When you first start looking for a home, you’ll hear a lot of terms thrown around describing house types:
- Victorian, semi-detached?
- Multifamily art deco?
- Contemporary condo?
- Modern Cape Cod in an HOA community?
This can get confusing, especially when you consider the many different architectural styles that exist across the U.S.
But help is here. To sort things out, we’ve broken down the things you need to know about the 12 different types of buildings and 14 different types of popular architectural styles you’re likely to encounter during your home search.
12 Types of Buildings: The Places You Can Live
When looking at home listings, it’s helpful to know what kind of building you want to live in. The types of buildings are often determined by the available space and architectural requirements of the area where you’re living.
Many of us end up in apartments after leaving our childhood homes. Apartments are usually part of larger rental buildings or communities with shared amenities like a lobby, mailboxes and green space.
Apartments come in all shapes and sizes, from a garden apartment complex or a 3-story courtyard building to a high-rise tower. You also have shared walls and floors.
You sign a lease or rental agreement to live there. And you pay your rent each month. Depending on the apartment, your rent may cover all or part of your utilities, and you may also have security or maintenance staff in the building.
Condominium (or condo)
Condominiums are private residences that are part of a multiunit structure, like an apartment building or a series of attached or semi-detached houses. With a condo, you own your unit and have control over everything within its walls.
As a condo owner, you pay a fee (usually monthly) to cover the costs of managing the property, maintenance and upkeep. You also get access to shared amenities, such as storage space, a fitness center, a courtyard or green space, and building security and maintenance staff.
Cooperative housing (or co-op)
Like a condo, a co-op is a shared housing community. The big difference is that instead of owning your unit, you own a share in the entire building. As a cooperative member, you get a contract and a lease to occupy a unit, but you don’t own the property.
Because co-ops have shared ownership, getting accepted into one presents more hurdles than other types of housing. In addition to securing financing, you also need to get approved by the co-op board. If you sell in the future, the co-op board will have a say in who you sell to.
Attached and semi-detached houses
There are two types of houses, attached and semi-detached.
- Attached: Your house shares two or more walls with another home
- Semi-detached: Your house shares one wall with another home
With attached and semi-detached houses, each home is its own separate entity, but you may share outdoor spaces (like a porch, stairs or part of a backyard) with another homeowner.
These house types can take many forms, including:
Rowhouse (or terrace house)
Think of the housing you find in older cities like New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, New Orleans and San Francisco. Rowhouses are a series of homes with shared walls on either side. They’re typically uniform in style and lined up in a row along a street.
Originally built by wealthy merchants, brownstones are lined up block by block (like row houses). What makes them unique is the brown sandstone used in the front of the buildings. This material allowed builders to incorporate more ornate designs at front entrances and stoops.
Townhome (or townhouse)
The term townhome can be used interchangeably with rowhouse. But townhomes are different from rowhouses because they can vary in size and configuration within a development. They are usually built tall and narrow and have multiple stories.
Today, in the suburbs, townhouses can be part of housing communities that may either be part of a condominium community or have a homeowners association (HOA).
Twin homes are semi-detached houses. Two narrow homes are connected by a single wall. Twins are similar to row houses, except there is at least a narrow alley or other space between one building and the next.
Multifamily homes tend to be small apartment buildings or larger homes that have been subdivided to create individual spaces for 2- to 4-family units. Multifamily homes can come in different configurations, such as a duplex, triplex or a larger house that has been converted into multiple units.
Because they’re relatively small, multifamily homes are a popular choice for individuals who want to get their feet wet investing in real estate. They usually start by buying a single multiunit property, renting to tenants for short or long terms.
Single-family detached house
For many of us, when we imagine what the textbook house looks like, this is what we picture. A single-family detached home shares no walls with other homes and usually sits on a lot or piece of land that also belongs to the homeowner.
You are free to renovate the home as you see fit, and you can do whatever you want to your home and on your property – as long as you abide by local laws and regulations.
The term mansion refers to the size of a home. Mansions are usually single-family homes that have 5,000 square feet or more of floor space.
McMansions are slightly smaller and refer to large single-family homes (3,000 – 5,000 square feet). A McMansion is usually a new construction. They tend to appear in clusters of homes that were built at the same time.
A decidedly 21st-century style of home. Tiny homes are preconstructed homes that are 400 square feet or smaller. They’re usually designed to be mobile homes, but they can be permanent homes. Their construction emphasizes economy and eco-friendliness over size.
14 Architectural Styles: The Looks That Define Your Home
Knowing the different architectural styles out there can help you to find the style of home that’s right for you.
Just keep in mind that there are lots of styles out there. This list isn’t exhaustive, and to add to the creative mix, homes can feature borrowed elements from different styles and create something unique.
Getting familiar with these styles may help you to understand what makes a home unique and what you may want to consider before you buy.
Art deco style
Art deco style homes are inspired by the artistic movement of the same name from the 1920s and 1930s. Art deco style features a flat roof, a geometric, painted stucco exterior (durable, textured plaster) and floral or zigzag patterns on the front of the building.
The name comes from a Hindi word meaning “a house in the Bengali style.”
Popular in the U.S. in the early 20th century, a bungalow was considered a small, rectangular, 1- to 1 1/2-story home with a low-pitched roof and covered front porch.
Over time, the style has evolved. Today, you can find “bungalow revival” homes that take the simple structure of the bungalow and redesign it with different building materials and architectural styles.
For example, in beach communities today, you can find vacation homes in the bungalow style that you definitely couldn’t order from Sears.
Cape Cod style
Cape Cod style homes look like they were inspired by the homes found in quiet New England villages in precolonial America. These homes tend to be square or rectangular with a steep roof, have exterior shutters and brick or clapboard (thin, overlapping sheets of hardwood) siding.
While these homes have a rustic feel, modernized homes have taken the design elements of Cape Cod style to create something that feels old-fashioned and new at the same time.
The colonial style is based on houses built in the late 1800s and come in various styles, including British colonial, French colonial, Georgian, Saltbox and Dutch Colonial.
These homes tend to be 2-story homes, rectangular and symmetrical (the front door in the center and the same number of windows on each side) with bedrooms on the second floor.
Like the Cape Cod, colonial houses tend to feature external shutters and are often sided with brick or clapboard. You can expect to see these homes in older communities on the eastern seaboard.
Contemporary style homes are one of the more 21st century design styles listed here. They are designed to look stylish, clean and expensive without a lot of ornamentation.
These homes usually feature straight flat rooflines with lots of large windows and brick, stone or metal siding. Inside, the homes have open floor plans and a clean design with hardwood floors, granite countertops and clean lines.
Sometimes called the “California bungalow,” these homes were designed in the early to the mid-20th century with an eye toward avoiding ornamentation, using materials like stone, plain wooden beams and stucco instead.
These homes tend to have low-slung roofs, open floor plans and wide front porches supported by columns.
If you want to see what this style of house looks like, check out Buffy’s house on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”
As the name suggests, Mediterranean style houses are inspired by the architecture of Spain and Italy and are still popular today across the Southwest and Florida.
While Mediterranean style houses can come in a wide variety of sizes, configurations and colors, the defining feature tends to be the low-sloped, red-tiled roof, stucco walls, warm stone and marble and wood with ornate metalwork on the balconies and windows.
Midcentury modern is a home style that screams retro to some and nostalgia to others. Peaking in popularity in the 1950s and 1960s, midcentury modern sought to create a new post-World War II aesthetic that combined organic materials (like wood) with nontraditional materials (like vinyl and plywood).
Midcentury modern usually features geometric elements, uncluttered design and large windows that let in the light – and maybe let the neighbors get a peek at just how groovy you are!
We’re using “modern” a bit loosely here. The style was modern from the 1950s through the 1970s. Modern homes were born out of an aesthetic rebellion against cookie-cutter suburban homes, so no two modern homes would look alike.
Modern homes tend to be asymmetrical and either strongly vertical or horizontal. They often use exposed beams, natural-looking stone and wood in their construction. They can have a flat or two-sided triangular roof and may also have sections on stilts to help it fit into the surrounding landscape.
Similar to craftsman houses, prairie type houses were inspired by the legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright and were designed to blend with nature. While they can be boxy or asymmetrical, the houses tend to have a gently sloping roof, wide eaves (spaces under the edges of the roof) and large porches with square supports.
While inspired by Spanish colonial and craftsman homes, the ranch style home exploded in the 1950s and 1960s to become the quintessential suburban home style.
Usually 1-story and either rectangular or L-shaped to accommodate an attached garage, the ranch popularized features like the sliding door, eat-in kitchen and back patio.
The ranch home also evolved into the split-level ranch, which allowed for upper and lower floors connected by short flights of stairs.
Shotgun style houses were described this way because you could (theoretically) fire a shotgun through the front door and the bullet would come out the back door.
These homes are usually small and rectangular with a flat roof, a single-room design and a big front porch. They tend to be slightly raised off the ground, making them popular in neighborhoods in low-lying areas like New Orleans, where there is lots of flooding.
Also known as “storybook cottages,” Tudor style homes evoke the homes of Shakespeare’s England. But the style dates back to the late 1800s and became popular in the 1920s.
Tudor homes usually feature stone masonry, plain white walls, a slanting roof and exposed wooden beams that are stained or painted to a dark color to contrast with the bright walls.
If a home was built in the U.S. between 1830 and the early 1900s, it’s probably a Victorian style home. These ornate wood-framed homes feature multiple stories, bay windows (the three-sided kind where you can sit with a good book), a steep roof, small towers, wide porches and brightly colored facades.
Victorian style also incorporates styles like Queen Anne and gothic revival. If you’re interested in a Victorian home, your home won’t be boring, but keep in mind that its size and age can make upkeep a challenge.
What To Consider When Selecting a Home Style
The style of home you select can be based on everything from local history and zoning to personal preference.
As you’re considering a home and its architectural styles, it may be helpful to ask yourself these questions:
- Does the home style provide enough space for your needs?
- Do you prefer an open floor plan or smaller rooms?
- Do you prefer a single-story building or having two or more floors?
- Do you want to share parts of your space with others?
- If you’re looking at an older home, how much will it cost you to maintain it?
- Is the electrical wiring and plumbing in the home up to date?
- Is the home energy efficient and is it equipped for extreme weather?
- Does the architectural style align with your style when it comes to interior and exterior design?
If you’re buying a home with a partner, make sure both agree on what you want – or can at least compromise.
There’s No Place Like Home
Whether you live in an apartment, a mansion, a colonial or a contemporary home, every home has its own style. No matter which style wins out when you become a homeowner, you’ll have the chance to create your home’s unique character.