- The Washington Times - Friday, April 26, 2002

Home buyers who study developers' advertising before they start to look for a new home may be a bit baffled by the sheer volume of terms used by builders and their marketing experts.

How is a buyer to know what appeals to them if they are not sure what a Georgian, French Provincial or craftsman-style home looks like? Consulting a textbook on American architectural styles may help, but sometimes builders looking for interesting ways to describe their homes use terms to evoke an image that may not be accurate.

"Mostly people are building a mixture of what's been done before," says Jim Pohlhaus, design manager for the "Your Home Your Way" custom design program of Winchester Homes. "When builders use terms like 'Federal-style' or 'Georgian' they are often just using them as marketing tools to pull people in."

Buyers with traditional tastes looking for a simply designed home will probably be interested in a Colonial-style home. Frequently used terms for Colonial-style homes include "Federal," "Georgian," and "French Colonial." All of these terms bring to mind a traditional home with a symmetrical facade, but almost any new Colonial-style home will include elements of all three types.

Federal, also known as "Adam"-style homes, includes many of the town homes found in Georgetown and Old Town Alexandria. Characteristics typical of Federal style homes, according to "A Field Guide to American Houses," by Virginia and Lee McAlester, include windows aligned symmetrically both horizontally and vertically, usually with five across the front facade, and a semicircular fanlight over the front door often incorporated into a more elaborate door surround.

Georgian homes usually include a paneled front door, often placed in the center of the facade flanked by flattened decorative columns known as pilasters. Often a transom window will be placed above the front door, and the standard windows are aligned vertically and horizontally, similar to Federal homes, but with many small window panes, as many as nine or 12 per sash.

Annapolis is known for its many Georgian-style homes.

French Colonial homes are traditionally one-story with a steeply-pitched roof, narrow doors, shuttered windows and stucco exterior, often with half-timbered walls.

Buyers who prefer simplicity may also be drawn to "arts and crafts" or "craftsman-style" homes, which have columns and pedestals from the roof to ground level, a front porch, and a low roof, according to the McAlesters' book.

"Arts-and-crafts-style" and "craftsman-style" homes reflect a residential architectural style, according to Rhonda Ellisor, vice president of sales and marketing for Miller and Smith. Such a house usually has a larger roof overhang, brighter or more intense colors, lots of detailing and a front porch. These homes most often are constructed of siding rather than brick.

"Prairie style" is an offshoot of the craftsman style exemplified by Frank Lloyd Wright, with simple designs and connection to the earth.

"Craftsman-style homes are simple in design and really grew as a revolt against the Victorian era of overdecoration," says Debbie Rosenstein, president of Rosenstein Research Associates. "The architectural style of these homes was matched by the furniture designs, which were also very simple, with clean lines."

Arts-and-crafts and prairie-style homes are the precursor to contemporary home design that became popular beginning in the 1950s. Contemporary homes, according to the McAlesters' book, generally feature wide eave overhangs and either flat or low-pitched roofs. Exposed supporting beams and other structural elements of the home are common in these houses, along with unusually shaped windows sometimes found in unusual places.

In the Washington area, more recently designed contemporary-style homes are often in the "shed" style, which features moderate- to high-pitched roofs that dominate the facade, giving the effect of geometrical shapes shoved together.

Buyers who prefer a more highly decorated exterior style may be drawn to Victorian- or Tudor-style homes. While homes with Victorian flair are offered by new home builders, few new homes are available in the Tudor style.

Victorian-style homes tend to be stylized, with a lot of decorative details, including a steeply pitched roof, a partial or full front porch, gables and gingerbread-type moldings.

Miss Rosenstein says, "Victorian houses are very stylized and tend to have a lot of decoration."

Tudor-style homes, according to the McAlesters' book, have a steeply pitched roof, usually with side gables, and decorative half-timbering on the stucco, stone or brick facade. Tudors often have clusters of tall, narrow windows and massive chimneys.

While one-level homes are becoming slightly more common as the Washington-area population ages, they are still less frequently seen in this area because of expensive land prices.

"'Ranch' and 'rambler' are basically interchangeable terms for one-level homes," Mr. Pohlhaus says. "Cape Cod-style homes usually have siding rather than brick or stone, and often are all one-level homes, too. Larger Capes usually have a bedroom and bath on the main level with a smaller upper level, including two bedrooms with sloped ceilings and one bath."

When blending these distinct architectural styles, many builders refer to their homes as "neotraditional" or sometimes "neoclassical."

"Neotraditional homes have a traditional style with a front porch and an old-fashioned look but with a citified touch which makes it modern," Ms. Ellisor says. "Neoclassical homes are similar, but that term adds a glitzy touch."

Miss Rosenstein points out that "neotraditional" is a term like "neo-urbanism" that refers primarily to neighborhoods that are a "throwback to the past."

"A neotraditional home doesn't have any specific home design but represents the type of house which will fit into the neotraditional community," she says. "Usually, neotraditional homes will have a detached rear garage accessible from an alley system, or at least a rear garage, because the emphasis is on creating a streetscape, not a garage-scape. Neoclassical is more of an architectural style which you would expect to have more Grecian columns, maybe looking like Tara from 'Gone With the Wind.'"

According to the McAlesters' book, neoclassical homes are characterized by a full-height front porch with a roof supported by tall columns, often with Ionic or Corinthian capitals, and a symmetrical facade.

Whether a roof should be steeply pitched or low and flat should depend on the home's architectural style, but as builders blend home styles, they sometimes also adjust the shape and design of the roof. Upscale home builders in particular are often adding more expensive roof styles to their homes. New-home brochures often refer to a "hip roof" or a "steeply pitched roof," both of which make a home's exterior look more luxurious.

"A 'hip roof' is fairly flat on top and slopes in four directions from the center, making a home look wider," Ms. Ellisor says. "A 'steeply pitched roof' is just taller than a standard roof and therefore more expensive because it needs bigger roof trusses. This style also gives a nice impression from the street."

According to Miss Rosenstein, "Steeply sloping roofs give height to a house, which makes the roof more dominant aesthetically while making the whole house look grander. An added benefit is that the house has more volume inside and homeowners can more easily finish the attic for extra living space."

Besides blending traditional architectural styles for town homes or single-family homes, builders today are creating new designs that use available land in innovative ways. These new layouts sometimes result in a hybrid, a house with elements of both a town home and a single-family home.

"Some of the new ways builders are designing and building homes are occurring as a means to meeting zoning requirements in different areas while also trying to do something distinctive and different with their homes," Ms. Ellisor says.

"Duet homes are basically two town homes attached together, always and only two, or what used to be known as a duplex," she says. "Quartet homes are four town homes attached in some way, but they always have to be four homes. Courtyard homes can be attached or detached, and basically refer to any type of homes with a patio which is semi-enclosed or totally enclosed. Semi-detached homes refer to two homes attached only by the garage."

Miss Rosenstein agrees with these definitions, and adds, "Courtyard homes, villas and carriage homes are all usually marketing terms which refer to single-family homes built on small lots. The terms help buyers recognize that the homes have a different style from the traditional single-family home and that the yards are used in a different way."

Whether buyers are looking for Colonial or contemporary style, local builders often put elements of these styles in nearly every home.

Buyers shouldn't expect to find a perfect replica of a historic home in a new design, but hopefully they'll find a home with a seamless blend of styles that will satisfy their tastes while creating a functional environment.

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