While not exhaustive, I hope this provides a good overview of some of the basic styles here in MA. If the post proves popular, I'll expand it with less common styles.
Colonial House Style
This Colonial is Popular throughout Metrowest
Colonials are the most popular house style. They've been around so long, that it can be useful to talk about the various sub-styles. These are not necessarily "official", but I find them useful. Antique Colonial, Garrison colonial, Contemporary colonial. Antique colonials are homes that predate today's housing styles - anything earlier than 1940 is a good line in the sand to draw. Garrison Colonials were popular in the 70's and 80's, and are easily recognizable by the fact that the top half hangs over the bottom half. Most colonials built today are the contemporary kind, and they are distinguished by the complicated roof lines and lack of a flat front.
Cape House Style
Roof lines interfere with the top
level in most capes. Dormers are common
but not necessary.
Started right on Cape Cod, the classic cape was a three bedroom home with two upstairs and one down-stairs. These homes have been popular since the 1940's, both for their curb appeal and their cheaper (than a colonial) costs. Today, there are few differences between modern capes and colonials, except for one - the roof line generally interferes with the living space on the top floor. If the roof line has no affect upstairs, it's a colonial, otherwise, it's a cape. Smaller capes have very small bedrooms upstairs, which today's buyers no longer care for. It's not a question of age, though, as some older capes have very spacious rooms upstairs, and most need to be checked out up close to see for sure.
Ranch House Style
Ranches have just one main level.
Ranches are desirable for their one-level living. Unlike Capes and colonials, ranches have the kitchen, bedrooms, and all living space on one level. Commonly built without basements in much of the country, the majority still have basements in New England.
Split-Level House Style
Becuase of their practicality - low cost and large living space - the split-level home is alive and well in New England. Generally, you don't see too many until the 1960's, and they made up a lot of the stock in the 1970's and 1980's. Split level homes have ranch floor plans, but generally have additional living space in the lower-level. the hallmark of the split is the stairway - generally, the front door brings you to a landing that has a half flight of stairs up to the primary living area, and a half flight down to the garage, basement, and additional living space.
Often confused with the split, a raised ranch is a home where the living area (kitchen, bedrooms, etc) is up a FULL flight of stairs. Generally, these homes are built with garages and additional living area down stairs, but the whole house is upstairs. Although a raised-ranch can be the right solution for a particular lot, they are unusual and less popular than other house styles.
This Large Victorian is easily spotted
with the large amount of decorative trim and complex roof
that adorns the outside.
Older homes (those built before 1940) were, for the most part, built at a very individualized level. Although they share certain characteristics, with the passages of time and often countless renovations, predictions about the floor plan are often difficult to make. A generally useful description is Victorian (which typically involves some significant details on the inside and out) or farmhouse, which can be much simpler, less ornate homes. Farmhouses built before 1890 in this area often have post and beam construction of the period, and generally have some functional issues (low ceilings, etc) that reflect the limited house building technology of the period.
A Multi-level homes typically have the main living level where the front door is, and the bedrooms are
a half flight up.
The twisted cousin of the split, the less common multi-level typically has 3 or four levels of living, with each level separated by a half flight of stairs. Like split-levels, these homes often offer great usable space at a great price, and can be
surprising practical. But aesthetically they aren't as popular, probably just because homeowners are used to other styles.
Multi-levels typically have the main level (kitchen, family room) even with the door - in contrast to splits where the door is neither on the main level or the lower level - and the bedrooms are usually up a level. There are usually three small bedrooms up there. Their can be one or two levels down from the main level as well, providing plenty of physical space.
These homes are often characterized by their different look, both inside and out. Inside, the main features are open spaces, vaulted ceilings, and large windows with lots of light. Unfortunately, the majority of them were built in the 1980's, and they suffer from stylistic choices of that period - vertical siding, dark wood trim, and windows that aren't as efficient or useful as today's modern windows. These homes still appeal, however, to those who are looking for something else, something different, and when brought up to modern day palettes, can be stunning show pieces.
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