Friday, March 18, 2016

American Foursquare Home Style & History 101

You've probably noticed on past posts and our 'about' page that we refer to our home as an American Foursquare (jump over here for a quick tour). Being the nerd that I am and the fact many of you wonderful peeps are old-house lovers as well, I thought it'd be fun to go a bit into what makes a Foursquare different from other turn-of-the-century homes and the neat attributes that one finds in such a style home.

our beloved Foursquare after Snowmageddon 2016
Exterior Characteristics

- 2 & 1/2 stories
- boxy 4-corner home with simple lines
- commonly had a least one roof dormer, if not four (one on each plane of the roof)
- pyramidal or hipped roof (sometimes also very steep)
- front porch (half or full-width) with 2-4 supporting columns

The Foursquare was One of the Most Widely Built Homes

Introduced in America around 1890 and lasting into the 1930's, the foursquare was popular across the nation with the growing middle class for its simple and economical design. During this time period people were turning away from the seemingly ostentatious Victorian and similar design homes that required more expensive craftsmanship and labor. Interest was beginning to shift toward owning a well-built, modest, and functional home that would serve its purpose of raising their families and engaging and entertaining with society.

via whyberwyn
A Foursquare home's simple boxy shape was straightforward for builders, less materials were wasted, and it was designed to make use of every square foot of the home making it an affordable and dependable choice. Its size also allowed it the ability to fit into town and city lots, which suited it well for the times as more people were moving to the cities and suburbs for manufacturing jobs.

Variations in Style

The simplicity of the foursquare lent to it having great variations in style; it's an infinitely changeable house that can be made to fit the owner's tastes. On the exterior one can find a Foursquare in any number of finishes: brick, stucco, wood clapboard siding or shingles. The porches were often Craftsman or Greek/Classical inspired and were a focal point of the home.

via Houzz
via Flickr
The cost of raw materials were very affordable with the advent of the industrial age and trains transporting goods from coast to coast. It was a standard for most homes of the time to have wood floors and plaster walls, materials that would be a lot less affordable in today's time for your average working middle class.

The main floor was usually kept more traditional with french or pocket doors, and the staircase was often more than just a function but a piece of architectural craftsmanship.
via youtube Amanda Emerson
via showing247
Woodworking of door and window mouldings were given special attention and detail, as well as tall wood baseboards and sometimes intricate floor pattern inlays. Light fixtures, radiators, staircases, even details such as doorknobs and hinges, were often either Craftsman inspired or as ornate as the Victorians in their neighborhood.


The American Foursquare got its name not solely from its shape, but also for its total of 4 rooms on each level. In the beginning years of the Foursquare's popularity the floor plans consisted of four separate main level rooms: a formal entry and stairs, kitchen, living room, and dining room. Upstairs were typically 3-4 bedrooms and a bath. All rooms were simple 4-corner squares and would sometimes have built-in wardrobes and bookcases.

via Sears Roebuck Co.
Starting around 1905 and on, the floor plans began incorporating an "open floorplan" option by incorporating the stairway into a large living room that would usually span the width of the front of the home, with the kitchen and dining rooms in the back of the home.

via antiquehomestyle
Lots of natural light and good cross ventilation were priorities to keeping one's health at the turn of the century, so large exterior windows and interior transom windows were often incorporated.

Foursquares Are Awesome

I know I appreciate the attention to detail and craftsmanship in our own Foursquare, and I love how functional the spaces are (architects, take note - wasted space is annoying to today's consumers too!). We're grateful to have our home, and having learned its history a bit makes me even more fired up to get our home back to its roots and bring its true beauty back!

Be sure to follow along!

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