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Design Focus: Dutch Colonial Style

Colonial homes, over the centuries have dotted the American landscape. Uncomplicated, economical, and refined, they reflect the building practices of America’s earliest settlers. Original Colonial Style homes were most popular in America’s original 13 colonies, or outlying territories. The colonial features continue to fascinate homeowners, as aspects of North America’s architectural heritage are preserved and kept alive in today’s designs.

Reflecting the earliest architectural traditions, these homes continue to influence the housing structure and furnishings of the New World. With the fast pace of modern living, the Dutch Colonial Style serves to counter this with its classic appeal. Loose interpretations of the style incorporate natural materials and decorative exteriors, while interiors feature walls adorned with gold-leaf mirrors or paintings, colorful floral design fabrics, and highly polished floors covered with patterned rugs.

Colonial style comes in many forms and incorporates elements from the various foreign influences affecting the Western Hemisphere at the time. Cultural traditions of the English, Spanish, French and Dutch were the main influencers then. The result was a design that became historically timeless, with elements still present in many homes in the U.S. and Canada today.


We often think of a colonial as stately and symmetrical, with an orderly arrangement of windows around a central front door. Originating in the early 1600s, the Dutch Colonial Style started as one room for early settlers. Eighteenth century Dutch settlers in New York, Delaware, New Jersey and western Connecticut often built brick or stone homes with roofs that reflected their culture. The most distinguishing Dutch Colonial feature is the gambrel, or gambrel roof, that became popular in the 18th century, a symmetrical two-sided roof with two slopes on each side. The name of the style mirrors the late 19th century trend to replicate homes made by the early Dutch settlers, which heightened throughout the World War I and II before climaxing in the mid-1950s.

Although the Colonial style variations rose to prominence during the Victorian years, the look was less cluttered, and came in many shapes and sizes. Easily recognized by the broad gambrel roof, the style originally used the inverted “V” roof shape of log cabin and bank dugout construction. That eventually changed to the use of gambrel roofs between 1725 – 1775, although examples can be found from as early as 1705.

Modern versions of the style built in the early 20th century became known as Dutch Colonial Revival; a sub-type of the Colonial Revival.  During this period, the romanticizing of colonial roots was reflected in the nostalgic architecture. This Colonial Revival incorporated features of the original Dutch Colonial. Within the context of architectural history, the more modern style is specifically defined as ‘Dutch Colonial Revival’ to distinguish it from the original, although they share many similar characteristics. Nevertheless, this ‘Revival’ is still  popularly known simply as Dutch Colonial, even today.


Dutch Colonials have a similar shape to one or one-and-a-half-story Cape Cods, and the characterizing element of a Dutch Colonial home is the flared overhang and its gambrel roof. Gambrel rooflines, reminiscent of classic hip-roof barns, set Dutch Colonial homes apart. The gambrel structure makes room for a wider roof span, which provides extra livable space in the attic. Contemporary versions are more flexible, offer greater visual interest, and pay a lovely homage to the pioneering Dutch colonists. The gambrel style allowed for horizontal expansion without the expense of a two-story construction and saved on building materials, without losing space.

Dutch Colonial floor plans generally take the form of a simple rectangle, with emphasis on the entryway. The plans are often symmetrical and boast open layouts. The layout features great rooms that are open to the kitchen and dining areas, and other spaces in the house. While original Dutch Colonial homes were built of stone or brick, as towns grew, and finished lumber became more readily available, wood siding became a cost effective cladding alternative. Field or river stone foundations eventually were replaced with concrete and stone cladding.

Another distinguishing feature is the double-hung sash windows on most Dutch Colonial homes. These windows are quite versatile and usually placed in pairs, accented with shutters in windy areas. While these windows are traditional in style, modern materials and assembly techniques make them much better than their wooden predecessors. Shed dormers are often built to accommodate the windows, delivering more headroom on the second floor.

Notably present on Dutch Colonial Style homes is the decorative entrance. This mainly consisted of a panelled front door, with sidelights on either side, a small pediment over the door, with flared eaves extending over the porch, and a decorative hood over the front entryway. They may also have a centered Dutch double door, which was originally used to keep animals from entering the home, while still allowing fresh air to flow through the home. Double dutch doors and gambrel roofs are why this house style is also known as a “barn house”.

Clapboard and shingle are often found on these homes, but brick was the preferred material. This is particularly true for homes erected after 1920, when brick veneer construction made utilizing brick less expensive. The style also comes with a chimney or two at either end of the home. Usually the stone exterior of the fireplace is visible, and the frame and exterior siding is built around its back wall. On the inside, natural materials and fabrics are to be expected. Subtle, muted colours are the decorative theme throughout the Dutch Colonial home. Modern interpretations sometimes include touches of bold colours, with geometric patterns and shapes. The extraordinary flexibility of the style makes it possible for one to experiment with the interior and still be assured of a home that says Dutch Colonial on the exterior.


Many of the Dutch emigrants fled to Canada at the time of the American Revolution in the late 1700’s. They brought the Dutch Colonial Revival style with them. In areas like Ontario, or Upper Canada and the Maritimes, that were largely settled by Crown Loyalists, the Dutch Colonial Style has a strong presence, and the homes are in great demand. Dutch style homes are popular for new construction across the country; from the executive, to traditional, to renovated, Canadians cannot get enough of the stately aura of a Dutch home. As with other rustic, natural design architecture, the style will continue to appeal to those wanting the grandeur of a classic style, without the unnecessary fluff and ornamentation.


If you’re building or renovating your home to incorporate Dutch Colonial elements, be sure that the right colonial architecture is being followed. This is because the various colonizers settling in the territory brought their own unique Colonial elements with them, that — even minimally — differ from one other.

The Dutch Colonial has particular elements that set it apart. A traditional Dutch Colonial home would be built of stone and brick, set on a stone foundation, with a gambrel roof and include Dutch features and trim. The most consistent element however was stone. Even homes with horizontal wood siding had a stone foundation. Settlers used stone from their property, or nearby, and that’s something to bear in mind when selecting the stone for your home. Cultured Stone® veneers, like River Rock or Old Country Fieldstone, are more affordable and practical than full stone, and lend an authentic look to foundations, chimneys and fireplaces.


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