Something Borrowed, Something New: The Colonial House Goes Modern

December 27, 2019
Colonial House
new england colonial By Tom Oliveira - Adobe Stock

An American architectural staple, the Colonial house never goes out of style. But as time goes by, each centennial gives its new spin on the classic. This time, homebuyers want a Colonial-style house, but they also want modern features, especially on the inside—hello, all-white kitchen. The outside has a modern twist as well, pairing the Colonial pitched roof with modern elements such as oversized clapboards and batten siding. The result: an abstracted, minimalistic version of the Northeastern staple. 

“The Colonial house is reinvented about every 100 years,” says Jan Gleysteen, a Boston-area architect. He thinks that it’s time to reinvent the enduring house style once again.

“The trend I see today,” Gleysteen says, “is that every young family wants a modern interior that’s clean, without clutter, that feels like a breath of fresh air. They don’t want traditional interiors, with a lot of separate rooms and fussy trim and ornamentation.

“But at the same time,” he continues, “they want the exterior to look traditional and to fit into a long-settled New England neighborhood. Those time-honored forms are comforting and familiar. They want traditional massing with a modern interior.”

Colonial architecture saw its first reinvention about 1870, when Americans celebrated the country’s centennial. Since then, it has never totally gone out of style; it is especially beloved in the northeast.

In New England, the Colonial house was informed by English precedent. During the 17th century, its box-like appearance was relieved by a prominent chimney and small casement windows; often the rear was extended in a long, sloping roof that formed the “salt box” shape. Unlike European houses, it was timber framed.

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