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Get the Look: Southern-Style Architecture
Learn how to recognize and appreciate Southern-style architecture in its many variations
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
- 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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
- 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
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
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.
- 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
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.
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.
- 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
- 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
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
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
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.
- 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.
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.
- 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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
- 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.
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
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
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
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
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.