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If you have ever visited New England, you have probably seen an example of a Federal style home. Also known as the Adams style, it was a popular in the late 18th and early 19th century. Incorporating elements from Greek and Roman forms, it is an extension of the Georgian style and influenced by the work of English architect Robert Adam. Buildings in this style are found along the east coast of America from Virginia to New Hampshire. These are some of the typical characteristics of a Federal style home.
There are two types of exteriors found on Federal style homes, clapboard, found in northern cities, and brick, favored in the south. This was due to the availability of materials in the different areas. The first thing you notice when looking at the facade is the Greek and Roman influences this style draws on. Geometric shapes dominate the exterior with porticos capped by gables that have their triangular shape accentuated by molding. Usually two stories in height, the buildings are rectangular or square in shape with the front door placed dead center. The facade is symmetrical with louvered shutters and lintels above the windows. A balustrade is often incorporated at the roof line and narrow plain looking columns support the overhanging roof. In addition, the low-pitched hip or side gable roof has several dormers.
Windows And Doors
The placement of windows and doors continues the symmetry of the facade. There is a center door with narrow windows on either side. The other windows are visually balanced, with three to 5 on each side of the door. There are several types of windows you see, depending on the width and height of the structure. A palladium, circular or elliptical window is placed on the second floor, above the front door, while the other windows are double or triple hung sash windows, with the first floor having longer windows than the second floor.
Most of the exterior ornamentation are found around the front door. Features you notice are a fanlight, crown or roof over the front door. They also employ dentil molding along the roof line or cornice. Most of the detail work is found in the interior, ornate motifs carved in wood on the mantels, moldings and borders are prominently featured. The ceiling uses a central rosette or incorporates fan-shaped and elliptical decorations done in plaster.
The square exterior is contrasted against the interior with its use of oval or elliptical rooms and a curved floor plan. An open staircase reinforces this, curving from the front foyer to the second level and drawing you into the home after entering. Typically, ceilings employ domes or high arches in the main areas like dining and sitting rooms. The main level of the house, with its use of arches between rooms has an open feeling. The smaller rooms on the second floor are connected by a hall running the length of the house.
The rigid exterior shape of a Federal style home expresses the desire for order in a country that had just fought a war for its independence. Architects embraced the Greek and Roman ideals the framers of the Constitution used when designing houses during this period. The craftsmanship of the interior with its sweeping lines and high ceilings was embellished by ornate wood and plaster work. Some famous examples of this style, like Thomas Jefferson's Monticello and the Otis House in Boston, are open to the public if you want to see them up close.