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Massachusetts Architecture: Colonial, Ranch, Victorian

By Elizabeth R. Elstien

Massachusetts has a wealth of architectural styles, some brought over from European and adapted to area needs and resources. With over 400 years of architectural history, learn about some interesting home styles and be better informed the next time you go house hunting.

Colonial Style

Known as First-Period English, this early style of timber-frame architecture came across the ocean with the first European settlers of Massachusetts. Made of wood, few original structures exist, but the style remains popular in New England even today. Ending in the 1700s, the more modern styles are known as New England Colonial. Originally single-story structures, later two-story styles emerged with rows of casement windows, some diamond shaped. Early Colonials have a central fireplace with a large chimney, steeply-sloping roofs with side gables, wood shingles or clapboard exteriors, and have simple exteriors with little to no ornamentation. The House of Seven Gables or the Rebecca Nurse Homestead, both in Salem, are good examples of early Colonial architecture. Later sub-styles of Colonial architecture have different characteristics as this traditional style.

Ranch Style

A one-story structure usually with an attached garage on the side, the ranch-home style is a more modern design. Sporting a basement, either full or partial, this style is easy to maintain. Elongated in the front and narrower on the sides is the norm, although there are a range of sub-styles. A uniquely American way of building, these structures became popular in the 1920s until the 1970s and embody a simple way of living with an open floor plan. Little to no decoration exists on the interior or exterior, the bedrooms are separate from the living area, the roof is low with large and overhanging eaves, sliding glass doors lead to an outside patio and exteriors could be of wood, brick or stucco.

Victorian Style

This style was popular during the reign of Queen Victoria (mid 1800s to 1900) with a few sub-styles, the Queen Anne being a truly American design pulling from other styles. The most prominent features of this architectural type are the large porches that often wrap around the building and prominent use of bay windows. Wood built, interiors and exteriors are ornate and interior walls are often covered with patterned wallpaper while the outside has several rich colors. These many-storied homes have complex towers and gables, steep roofs intersecting with each other at multiple levels and irregular floor plans. Boston is especially known for its Victorian structures with the Gibson House as an excellent example.

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About The Author

Elizabeth R. Elstien has worked in real estate for over 15 years as a real estate...

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