Common Architectural Styles and their Distinguishing Features (2009)

“[Architecture] is a sort of language in which one’s power
of expression depends on the skilful employment of a
basic grammar of elements…”
K. Crossman, 1987

Wood was the dominant medium of construction in 19th- and early
20th-century Antigonish, Nova Scotia. However, it should be noted
that not all buildings were designed in a single historical style.
Although the basic front-gabled style of classical revival was
pervasive in 19th-century Antigonish, many buildings incorporated
features selectively and often blended different styles. Eclecticism,
exemplified by a mixture of various stylistic forms within the same
building, was a typical characteristic of 19th-century architecture.
[For guidelines on researching masonry construction (brick and
stone) and Nova Scotia buildings see Looking at Masonry].

Quick List of Styles:

NEO-CLASSICAL c. 1810-1830
inspired by British Georgian designs
balanced proportions
low pitched roof
centrally located door with semi-elliptical or fanlight door transom
often includes classically detailed pediment and columns

Maritime Vernacular House 1830s-1900
New England antecedents
usually 1 1/2 storey wood, brick or stone structure with almost square
centred doorway with transom
small plain dormers or Scottish 5-sided dormers or large tringular
dormer integrated into roof line
unadorned exterior with minimal trim
shingled or clapboard exterior
extension added to rear or side

emphasis on straight line and symmetry
1 1/2 or 2 1/2 storeys
medium or steeply pitched gable roof or hip roof
often featuring central pedimented porch [portico]
centre door accented by rectangular transom and sidelights
popular designs include temple-fronted buildings
another popular design is front gable plan. With this design, the house is
placed on short-side facing street and the door is off centre because of
narrow width of plan. Popular for narrow street frontages favoured by
developing towns and cities.
decorative classical features include dentils, return eaves, pilasters,
flat or pedimented hoods over windows

GOTHIC REVIVAL c. 1850 to 1870
emphasis on vertical line
main objective is visual effect rather than balance and symmetry
one and a half storey
pointed arched windows and door openings are dominating features
sharply pitched roofs with numerous gables
use of decorative “gingerbreadwood trim on veranda [treillage] or
vergeboards along eaves. Much trim was mass produced by machine.
gothic or modified gothic with ell and front porch continued to be used
in rural Canada into the 1890s.

ITALIANATE c. 1850S TO 1870S
two-storeys high
blocky and square in appearance
often includes square tower or projecting central section [frontispiece]
low pitched hip roof
wide eaves with prominent decorative brackets
round-headed window and door openings as decorative accents
often features veranda and cupola which crowns main structure
details of style used in both rural and urban houses and commercial
buildings well into 20th century

SECOND EMPIRE c. 1860s to 1880s
mansard roof which permits full use of top floor space and eliminates
sloping ceilings of gable roof
irregular building outline
sometimes includes decorative iron cresting on roof tops
sometimes features projecting centre towers and one or second storey
bay windows

QUEEN ANNE REVIVAL c. 1885 to 1900
eclectic and asymmetrical in outline
steep roof and tall chimneys
two or more storeys high
often includes two-storey bays
circular tower usually offset with candle-snuffer peaked roof
often includes prominent projecting or eyebrow dormers
shaped verandah
façade, especially front gable, covered in variety of contrasting
decorative shingle patterns

Romanesque Revival
heavy rough-textured masonry
asymmetrical design
often incorporates round towers
wide arched windows and door openings, heavily accented with ornate
style largely confined to churches and administrative buildings erected
in post-1880 period

Beaux Arts
stylized classical proportions and details
theatrical and monumental in design

irregular roof line
steeply pitched gables
multiple tall chimneys
evokes images of 14th- and 15th- century French chateau and early
Quebec prototypes

emphasis on solidity and balance
square in plan
two storeys high
pyramidal hipped roof
usually includes columned veranda
front dormer
sometimes features large off-centre doorway
most popular form of the foursquare was the “Eastbourne” which was
available in pre-cut form


BAY: a section of a structure usually containing a door or a window
BARGEBOARDS: see vergeboards
BAY WINDOW: a projection from a wall containing a window
BELLCAST: an eave or roof that flares out and is bell-shaped
BELT COURSE: decorative horizontal band on building, usually composed of projecting and/or contrasting stone or brick
BOOMTOWN ARCHITECTURE: style of architecture characteristic of frontier towns that were built quickly. A typical feature is the false front which conceals a more modest structure
BRACKET: ornamental support for roof cornice, or arch or entablature
BUTTRESS: a vertical structure of heavy masonry or wood applied as reinforcement to the wall of a building. Can serve a structural or decorative purpose
CAPITAL: the decorative head of a vertical support such as a column or pilaster
CHANCEL: the sanctuary area in a church, near the altar, used by the clergy and choir
CLAPBOARD: thin wood plank siding applied horizontally, one overlapping the next
COLONNADE: a row of columns usually supporting the base of the roof structure
CORNICE: a moulded projection at the top of the wall (interior or exterior) of a building, or arch or window
CUPOLA: small domed windowed structure on top of a roof or dome, sometimes lantern-shaped
DENTILS: tooth-like projections in a cornice
DORMERS: window set in a gable projecting from sloping roof. Frequently admits light into bedroom; the word “dormer” is derived from the French verb meaning “to sleep”.
DRIP MOULDING: a projecting moulding, usually above a window, that is designed to allow rainwater to “drip
EAVES: underside of roof projection
ELL: an extension usually at right angles to one end of a building
ENTABLATURE: a horizontal component usually decorated that lies directly above a column or other support
FAÇADE: front of a building
FANLIGHT: fan-shaped (semi-circular or elliptical) window which usually forms part of door unit
FASCIA: a plain horizontal band
FINIAL: a vertical ornament usually applied to the peak of dormer
GABLE: triangular top portion of an end wall where there is a sloping roof
GABLED ROOF: a roof that slopes on two sides
GALLERY – long porch across a facade
GINGERBREAD: decorative woodwork
HIPPED ROOF: a roof that slopes on four sides
HOOD: a moulding located above a window or door to deflect rainwater
LANCET: a sharply pointed Gothic arch or window
LINTEL: horizontal support at top of door or window
MANSARD ROOF: a roof with double slopes; the lower part is nearly vertical and the upper part has a very low pitch. Named after the 17th-century French architect François Mansart.
MULLION: thin divisions that demarcate panes in windows or doors
NAVE: the section of church that accommodates the congregation
OGEE: a double curve, usually used to describe an arch, window or moulding
ORIEL: a rounded or multi-sided projecting window
PARAPET: a portion of the wall that projects above a roof
PEDIMENT: triangular component, inspired by classical temples, used above doors and/or windows, or on gable ends or building facades
PILASTERS: flattened column-like feature set against corners of house for stability or decoration. Also called “cornerboards.
PORTICO: porch with columns and pediment
QUOIN: a protruding stone or brick that accentuates an exterior corner. Sometimes simulated on frame structures to look like stone.
RUSTICATED: heavily textured or rough-surfaced stone-work
RETURN EAVES: a moulding, which extends from eaves and continues around the corner of the house to simulate a partial pediment
ROUNDEL: a circular component usually applied to windows or panels
SASH: the frame that holds the glass in a window
SHUTTER: solid or slatted window cover located on building interior or exterior
SIDELIGHT: a window beside the door, forming part of the door unit
String Course: see Belt Course
TRANSOM: horizontal window above doorway
TREILLAGE: a lattice or trellis, often used for growing vines and climbing plants
TURRET: an ornamental tower projecting from a larger structure
VERANDAH: covered porch
VERGEBOARDS: decorative trim along gable ends of a roof or dormer. Sometimes called “bargeboards”.
VERNACULAR: structures, built without the help of a professional architect, which reflect regional and cultural adaptations of architectural fashions.

Source Citation

Stanley, L. Common Architectural Styles and their Distinguishing Features. Last accessed December 13, 2009.