Welcome back to Period Dramas, a weekly column that alternates between rounding up historic homes on the market and answering questions we’ve always had about older structures.
Chances are you’ve seen more American Foursquare homes than you may realize. Popular from the 1890s through the 1930s, these houses were constructed across the United States, joined together by a few reigning principles.
The American Foursquare is a two-story house with a rectangular footprint and a front porch that runs along the full width of the house. The American Foursquare generally has little adornment inside or out—a direct response to the heavy woodwork of the Victorian era.
Because there was little in the way of ornamentation, these homes could be cheaply built. And the square or rectangular footprint of the house allowed builders to maximize potential square footage. What people wound up with was the most house for the least amount of money.
The Foursquare was also endlessly adaptable. Some of the houses were clad in wood, while others were built out of brick and even cinder blocks. It really just depended on what sort of materials were around and what fit the budget.
The interior could also be customized. While these types of houses weren’t elaborately kitted out, the little woodwork they did have was usually inspired by the Prairie Style (Frank Lloyd Wright was quite prolific at this time) or by the Colonial Revival style, which was also gaining popularity. Here are a few examples up for grabs today.
This Foursquare in Tennessee was influenced by both the Arts & Crafts and Prairie styles, which is evident in the squat columns on its front porch and the woodwork on its doors and windows.
True to form, a porch that extends beyond the house’s main footprint dominates the exterior—and even morphs into a cover for the driveway. The facade is kept largely free of ornamentation: There is no molding along the eaves of the roof or around the windows.
Inside, a center hall separates the main rooms of the first floor, which don’t have much in the way of woodwork, with the exception of the mantlepiece and wood-and-glass doors consistent with the home’s exterior.
Making our way to Illinois, this Foursquare from 1922 has an enclosed porch that leads onto an open foyer and living space. Layouts for these houses varied some, but entrances were generally either center-hall—when the front door opens onto a hallway that connects all the main rooms of the first floor—or side-hall, when the front door is pushed to one side of the house. This is more of a side-hall entrance, although the hall is open to the living space as well.
This house has influences of the Prairie Style—rather unsurprising, since we’re in Illinois not too far from Chicago, where Wright built many houses. The influences are most apparent in the leaded windows, which have patterns similar to Wright’s designs.
Not every house is completely scrubbed of interior details. This 1914-built house in Atlanta has wainscoting in the main hallway and a little crown molding atop each door casing.
There are also a number of fireplaces in this house—note the double-sided fireplace in the living and dining rooms. While, as old-house lovers, we believe there’s never such a thing as too many fireplaces, the abundance of fireplaces in a house like this is a little rare. By the early 20th century, things like coal and oil—not inefficient fireplaces—were used to heat houses, which means that the addition of a fireplace to a room was more or less ornamental, which is a bit antithetical to the American Foursquare type of house. Doesn’t mean they’re any less charming, though.