Times of peace were largely represented through the use of craftsman skills in homebuilding. When citizens needed to tighten their belts in times of war, affordable out-the-box housing was the go-to. Other times, booming economies produced extravagance. Throughout the years, tastes shifted from the previous decade’s passé designs to ones that best reflected the times. Read more to learn homes in America have adapted to fit the preferences of their inhabitants.

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1900s — Queen Anne Victorian

America’s Centennial Exposition in 1876 served as the world’s stage to a host of new inventions, like Heinz Ketchup and Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone. The exposition also gave Americans their first taste of Queen Anne Victorian residential architecture, a style that rejected the rigidness of Georgian and Federal homes of the previous century. Queen Anne Victorians, popularized in the U.S. by architect Henry Hobson Richardson, are known for their asymmetrical shape, ornate moldings, and L-shaped wrap-around porches. Their most iconic feature? Conical towers jutting from the corners of the facade.

1910s — Colonial Revival 

In a departure from the ornamental styles of the late 1800s and early 1900s, Colonial Revival homes took a simpler, more classic approach to homebuilding (though the style wasn’t always historically accurate to Colonial times, according to Historic New England). Characteristics of these houses generally include a side-gabled roof and a sturdy brick or wood facade. The style did up the drama with contrasting dark window shutters against stark white multi-paned windows and short-reaching porticos and pediments. 

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1920s — Bungalow

While there are a half dozen different types of bungalow homes, there are a few key features that draw a line through the historically Indian construction. While occupying India, British colonizers wanted to develop easily built houses to live in: the original bungalow’s low-to-the-ground design aided in airflow and helped its inhabitants to beat the heat. Later, the style grew in popularity in the U.K. and eventually made its way across the Atlantic in the early 1900s, thanks to the Arts and Crafts movement. Generally, bungalows include low-pitched gables, wide porches, and are one story high (or are made to look that way). 

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1930s — Cape Cod

Popularized in the northeastern United States, Cape Cod-style homes feature a large chimney as the centerpiece, as well as a box-shaped form, a central front door, and a steep roof that encourages snow to easily slide off it. The centuries-old Yankee style is admired for its simplicity; they made up the bulk of Levittowns in the U.S. The Cape style is so iconic to the American zeitgeist that it was immortalized in the family favorite board game Monopoly. 

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1940s — Minimal Traditional

While some housing aficionados may consider it a non-style, the minimal traditional style of architecture was ubiquitous during the middle of the 20th century. The simple design was a departure from the more fanciful architecture of previous decades. The houses typically feature a single story, at least one gable, and minimal square footage — perfect for young families or those returning home from World War II.

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1950s — Ranch

The Ranch-style home is a common one across America. It is known for its low, sprawling single-story layout. In addition to more linear designs, ranch homes were also L- or U-shaped. They exhibit large front windows, open floor plans, and often an attached garage.

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1960s — Split Level

This raised ranch variation stands apart with two floors that are separated by short flights of stairs. This approach to housing works well on lots that feature hilly landscapes, or ones with varying heights. The middle floor of a split-level typically includes common living areas, whereas the bedrooms and rec room may only be a few steps up or down. 

1970s — A-Frame

Nothing evokes woodsy vibes quite like the attention-commanding A-frame. These bold cabins have made the perfect vacation home for years, reaching a pinnacle of construction in the ‘70s. Its defining feature is its oversized floor-to-ceiling gable — a layout that allows for great natural light, open floor plans, and lofted interior spaces. 

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1980s — Contemporary

Minimal design and sharp clean lines are what defines this popular house style of the ‘80s. While many of the houses on this list featured more traditional roofs, like gabled, flat, or mansard, contemporary house designs play with asymmetry. Here you will find entire sections jutting out in surprising areas and angles. Cubism and cutouts make this architecture fun and modern. 

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1990s — McMansion

The ’90s were an economic boom time. The surplus of wealth that some possessed (and others wanted to appear to possess) could be seen in the McMansion style of housing that emerged in the era and continued into the 2000s. This cookie-cutter style is characterized by the protruding secondary masses, a lack of symmetry, poor window placement and proportions, and most unfortunately, shoddy materials. Truly, what glitters isn’t always golden. 

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2000s — Neo Eclectic

Neo Eclectic homes are called so because they draw from many other architectural styles, incorporating elements of Mediterranean, Tudor, Colonial, and more into their designs. A Neo Eclectic home excels at window proportions compared to its predecessor, the McMansion, but still, the secondary masses and varied roofs of the former make the pair close relatives. What sets them apart is their construction: Neo Eclectic homes tend to be built with a little more attention to detail than McMansions — and have more quality building materials.