The Sales Directory of Antique and Historic Properties
Historic Style Guide


1790 - 1825

Understanding the Federal Style in architecture means distinguishing it from the Georgian Style after the revolution, which brings about the beginning of the end of English influence in America.

In domestic design, rural examples are very similar to those built in pre-revolutionary times, while houses built in prosperous cities such as Boston, Providence, Salem and Portsmouth where subtlety influenced by designs from post-revolutionary France. These house plans emphasized large geometric massing, plain, flat wall surfaces and delicate ornamentation drawn from Classical sources and confined to door, window and cornice moldings. Brick, laid in Flemish bond, was the favored building material, but many frame examples can be found.


A classic brick Federal with three stories, including a low pitch roof and balustrade
The formal high-style Federal house was nearly cubical with an almost flat roof. There is a leaded fanlight over the door. Red brick with white trim was preferred and many were built in New England’s prosperous coastal cities in the firest decades of the nineteenth century.

These houses are usually of three stories and conceal a nearly flat roof behind a balustrade set at the eaves. The five bay facades have a centered entrance above which a Palladian window may be set. Sidelights usually grace the front door which is crowned with an elliptical fanlight. Windows are set widely apart and are double hung sashes with small panes of glass in either a six-over-six or a nine-over-six configuration. Lintels may be splayed and have a centered keystone block. Exterior shutters are seen only in rural houses; high style examples had internal shutters that folded into the interior window jambs.



The design of decorative details was taken from Classical mythology and depicted on the interior plaster panels and moldings. These designs came by way of the English brothers Adam and are seen in the blue and green pastels made popular by Josiah Wedgewood.

Federal houses adapted easily to row house design with changes unique to each owner.
In cities, the Federal house adapted easily to row house design. Here, in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, a series of four show the changes made by separate owners.

Charles Bullfinch was the best known architect of this period in New England. While he transformed colonial Boston into the city we recognize today, Samuel McIntire did the same in the Salem area, and John Holden Green introduced the new taste to Providence.

With all the details typical of the Federal Style this home features a Palladian window, an elliptical fanlight and sidelites.
This home is typical of most Federal homes, showing an entrance with an elliptical fanlight and sidelights, a Palladian window above, and pilasters.

Rural house designs are usually two story, five bay and end gabled with a centered entrance. But, evidence of a Federal, rather than Georgian date of construction include lighter, more delicate moldings, slender, attenuated Classical columns and pilasters and a centrally located Palladian window or elliptical fanlight. An attached carriage house is not uncommon, having elliptical arches over each of several stalls.