Five Traditional Home Building Styles

Updated on March 6, 2019
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The Laughing Crow is a moniker whose voice I borrow: a rascal who is abrasive but honest, curious, and outgoing.


Design Styles

When you are designing a home to build, you have a large number of architectural styles to choose from. More than just the outer shell of the home, the style you choose will determine a lot of choices throughout the rest of the home, and also shows visitors more about yourself.

While the styles presented here are originally designed for use with wooden houses, it is very much possible to reach the same effects with other materials, whether concrete, stone or even synthetics.


Log Cabin

Log cabins are some of the oldest style of house, and they endure for hundreds of years if properly built and maintained. A raw, natural style of house that invokes hard work, country life, and a more simple time.

Today the designs for log cabins are much more varied than they used to be; log walls can be strung together in many shapes or tiers making log cabins nearly indistinguishable from other types of home if so desired. The key elements that make a log home its own beast are the horizontal wooden beams and the typical notched corners where the logs meet and intersect with each other.

Logs don't need to be rounded, they are also available in flat or semi-round styles, and the type of joint selected can change a log home from primal and close-to-nature to a sophisticated, stylish design.

Beyond being the quintessential sign of the outdoorsman, the log cabin also is very practical in that wood breathes, naturally improving the air quality inside the house. Additionally, while you can't add much in terms of insulation to the house without losing that breathing quality, if you choose to use logs 8 inches (20 cm) or thicker you likely won't have to. At that size the logs themselves protect against all but the worst of blizzards.

Because they are made of logs, log cabins are heavy. Very heavy. And to keep those heavy logs pressed down properly, it needs a very heavy roof, like solid wood, stone shingles or a living roof of grass. All this weight needs a solid foundation and strong soil to work with, so it may not be suitable for all building locations.

When made from local wood, they are also environmentally friendly, having absorbed a lot of CO2 and keeping it for as long as the house persists. Having a living roof and allowing natural herbs and flowers to grow on it also supports the local bee population. If you have a large, accessible living roof - consider becoming a beekeeper!

Log cabins are primal, versatile and eco-friendly. But they are very heavy, and expensive in countries not rich in forest growth.


Scandinavian or Cape Cod

Minimalist, practical and infinitely cozy, the design of a Scandinavian or Cape Cod style home both practice a homely country style while being very practical in its application.

In American movies, it's the house with the white picket fence. In Scandinavia, it's the little red house with white trim. More than just a home, it represents an ideal of having a safe haven where you can live your life undisturbed and happy.

This style of house is usually a 1.5 plan house, featuring a relatively low silhouette. The space under the roof is usually not very large, as most of it is take up by the roof angle, and usually reserved for bedrooms.

Key to the design are that it's sized perfectly to the needs of its inhabitants, subdued in its decoration, and practical. Nooks and crannies are used for storage, not decoration, and when the size or layout of the house becomes restrictive to your way of life, you expand or renovate it.

As these houses are made of wood, and have a standardized build, working on them is very easy. It's a great starting project for a first-time home owner. That said, it also means that this type of house on the market has a tendency to attract DIY botch jobs, so its easy-to-work-with reputation may work against you if you decide to sell the house later.

The Cape Cod style is a timeless, serene classic representing safety and independence without frills or pomp. Easy to build, easy to alter.


Craftsman Style

A philosophy as much as a style, Craftsman is an American architectural thought born to celebrate the skill of manual laborers and to reject the Victorian sobriety that was coming to an end.

The whole point of the Craftsman style is to show off handiwork and detail, as a journey from a simple and humble home to a familial palace. These houses have a lot of design elements to them, and the challenge is to make it all work together (through choice of details and color) rather than turning it into a carnival of disjointed decorations. Craftsman design is engineered and thought-out, not a grotesque display of plenty.

This style is a sight of relief for people who want their house to be fun and eye-catching. It requires a lot of forethought and design, but the end result would be stunning. Because of its philosophy of continual improvement, it's a great style to choose from when building a home that is planned to be expanded and worked on for decades, or even passed on and renovated through generations.

That said, this house will require a lot of work, both in design and build phases, to keep it together. Because of its focus on the "art" of building, this style requires keeping a grip on shapes, materials and colors more than any other building style, and it's easy to lose control of it.

Because of its focus on the "art" of building, this style requires keeping a grip on shapes, materials and colors more than any other building style, and it's easy to lose control of it. But you will love it when a plan comes together.



Merging country style with the essence of re-purposing, the barndominium offers living in a large, well-lit space that speaks to the imagination. Whether you build anew or convert an existing barn, the style instantly speaks "country" to people, and the way these homes are constructed offers wide spaces and high ceilings, with all of the other rooms aligned along this central axis.

Converting a barn is the hardest way of achieving this build, because you will have to work with construction already in place. There might be no electricity connections, water might be limited, and the construction's quality must be able to support a home rather than keeping animals. This represents a challenge, but also offers a great opportunity to preserve a piece of local history. It gives you the chance to keep some momentos from the barn (whether objects or design features) and give them a prominent place in your new home.

As an additional bonus, the sheer size of a barn means that you will have no shortage of space to place all your rooms in, and it feels like a natural thing to convert part of it into a garage for the car.

Building a new barndominium from scratch has none of the weaknesses or opportunities of converting a barn, which means it becomes more important to incorporate your own style and make it history. Make the shower look like it was a converted horse box, hang up horse ranch paraphernalia from the flea market, use your birth date for an "established" date. If you can't rely on an actual history of a barn, invent one and make it work for you!

Barndominiums represent the cultivated side of country living, calling back to life on the farm. They are light and spacious homes, with ample opportunity to bring in character, potentially from its own history.


Victorian Gothic

A style mixing the Colonial design with Victorian values, this style represents a sober, old charm. It also seems to feature as every haunted house ever portrayed, so it will instantly drawn opinions and speculations from people.

The style of the house itself is often described as tall, and severe. It seems to rise up from the ground, and there are windows and nooks everywhere. Victorian Gothic has a lot of angles to it, as if its builder sought to watch what was going on everywhere around the house.

Its severity is often expressed in the color choices. Whites and off whites as base colors, with roofs of grey, black or dark blue. Horizontal batten with stone shingles. List work in white, or even gray or black to evoke that "mourning band" feel.

While the house is sparse in decoration on the outside, the inside of the house should be more opulent. Designs in the windows, beams in the roof, moulded lists, all should give the impression that who lives here has a great sense of grand design, but was reserved and humble enough not to let this spill through in the outside of the house.

To play with the concept, you can make a transition between the severe, understated outside shell of the house and the contents within. Playing with light, color or richly decorated design inside will break with people's preconceptions coming in, and creates a humble exterior hiding a joyous interior.

Victorian Gothic is a serene but severe style for people who want to give the impression of a haunted house. This can be played with by disconnecting the understated outside of the house with a light or elaborate design within.


These are five traditional architectural styles in wood that work great for people designing their own homes. They all fit with both a traditional or a modern lifestyle, and each can have elements and detailing that bring the whole design closer to one or the other.

In all cases, make sure that the choice of your home's signature style fits with your personality, but also its surroundings. The best designed homes seem to form a part of the area they are situated in, without clashing with it.

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