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Design Focus: Colonial Style

As a country whose unique culture stems from its rich and varied colonial past, with British, French, Spanish and, of course, Native influences, Canada has a long-standing and still very amicable relationship with its ancestry. It’s therefore hardly surprising that Colonial Revival Style architecture and interior design is one of the more popular design styles to grace neighbourhoods across the country.

There’s something a little romantic, adventurous and delightfully vintage about the Colonial style, and its classic lines and décor that hark back to a bygone era often serve as a counterpoint and even antidote to overly technological, fast-paced and disconnected modern living. Where modern furnishings are synthetic and sleek, Colonial Style prefers natural materials and decorative lines; exterior walls use the beauty and longevity of natural hewn stone, while interior walls are frequently papered, wooden or slate floors are perfectly maintained and covered in exotic rugs, and homes are dotted with potted tropical plants.

But traditional Colonial Style differs considerably from the contemporaneous styles that prevailed in Britain and France at the time, so where does this unique style come from, and how can you emulate it in your home?


Colonization was the primary aim of the British Empire for a good almost three centuries, with a global empire that held strong from the late 1600s to the mid-1900s, with what many consider to be the end of the empire only coming when Hong Kong reverted to China in 1997. With such a vast empire that occupied territories on every continent over the course of those three-odd centuries, there was plenty to influence the architecture and interior design styles of the Colonials.

Simultaneously, France was enjoying its own expansionist heyday, with many parts of the world coming under dispute between the English and French – a legacy that has created challenges time and again in the last half-century, including in Canada.

Each of the English and French colonies would have its own unique look and feel, with certain elements crossing the various international borders, but with an eclectic mix of oddities and curiosities appearing in colonial homes. Particularly for those colonials who traversed the globe, whether it be for their own business, the business of colonization, or simply for the pleasure of getting out into the sun and enjoying the lifestyle, their homes would amass a collection of art, decorative items and furnishings that reflected their increasing and expanding globalization.

Colonial Style really came into its own in the latter half of the nineteenth century and the early 1900s, when certain elements carried through across the globe, marking certain types and styles of home as undeniably European, yet still sensibly outfitted for the decidedly un-European climes of the Caribbean, Africa and the East.


A typical Colonial home would be constructed out of locally made or sourced brick and stone, and have large, wide windows and doorways to allow what breezes there were to cool these homes in the more tropical climates of the colonies. Light, airy design and decor complemented the open nature of these houses, while the omnipresent ceiling fan kept air moving. Gentle, flowing fabrics that kept insects at bay without weighing too heavily on one’s person adorned windows and four-poster beds, and natural materials, from wood to grass to stone gave the homes texture and character.

Colonials homes could be easily recognized by their distinctive salt-box shape and the columns that adorned them. These homes often featured several classic elements, like columned porticoes, multi-paned double-hung windows that were sealed from the world by shutters at night, and frequently dormer windows. While the earliest of these buildings were constructed of brick and stone, and were designed for wealthy land-owners, the increasing influx of colonists quickly led to wooden structures becoming the norm, often with stone or brick exterior accents to compliment the wood siding.

Indoors, double-story colonial homes would regularly feature a centre stair hall, with a living room to one side, dining room to the other side, and bedrooms upstairs. The various accoutrements of travel, including light and collapsible furniture, vast, well-used steamer trunks, and trinkets, jewels and gewgaws picked up on one’s meanderings through the empire would decorate surfaces, or be clustered together in glass-fronted cabinets and displayed to all who would view them and turn green with envy at who managed to snag the most sought-after prizes.


Bringing a bit of the Colonial style into your home can lend it a genteel, semi-exotic yet familiar look and feel, and make you and your guests feel like you have stepped back in time to a somewhat calmer, less technologically driven era. It can be as simple as finding the right kind of furniture, or as detailed and complex as painstakingly recreating a classically colonial home, from the stone-clad fireplace and pebbled courtyard, to the archaeological artefacts of hushed and secretive origin on display in the curio cabinet.

Then, of course, there’s building or renovating your house itself to give you the look and experience of living in a British Colonial home. Before getting started, it pays to look more closely into country-specific colonial architectural styles, as each colony had its own unique approach – if, that is, you want to get very specific about your design. The majority of Canadian British Colonial homes, however, tend to follow the styles that prevailed in the United States – primarily Georgian-influenced architecture.

This style was a little closer to classically British architecture than the homes in the hotter, more equatorial and tropical colonies, but still shared many elements, particularly a love of natural materials, used to build wide, shallow buildings that encouraged a flow of air and activity.

A typical North American colonial home would be built of stone or brick, and would feature numerous large windows built in a grid pattern. The entrance to the house would be centrally placed and buildings would have a pleasing symmetry to their facade. Stone was an important feature to the Georgian house, with brick buildings often receiving a stone facing, and stone features such as quoins and renders. If you are building or renovating your home to match this style, consider panelized manufactured stone cladding to give it this elegant and sophisticated look, without the expense or weight of complete stone.

Indoors, most rooms in a Georgian colonial home would feature their own fireplace, with those in rooms allocated for social gatherings reaching epic proportions. These, too, would usually be built from locally sourced stone, or from brick with natural stone cladding. Of course, today one can again use manufactured stone to give your fireplace the same look.

Colonial Style homes, above all, sourced natural materials from the area they were built in, so when you’re choosing your Cultured Stone®, consider choosing products that most closely resemble or even match your local geology. That way, you’re getting the most authentic Colonial home possible.


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