What is the Architectural Style of Your Home?

Photo by An Indoor Lady

Photo by An Indoor Lady

I have written about consistency in design, and finding your own style while making sure it works with the bones of your home. This post is a guideline for how to determine the architectural style of your house.


First, let's start with a fashion analogy. Imagine a woman in a conservative black dress. As a safe choice, she might pair it with pumps and a pearl necklace. Or, if she is a little more daring, she might wear interesting shoes or dramatic jewelry. You would not, however, expect her to wear brown suede boots with fringe. It just wouldn't be right. Why then, do we feel tempted to fill our homes with decor that is equally inconsistent with the core style of our house? For the purposes of this blog, consider the architecture of your home is ‘the dress’. It is the over-riding style driver that dictates what type of interiors and decor will coordinate well and feel right. Now let’s dig deeper into some architectural details.


I get this question often. It’s true that there are many gray areas in residential architecture, and houses don’t always fit neatly into one category. I am going to list some key styles and characteristics below (for those of you who are architecture buffs - please allow me some leeway. I know this is over-simplified!), and in the interest of making it easy, if your home has 3 or more items from any one description, it is likely in that category. Okay here goes:

Traditional - this style varies depending on the region, because it has historic reference to the popular style of that area. I would venture a guess that over 60% of the houses in Austin fit the description below:

-       gabled roof (often two-story)

-       combo of either brick and lap siding or limestone and lap siding

-       arches, columns, shutters

-       divided lite windows

-       sheetrock and trim details on the interior

Here is my traditional house - it looks like most of the other houses in the neighborhood. 

Modern - this style pertains to a specific movement that started in America in the middle of the twentieth century. Architecture buffs love it (myself included). It feels honest, pure, and simple. Here are some features: 

-       flat roof

-       large windows (often floor to ceiling)

-       frequent use of metal and wood

-       minimal ornamentation

-       focus on space, simplicity of architecture, and natural materials

These are examples of a Modern 1950's home in Austin designed by a local architect. 

Contemporary –this is often confused with modern, but they are different. Contemporary design follows current trends and is not anchored in the mid-century. It changes over time. Currently it can be described as follows:

-       clean lined roof and architecture

-       large windows with a special focus on views

-       natural materials (in Texas it is often limestone and cedar)

-       more focus on warmth and comfort than true Modernism

If your home shares characteristics between this category and Modern, but wasn’t designed in the mid-century or directly modeled from it, it is most likely Contemporary.

This Contemporary house is a new construction project of ours designed by Kai Geschke, built by Enve Builders, and photographed by An Indoor Lady.

Ranch Style – this style was popular in California and Texas (probably because it is spacious and sprawling, which makes sense where there is land) and seemed to be a style of choice in the 60’s and 70’s. Some characteristics are:

-       single story, predominantly horizontal

-       gabled or hip roof

-       a combination of stone, stucco, brick, or siding

-       sometimes arches, often vaulted ceilings

-       large windows

These Ranch Style examples are from a remodel project of ours in CA (house built in 1978)

Spanish – this style is fairly eclectic and there are many off-shoots and versions. It was popular in the early 1900’s in the western U.S., Florida, and Texas, and made a resurgence in the 90’s. It was originally inspired by Spanish Colonial architecture but later took on Mediterranean touches as well. Here are some popular features:

-       gabled or hip roof (often Spanish tile)

-       light colored stucco or stone

-       arches, curves, and interior ornamentation

-       focus on tile and natural materials, frequent use of iron

This photo courtesy of Getty Images is a home in Almeria, Spain

Tuscan - this is a near relative of Spanish that takes root in old Italy. It has similar characteristics but is more typically stone than stucco. Unfortunately a version of it that took off in Texas in the early 2000's became cheapened and over-used and now has negative connotations. If done well it can still be quite charming, but there are too many poorly done examples in Austin. If you have one of these don't despair - there are suggestions I can make for injecting quality and character.

Craftsman – this style took off as a result of the Arts and Crafts movement and flourished in America in the early 1900’s. The philosophy was focused on quality, nature, and simplicity of design. There are several versions of this style as well (you may have heard of Bungalows, Prairie Style, and Mission Style?) but some simple characteristics are:

-       gabled roof (often with wide eaves and exposed rafters)

-       expansive porches and tapered columns

-       stone, board and batten, shingle or lap siding

-       special attention to trim, often highlighted by color contrast

This fresh version of modern day Craftsman was a project of ours in Westlake. Architect is Heimsath architects, photographed by Whit Preston. 

Farmhouse – okay, this is the last one I am going to cover, because… Fixer Upper! I know, I was resistant at first, but I’ll admit it’s fun to watch. And Chip and Joanna Gaines have called new emphasis to this style in Texas. Now, philosophically I can’t say I agree with transforming any old run down house in Waco into a ‘farmhouse’, but I’ll agree the couple is talented and I love what they have done for that town. Oh yah, and they’re pretty adorable. Anyway here are some key elements:

-       simple gabled roof

-       siding (either horizontal, vertical, or occasionally board and batten)

-       minimal color variation - typically lots of white

-       rustic and raw materials, focus on texture

-       shiplap on interior walls (as opposed to sheetrock)

-       divided lite windows, but simple - no curves

Brief aside… there is a version of this in Austin that is described as “German Farmhouse”. There are several architectural differences, but on the exterior you'll see that it incorporates more stone than siding, and richer color palettes are utilized.

These are simple farmhouses courtesy of Getty Images.

Okay, now there are so many other styles popping into my brain, but I'm getting worn out and you probably are too, so I will stop with these.


So the point I have been trying to drive home in the last few posts is:

1) Identify the architecture of your home (i.e. the DRESS).

2) Decide what your favorite qualities are about that style.

3) Aim to find a consistency from the exterior to the interior. It will allow a better flow and more effectively highlight the aspects of that style that you like best.

Design Personality Disorder

Photo by Getty Images

Photo by Getty Images

So, this is embarrassing. I'm going to describe a décor trap that I am all too familiar with, because it happened to ME (quick side note – many of the issues in my blog will be about lessons I have learned not only through years as an interior designer, but through experiences with my own home). Okay back to my story: when my husband and I were married in 1994 we bought our first house. We were enticed by the neighborhood and the views, and despite having a degree in architecture, I was young and new to being a homeowner. The house was lovely but spec home quality, and very traditional. I didn't really make a conscious recognition of the style of the house at the time.


After a few years the trends in design changed and I began to think that I liked Mediterranean-style (probably because I saw it in all of the magazines and stores!). I started decorating my home not thinking about the architectural style of the house, but just buying things that I thought seemed cool. I ended up with curvy iron light fixtures, terra-cotta planters, and I even replaced our tile (yep – LOTS of it!) with a cheap version of something meant to look like saltillo tile. In a traditional brick house. What? (I told you this was embarrassing!)

The result is what I will call a house with a “personality disorder". It had veered from it’s true identity, and the mojo of the house had definitely gotten lost along the way...


After years of trying to figure out what wasn’t working, one day it hit me - I needed to get back to the roots of the house! Unfortunately some of the changes I had made were not inexpensive to fix, but I vowed to get back on track with each small decision that was made, hoping that one day I could make major progress.

Then a few years ago we committed to a major renovation. Out came my ‘inspiration’ notebook (many years of clippings had accumulated before Pinterest came along!) and the vision in my mind became a reality. Now I really love my house. It’s not fancy, but it makes me happy and it finally feels cohesive.


Take some time to think about the architecture of your home. Is it Traditional? Contemporary? Ranch Style? For those of you who don’t know I’ll provide tips on that down the road. Then consider the interiors and take note of fixtures, finishes, or furnishings that are in conflict with the style flow. Now, there is a chance that some of you might say "my house is traditional, but I prefer modern". That's okay! Aim for a "sleek and simple" version of traditional. Whether you have sights of remodeling or just occasionally like to tweak your surroundings, think about what the house wants to be, and with each change you make strive to further develop the core style of the home.


Your Interior Style

Photo by An Indoor Lady

Photo by An Indoor Lady

In the last post I suggested that to feel satisfied in your own space you have to stop chasing after what other people want in a home, and get to the bottom of what’s important to you. I know that’s easier said than done. Frequently when I meet with new clients they say “I don’t know my style”. It’s probably because for most of us it’s not cut and dried, and it’s easy to be influenced by trends and what other people think is “stylish”. That’s why I’m going to guide us through it in a way that is inward focused and independent of trends. Now, get a cup of coffee, something to write with, and find a cozy place to settle in. This is going to be fun, but you have to be free of distractions.

Finding your “Happy Place”

Let’s discover how you are affected by your environment. Think of a favorite place (it doesn’t have to be a room. It can be a childhood meeting spot, a friend’s house, a hotel, etc.). What did you like about it? How did it make you feel? Was it open and light? Or warm and cozy? Perhaps it was a bed and breakfast with crisp white sheets and beautiful views. Or maybe it was your dad’s study with dark wood paneling, a worn leather sofa, and the smell of pipe tobacco. Take your time and document everything you can think of, being as specific as you can. Make a list of at least 5 physical descriptors, including colors, smells, etc.. Then out to the right, list the emotions evoked.

Conversely, think of a place where you did not feel joyful. What was disturbing about it? Was it cold and sterile? Cluttered and claustrophobic? I often hear references to hospitals or to grandma's house for this part (sorry grandma!). Describe the space in detail, including sensory perceptions and how it made you feel. Make the list again, of at least 5 physical descriptors and the emotional associations.

This is YOU!

Now, imagine a place where your closest friends would walk in and say “Wow - this is so YOU”. What would it look like? Would it be casual? Formal? Spare and neutral, or colorful and adorned with interesting items at every turn? If you’re unsure then think about your wardrobe. Do you lean toward neutrals with “go-to” basics and little variation from day to day? Or do you love fun, colorful prints and wouldn’t dare be seen in the same thing twice? For me, most of my closet is white and denim - and if it were socially acceptable I'd wear the same thing every day (please tell me it is!). These are clues to the fact that you do have a style, even if you might not realize it. Use these ideas to make a list of the 5 adjectives that others might use to describe your ideal space.

Assessing your Current House

Think about how that “perfect you” compares with your current home. I realize it’s complicated, because many of us live with a companion, or have inherited items we didn’t select, but try to identify which elements of your space don’t jive with your taste. From there you can develop a grand plan for your overall direction, because for most of us re-inventing our environment is a gradual process. Admittedly, I have never really liked most of my furniture, but I haven't had the opportunity to buy more than a few pieces at a time. If I'd had a master plan I could have been wiser about my purchases. Instead when replacing worn out items, I let the style of the existing pieces drive the process. I wouldn’t have even picked those to begin with!

The Bottom Line

Now let’s create a summary. Review the descriptors and emotions you wrote for your favorite and least favorite environments, and how your closest friends would describe your ideal space. Pick 4 key words to describe the physical qualities that you gravitate toward, and 3 of the emotions you strive for. My list looks like this:

Adjectives: 1) Comfortable 2) Simple 3) Fresh 4) Natural

Emotions: 1) Relaxed 2) Cheerful 3) Calm

Write your words in bold letters at the bottom of the page, and let them become your guide. The next time you consider ANY purchase for your home, ask yourself “does this purchase fit my ideal description?”. Every item you bring in, whether big or small, will either contribute to the end goal or detract from it.