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Get the Look: Southern-Style Architecture

Learn how to recognize and appreciate Southern-style architecture in its many variations

Written and produced by Debra Steilen
  • John Bessler

    Despite what the title might suggest, the American South (see slide 5 for specific states) features more than one style of architecture. Some styles are grand, others are more modest. But the Southern homes in those respective styles often share three things in common. Their structures are designed to handle the South’s hot, humid weather. They include porches that foster Southerners’ sense of community. And whether new or old, these homes include classic architectural details that add timeless elegance and a sense of history. See the next three slides to better understand these commonalities.

  • Gordon Beall

    Deep Porches 

    Why do so many Southern homes boast gracious front porches tucked in beneath deep overhangs? Because such open-air rooms help family and friends endure the warm, humid air that comes with living in the South. Porches keep houses cooler by shading the structures’ front walls. Porches also provide a comfortable place for people to sit and visit—a welcome social nicety before the advent of air conditioning.

    Pictured: This wide porch, which faces Alabama’s Bayou St. John, shields the home’s interiors from the sun while providing breezy outdoor living space to entertain friends and family. 

    Check out another Alabama home with a sprawling porch.

  • Gordon Beall

    Elevated Foundations

    Whether built of brick or stone, elevated foundations provide both utilitarian and aesthetic benefits to Southern homes. Building a house several feet above the ground helps protect it against water damage due to flooding. Plus, an elevated foundation enhances a home’s curb appeal by putting the whole structure on a pedestal.

    Building a house on stilts (often seen in coastal areas) offers an additional benefit. When all or part of a house rests upon stilts, breezes pass underneath that help cool overheated rooms.

    Pictured: This renovated row house stands in a historic neighborhood just three miles north of the White House.

    See before-and-after shots of this renovated row house.

  • Colleen Duffley

    Classic Architectural Features

    Symmetrical forms. Graceful proportions. Stately white columns. Triangular gables. Designers of pre-Civil War homes included such architectural details because of America’s passion for Neoclassical, Greek Revival, Federal, and Georgian-style architecture in the early part of the 19th century. Today, such details give new homes an elegant sense of refinement that calls to mind the genteel lifestyles of the past.

    Pictured: Classic on the outside, traditional with a twist within, this 1947 Georgian Colonial was meticulously restored by homeowners Bob Williams and Stephen Heavner.

    Interior design: Bob Williams

    Check out the interiors in this restored North Carolina home.

  • Richard Leo Johnson

    Defining the South

    Before moving onto specific styles, find out exactly which states are included in the region known as “the South.”

    The American South (also known as Dixie or simply “the South”) includes 16 states per the U.S. Census Bureau: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.

    The Old South is defined as states lying south of the Mason Dixon line that were included in the original 13 British colonies: Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia.

    Definitions of the Deep South usually include Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and all or part of the adjacent states of Arkansas, Florida, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia . Some definitions of the Deep South include the seven states that seceded from the United States before the start of the Civil War: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas.

    Pictured: Built in 2003, this plantation-style North Carolina home features simple shutters, clean-lined columns, and a gently sloped hipped roof. Visitors often ask homeowner/interior designer Corine Longanbach if the house is original to the property. “That’s my best compliment, when people think it’s always been here,” she says.

    Click through the following slides to learn about specific styles and tour some of our favorite Southern homes.

  • Gordon Beall

    Neoclassical Architecture at a Glance 

    Neoclassical—or “new” classical” architecture—doesn’t describe any single building style. It’s more of an approach to design that focuses on order, balance, and harmony—drawing inspiration from the classical architecture of ancient Greece and Rome. Greek Revival, Federalist, and Beaux Arts architectural styles all incorporate Neoclassical ideas into the mix.

    Key characteristics:

    • Commanding façade with symmetrical elements
    • One to two-and-a-half stories high
    • Dramatic columns the same height as the building
    • Side-gabled or hipped roof
    • Balanced display of windows
    • Centered entry
    • Low-pitched triangular pediments
    • Greek or Roman ornamental design elements

    Pictured: Majestic columns help create a dramatic façade for this late-19th-century house in Washington, D.C.

    Interior design: Shazalynn Cavin-Winfrey

    Check out the colorful rooms in this 125-year-old home.

  • Emily Jenkins Followill

    New Beach House, South Carolina

    Built on Kiawah Island, Renee and Alan Levow’s new vacation home takes its style cues from Italian architect Andrea Palladio. The ideas of this 16th-century architectural superstar helped feed the Neoclassical movement that became popular in America after the War of 1812. Just like more traditional Lowcountry houses (see slide 14), this one is designed with shaded walls to help diffuse the heat. Large, plentiful windows channel the breeze and showcase marsh views.

    This view shows the back of the house, where rectilinear columns add  Southern flair to the Brazilian ipe wood deck. “I wanted the natural setting to be the main character of the house,” says Renee. “Everything we did had to enhance it.” 

    Architects: Wayne Windham and Laura DePree
    Interior design: Beth Webb

    See the rest of this new South Carolina retreat.

  • John Bessler

    Greek Revival Style at a Glance

    Greek Revival architecture dominated building trends in the United States from 1818 to 1850 . This style was particularly popular in the South because of its association with classical tradition. Plus, Greek Revival’s columns, porticoes, and porches provided welcome shade while promoting neighborly get-togethers in the fresh air.

    Other key characteristics:

    • Symmetrical façade; sometimes with ell-shape wings
    • Gable or hipped roofs
    • Portico or full-width porch with Greek columns (sometimes square pillars)
    • Six-over-six windows with heavy surrounds
    • Framed doorways with flanking pilasters, columns, sidelights, and/or transoms
    • White-painted wood, brick, or masonry construction, rather than fine stone

    Pictured: Built in 1838, this restored Greek Revival house fuses traditional elegance with informality. “It has fabulous proportions...,” says designer Jamie Drake. “I wanted to create spaces that had the period ambience and yet were strong enough to accept [the homeowners’] oftentimes shockingly contemporary art.”

    See the home’s artfully renovated library on the next slide.

  • John Bessler

    Library, Greek Revival House, Washington, D.C.

    Marilyn Monroe (a silkscreened work by Andy Warhol) looks surprisingly at home in a library furnished with traditional furniture and window coverings. Prussian blue walls make the old-fashioned architectural trim pop.

    Check out the new Greek Revival House on the next slide.

    Interior design: Jamie Drake

  • Richard Leo Johnson

    New Greek Revival Home, Georgia

    Built on land that was once part of Henry Ford’s winter estate in Savannah, Georgia, this Greek Revival home sports a slate roof, limestone steps, and Savannah-brick exterior that suit its traditional demeanor. The main house is symmetrical, but the two adjoining wings are sited lower and feature clapboard siding—instead of brick—to make it look as if they were added at a later time. The graceful Doric columns seen outside the front entrance are repeated inside where they define a gallery-style entry.

    Architect and project manager: Domenick Treschitta

  • Gordon Beall

    Updated Greek Revival Home, Virginia

    Beneath all the dated wallpaper, navy blue carpet, and yellow laminate stood a classic home built in Richmond, Virginia, in 1924. "We knew this was the house for [us],” recalls the designer and homeowner Susan Jamieson. “It had all the right features—Greek Revival-style architectural details with the kind of rich, well-crafted character that you can best find in an older home.”

    Interior design: Susan Jamieson

    See how a designer restored her home’s elegant beauty.

  • John Granen

    Antebellum Architecture at a Glance

    Similar to Neoclassicism, the term “antebellum” doesn’t refer to a specific architectural style.  Instead, “antebellum” (Latin for ‘before war’) refers to homes built in the American South before the Civil War (1861-1865).  These grand, stately homes—many of which are examples of Greek Revival or Federal-style architecture—are responsible for the impression that the Old South is a place of cultured gentility.

    Typical characteristics:

    • Symmetrical and boxy
    • Hipped or gabled roofs
    • Strong columns supporting large covered porches and balconies
    • Evenly spaced windows with contrasting shutters.
    • Center entrances in the front and rear

    Pictured: Two-story Ionic columns and a wide portico create a dramatic façade for this 1853 Greek Revival home in Texas.  

    Architect: Tom Hatch

    Check out the historic Pease Mansion (shown) in Austin, Texas.

  • Robert Brantley

    Renovated Antebellum-Style Home, Florida

    Boston-based designers Lee Bierly and Chris Drake renovated this 1939 Antebellum-style home in Palm Beach as a getaway from their daily lives in New England. The house with a Southern vernacular was an unusual find in a region filled with a Mediterranean aesthetic. The two designers love the fact that they can use different colors than they would in Boston. “Here, bolder and more complex hues hold their own in the bright Southern light,” Chris says.

    Original architect: John Volk

    Take a walk through this color-kissed home.

  • Emily Jenkins Followill

    Lowcountry Architecture at a Glance

    Usually found in coastal South Carolina and Georgia, Lowcountry architecture is designed to withstand the rainstorms and floods inherent to a subtropical climate. The first floor is elevated to protect against high waters—and, equally important, to give living quarters better access to cooling breezes.

    Key characteristics:

    • Raised foundation to keep out floodwaters and to facilitate ventilation
    • Usually single level; if multi-story, dormers funnel light beneath the roof
    • Broad hipped roofs that extend over large front porches with columns
    • Single-room depth to encourage cross-ventilation.
    • High ceilings and large windows
    • Wide wraparound porch accessed via multiple French doors

    Pictured: John Howard’s Lowcountry vacation home is designed to recede into the woods, a requirement of homes built in this particular South Carolina development.

    Architect: G. Geoffrey Bray
    On-site supervising architect: Michael Gentemann

    Tour a new Lowcountry-style home in South Carolina.

  • Richard Leo Johnson

    Smokehouse/storage structure, Georgia 

    Part of a historically accurate renovation, the new storage structure was designed to resemble an 1850s smokehouse. The exterior walls are built with a mix of stone and old Savannah gray brick. The roof is made of metal, just like the roof on the house. 

  • Gordon Beall

    Tidewater Style Architecture at a Glance 

    Tidewater-style homes are similar to Lowcountry ones, although the former’s lower levels are elevated on stilts—often with lattice attached to keep out animals. Such a setup not only prevents flood damage, it cools the house by allowing breezes to flow beneath the foundation. Tidewater houses are most commonly found along the coastal area from southern Delaware through south Georgia.

    Key characteristics:

    • Broad roof (usually hipped) with deep eaves
    • Large porches, often wraparound
    • Two stories; lower level elevated on stilts
    • Abundant windows
    • Wood construction
    • Waterfront lots

    Pictured: Deep porches shield the interiors of this 1910 Louisiana home from the heat. The back of the clapboard house (shown) also includes a wood terrace that offers a sunny spot to enjoy the rear lawn and swimming pool.

    Architect: Ken Tate

  • Emily Jenkins Followill

    New Cottage, South Carolina

    One visit was to Lowcountry was all it took to convince Christie and Jim Bogrette to build their vacation house along the banks of the May River near Bluffton, South Carolina.  The living and dining rooms kitchen share one large space with views of the river. French doors connect the living area to an intimate screened porch with a gas fireplace. And while many Southern porches stretch the length of a house, this one is half that size to avoid blocking outside views. “It’s all about ... connecting with outside,” Jim says.

    Architects: Jim Bogrette and Joel Newman

    See how this modern Lowcountry home suits its environment.

  • Gordon Beall

    Charleston Single House at a Glance

    The Charleston Single House is longer than it is wide—which means that its footprint suits small narrow lots in cities such as Charleston where land is at a premium. These homes come in many styles, including Georgian and Federal.

    Other key characteristics:

    • One-room-wide footprint
    • Verandas (also known as piazzas) run the length of the house, serving as exterior hallways, often with multiple French doors; they help to cool the house itself and afford a private place to relax outdoors, since they do not face the street
    • Two outside doors are located on the same side as the verandas
    • Brick or wood exteriors

    Pictured: Homeowners George and Darlene Shaw first bought their Charleston single house in 1988. Years later (after living in a too-large antebellum house), they bought the home again, fondly remembering the open layout as being perfect for entertaining.

    Architect: Randolph Martz

  • Gordon Beall

    Single House Variation, North Carolina

    This newer Charlotte home channels the Charleston Single House style, evidenced by the fact its four stories reach for the sky from a small footprint. Plus, the telltale gated side entrance opens to a loggia and the real “front” door. “We have always loved Charleston and the intimacy of a courtyard house,” says homeowner and residential architect Sam Greeson. “When the lot we wanted dictated this style, the time had come.”

    Architect and interior designer: Sam Greeson

    Browse the holiday interiors of this home.

  • Brie Williams

    Single House Variation, South Carolina

    Although multiple rooms wide, this lovingly restored Georgian home features the side piazzas that set Charleston Single Houses apart from other architecture. The end of the white-painted brick house faces the street, another single-house attribute.

    Garden design: Ben Lenhardt

    See the gorgeous formal garden that goes with this 1743 house in historic Charleston.

  • Tim Moxley

    New Beach House, South Carolina 

    Inspired by Civil War officers’ quarters, this new oceanside home features wraparound porches on two levels—perfect for enjoying the ocean breezes inherent to Sullivan’s Island. In other words, the house is created around the concept of outdoor living. Inside, lofty ceilings allow the Southern heat to waft up and away, and plentiful doors offer access to the porches. Outside, sturdy windows with shutters are designed to withstand the harsh beach environment and hurricane-force winds.

    See a view of the master bedroom on the next slide.

    Residential designer: Carl McCants

  • Tim Moxley

    Master Bedroom, South Carolina

    French doors open the master bedroom to a private wraparound porch with dramatic views of the ocean. Sky-blue bed linens, taupe furniture, and a sisal area rug bring the ocean aesthetic inside. Cottage-style planks (used throughout the house) are employed here as wainscoting. 

    Interior design: Scott Laslie

  • Gordon Beall

    French Colonial at a Glance

    French Colonial architecture gets its name from French settlers who built homes in this style for flood-prone territories in Louisiana and Mississippi.

    Key characteristics:

    • One or two stories
    • Steeply pitched roofs, either hipped (shown) or side-gabled
    • Main living areas built on raised foundations
    • Spacious porches (also called ‘galleries’) beneath extended roofs
    • Brick, stucco, or wood siding

    Pictured: Architect Ken Tate designed this newer French Colonial house near Jackson, Mississippi for homeowners who love traditional style but wanted a less formal demeanor than classic Greek Revival. 

    Architect: Ken Tate

  • John Granen

    New French Colonial House, Texas

    When Glenn and Judy Smith (who also own a home in New Orleans) decided to build a French Colonial home in Houston, they chose Ken Tate to design it. (The Louisiana-based architect is known for designing homes layered in gracious Southern style.) Landscape architect Helen Grivich worked closely with Tate to create grounds reminiscent of the Old South.

    See the Smiths’s French Colonial playhouse on the next slide.

    Architect: Ken Tate
    Landscape architect: Helen Grivich

    Take a look at this Texas home’s landscape.

  • John Granen

    New French Colonial Playhouse, Texas

    Also known as a pigeonnier (French for dovecote), this playhouse—complete with hipped roof, double-hung windows, and shutters—even boasts a miniature garden of its own.

    Architect: Ken Tate
    Landscape architect: Helen Grivich

    Take a look at this Texas home’s landscape.

  • Karim Shamsi-Basha

    French Creole Architecture at a Glance

    French Creole architecture (which blends French and Spanish Colonial styles with West Indian and other influences) got its start during America’s French Colonial period. This architectural style, especially designed for the South’s hot, wet climate, continued to be popular well into the 1800s. Most surviving examples are in Louisiana.

    Key characteristics:

    • Broad, spreading rooflines, often hipped
    • Spacious galleries with roofs supported by wood colonnettes
    • Timber frames with infill made of brick or bousillage (mud, moss, and animal hair)
    • Elevated foundations with living quarters placed above ground level
    • Wrought-iron columns, balconies, and detailing
    • A rear range of rooms that includes an open loggia)
    • Pigeonniers (French for dovecotes) set near the main house to denote status

    Pictured: Wrought-iron railings adorn the balcony of a French Creole mansion in New Orleans’ Garden District.  

  • Emily Jenkins Followill

    Southern Colonial Style at a Glance

    Southern Colonial architecture originated about the same time as southern plantations in the 18th and 19th centuries.  Like traditional Colonial-style homes, these symmetrical structures include stately front entries accented with pediments, balanced window displays, and clapboard or brick siding.

    Key differences:

    • Elevated foundations to help protect against water damage
    • Large columns lining the front of the house

    Pictured: When Atlanta designer Amy Morris saw the potential of this clapboard Southern Colonial, she convinced her clients (also her parents) to buy it. Amy helped Daphne and Alex Davis to make the home their own with key changes that included a two-story addition to house a bigger kitchen.

    Renovation architect: Brad Heppner

    Check out the before and after photos for this remodeled home.

  • Emily Jenkins Followill

    Renovated Southern Colonial, Georgia

    Nicole and Neil Metzheiser fell in love with a 1918 Southern Colonial designed by Neel Reid, a preeminent Southern architect in the early 20th century. “This house was such a great family home, with a nice flow, great old windows..., and wonderful natural light,” Nicole recalls about her first impression. Still, the interiors needed updating to make the old Atlanta home work for a 21st-century family. With the help of architect Tim Adams, the Metzheisers were able to complete renovations that feel like part of the original house.

    Original architect: Neel Reid
    Renovation architect: Tim Adams

    Check out this home’s family-friendly updates.

    Learn more about Colonial-style architecture.

  • Emily Jenkins Followill

    Southern Colonial, North Carolina

    Architectural symmetry, sun-flooded rooms, and historic qualities sold Lillian August on the classic painted-brick house built in 1923. “I love opening up all the doors, and that wonderful sense of light and air flowing through the house,” she says. To enhance the indoor-outdoor ambiance, Lillian had a side porch screened with ultra-sheer “invisible” screens. Two glass-paned doors between the porch and living room stand open, encouraging breezes and barefoot traffic between the rooms.

    See Lillian’s screened porch on the next slide.

    Enjoy looking at the relaxed, romantic rooms inside this house

  • Emily Jenkins Followill

    Screened Porch, North Carolina

    Designer/homeowner Lillian August opens the doors that connect her screened porch to the living room. “I suggest everyone find a way to have a porch. It really changes your lifestyle,” she says. Floral pillows and Lillian’s “Theodora” chair with a pink upholstered back contribute to the garden feel.

    Interior design: Lillian August

    Enjoy looking at the relaxed, romantic rooms inside this house

  • John Bessler

    Renovated Colonial, North Carolina

    “It was our family gathering spot,” Charleston native Sarah Hamlin says about the gracious old Colonial house that she and her husband, Matt, bought from Sarah’s grandmother.  While the house had remained in pristine condition over the years, it needed a serious remodeling to function for Sarah’s family, which includes four sons. “I told [Grandmother] I wanted to keep the spirit of the house alive and to use it the way she and Papi used it, to always have people over and kids running in the yard,” Sarah Hamlin explains, “and she gave us her blessing.”

    Click on the next slide for a view of their stylish pool house.

    Architects: David Baker and Bobby McAlpine
    Landscape architect: Mike Kaiser

    Browse the before-and-after photographs of this home’s renovation.

  • John Bessler

    Southern-Style Pool House, Atlanta

    The pool house’s white-brick exterior, sheltering portico, and stately columns create a traditional Southern presence near the swimming pool.

    Architects: David Baker and Bobby McAlpine
    Interior design: Lisa Hilderbrand with Sarah-Hamlin Hastings
    Landscape architect: Mike Kaiser

    Check out the before-and-after photographs of this home’s renovation.

  • Squire Fox

    Plantation-Style Homes at a Glance

    The term “Plantation Style home” originally referred to the main house of a plantation in the antebellum American South, rather than a distinct architectural style. Several architectural types are reflected in the surviving examples: Federal, French Colonial, Georgian, Gothic Revival, Greek Revival, Italianate, and Neoclassical. Modern plantation homes channel those large antebellum manors with their columned porches, tall French windows, shutters, and air of Southern hospitality.

    Key characteristics:

    • Two stories high
    • Symmetrical facade
    • Graceful proportions
    • Deep veranda supported by stately columns
    • Pedimented portico
    • Wood or brick construction
    • Balanced display of tall windows with wood shutters

    Editor’s note: Not every plantation-style home looks like Tara. Some “big houses” are simple two-story I-shape houses with central hallways—known as Plantation Plain.

    Pictured: This stately structure, which was built in 1776, is part of the Meander Plantation located near Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. The building now serves as both as a bed-and-breakfast and a gourmet restaurant.    

    Learn about a Virginia cooking school that takes place on the Meander Plantation.

  • Werner Straube

    New Plantation-Style Home, Texas

    Just beyond west Houston, Lisa and Jerry Simon built a plantation-style house that was influenced by the architecture of the late A. Hays Town—Southern, with a distinctive Creole flavor. "It was inevitable that Lisa gravitate to this style," says her designer, Sandra Lucas. "She was raised with a love of the traditional decorative arts—her mother founded Houston's Museum of Southern History."

    Architectural design: Robert Dame

    See how the Simons decorate their home for the holidays.

  • Michael Luppino

    Plantation-Style Home with a Twist, Louisiana

    Architect Lee Ledbetter modeled Harlan and Dawn Sagler’s dream home on Louisiana’s traditional raised plantation cottages. As a result, this new brick house boasts an exterior with a broad center gable and formal columned portico—traditional Southern style presented here with contemporary flair. This house also includes a deep porch—at the back—to take in views of the bayou. The biggest twist? None of the windows include shutters, which “borders on heresy for a Southern home,” Ledbetter says.

    Architect:  Lee Ledbetter

    Tour a Louisiana home that makes the most of its proximity to the bayou.

  • Emily Jenkins Followill

    New Triple-Gabled Home, Atlanta

    It may not qualify as antebellum, but the Atlanta home of former Atlanta Brave all-star shortstop Jeff Blauser and his wife, Andee, is still all about Southern hospitality and connecting to the outdoors. That’s why the floor plan for the English-manor-style house includes a family-friendly great room and kitchen that flow into a loggia furnished with soft seating, outdoor draperies, a fireplace, and a television. The fused spaces nurture kids’ pool parties and sleepovers, family dinners, and impromptu gatherings—leisure-time activities that have always suited a Southern setting.

    See the Blausers’ great room on the next slide.

    Architect: Bulent Bayda

    Walk through this gracious Atlanta home.

  • Emily Jenkins Followill

    Great Room, Atlanta

    Interiors in the Blauser house boast a graceful blend of elegance and down-home Southern hospitality, thanks to Andee’s Louisiana upbringing. The great room, for example, features a pair of comfy chaises and a chocolate brown sofa that allow comfortable television viewing without blocking the French doors which lead outside.

    Interior design: William C. Huff Jr. and Heather Zarrett Dewberry

    Walk through this gracious Atlanta home.

  • Courtesy of Oak Alley Foundation

    The Big House, Louisiana

    We hope you enjoyed learning about Southern architecture. Our last slide is of The Big House, a Greek Revival mansion with French Creole touches found on the historic grounds of Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie, Louisiana. Built between 1837 and 1839 (making it “antebellum”), the square, symmetrical building boasts 28 Doric columns lining the exterior.

    Page through The 25 Best Historic Homes in America.

  • John Bessler