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19th Century Greek Revival Style in America

Ancient art and architecture isn't only for historians, but for people like us who’ve always been interested in anything olden and periodic.

19th Century Greek Revival Architecture

19th Century Greek Revival Architecture

The Greek revival era in American history brought with it a stylistic revival of complex origins.

The style, which became popular in the 1820s, took elements of classical Greek architecture and used them in a wide variety of building and interior designs. Sir John Soane, the Regency architect and one of the leading architects in England, was a great influence on the Greek revival movement of 19th century America.

At the time, architectural books including books on cabinetry and furniture design began to flood the American market and covered topics of the arts ranging from art periods, craftworks, cabinetry, and decorations to interior furnishings and architectural styles and design.

There was sympathetic feeling towards the Greeks during their five-year war of fighting for their independence. The earlier statesmen had advocated for the use of Roman and Greek styles of the arts because they felt the designs were more suitable for the Federal structures. These views became an inspiration for residential designers, and thus ushered in the birth of the designs of Greek revival houses.

The United States was expanding rapidly, and with this development came mounting wealth and fortunes, and as more immigrants landed on American soil, frontiers began to expand, resulting in an urgent need to find new settlements, spanning the east coast to the Middle West regions.

It was time for a change and America's interest in the arts and architecture, heightened by imported books and magazines, and coupled with the arrival of newer immigrants, was greatly aroused. Americans now had the opportunity to 'tour and view’ Europe through the windows of these communication mediums.

The term 'Colonial' was no longer fashionable and soon became outdated while the English forms and features of the Adam Brothers and Sir Christopher Wren were no longer in vogue because they were styles of the past Colonial era.

People wanted a change from the usual and the stylish forms of the Greek revival homes and the perfection of Greek arts were considered worthier for their stately structures than those of the preceding eras.

Greek Revival in America, a 'Borrowed' Style

A product of Hellenism, a religious belief and practice of people who lived under the influence of ancient Greek culture, the Greek revival period can be aptly described as a period in American art history that adapted to a borrowed style, but what they did with this was amazing.

They created great architectural designs and produced furniture pieces that had the charm and dignity of a native character creating and developing Greek revival styles with an American touch, resulting in stylish national expressions of America’s own period design.

Architectural Features of the American Greek Revival Era

Greek Revival style architecture in America was made to resemble ancient Greek buildings, but without the marble finish typical of ancient Greek structures. To imitate the look, white painted wood and stucco was used to replace the too-expensive marble finish used in Greece.

The building façade usually included a roof with a low-pitched gable supported by columns beneath. The columns were usually made from wood and could be made simple or elaborate.

Defining characteristics of Greek Revival homes include the following:

  • Architecturally symmetrical shapes.
  • Pilasters.
  • Columns.
  • Porch entries.
  • Windows installed in pediments (a triangular gable on the façade of classical and neo-classical architecture).
  • Plain or ornately decorated cornices and friezes.
  • Chimneys placed as far back as possible to make the structure look more like a Greek temple.
  • Pseudo-Greek features and elements evident in mouldings.
  • Changing curvatures.
  • Pediment crowns for windows and doors.
  • Windows and doors with square-head openings.
  • Friezes enriched with triglyphs (blocks with vertical channels found in the frieze of the Doric columns).
  • Decorations with classical mythical figures.
  • Temple style which features architectural designs based on ancient temple structures.

The temple style architecture that was used for the designs of church buildings and many public structures was soon applied extensively to both residential building designs and the interior styles of luxury homes.

Features of American Greek Revival Interior Styles

The American Greek revival style was more of an architectural style than an interior design style but that is not to say that the interiors lacked the period design. There are many ways to make a home’s interior décor home look like a Greek Revival styled house within.

Features typical of the style include the following:

  • Wooden floors were often coated with varnish or painted in either solid or patterned designs.
  • Area rugs with geometric patterns, flowers, classical motifs, trellis, or stripe patterns.
  • Mouldings with changing curvatures, in both wood and stone forms.
  • Rooms with high ceilings and ornate and elaborate cornices.
  • Wall coverings with wallpaper or imported textiles.
  • Parlours (living rooms) distinctly separate from dining rooms.
  • Greek column style frames (Corinthian or Iconic), very important features of the interior architecture. They served as 'frames' for the door openings leading into other open spaces or rooms.
  • Elaborate window treatments made from heavy fabrics and adorned with tassels and trims. The more important rooms had drapery with swags, cascades or decorative pressed brass valances.
  • Double-hung windows with six panes on each half.
  • Interior window shutters.
  • Furniture items enhanced metal ornaments and the well-known signature of Greek curves.
  • Table legs capped with ornamental cast metal feet and chairs with swivel casters.
  • Ceiling medallions made from cast plaster.

Further reading:

Victorian Home Styles and Interiors (19th Century America)

American Art and Architecture - 17th to 20th Century

Greek Revival Period Interior Design

Greek Revival Period Interior Design

Modern Day Greek Revival Style

Though the style has become much less common today, there are many virtues of the American Greek revival style that are still appealing to many in these modern times.

If you are you planning to build a new house that evokes a sense of grandeur and stateliness, Greek Revival house designs will give you what you desire. Their modern styles modified from the traditional designs embody the brilliance and splendour of ancient architecture.

Several features you will find in the modern-day styles include:

  • Facades that are grand, distinctive and unique while maintaining a classical feel.
  • Two or more stories that provide stately facades typical of the era’s architecture.
  • Exterior columns on the front portion of the homes which lends itself well to front porches and outdoor spaces.
  • Open floor plan interiors that bring in the modern conveniences of open large spaces perfect for growing families who love to entertain.

Large columns are key features in Greek revival style architecture and modern residences in the same style, therefore, appear grand, owing to large and tall columns, often two stories tall, with a pediment usually highlighted with an attic window.

And even with pared-down and modest home designs, as long as it embraces a porch, columns and pediments, you can be certain that these are the true characteristics of the Greek Revival style.

© 2011 artsofthetimes


artsofthetimes (author) on February 04, 2014:

Thank you so much for those inspiring words Ziyena. Greek art IS awesome.

ziyena from the Somewhere Out There on December 11, 2013:

I absolutely love the Greek revival period ... I grew up in the south for most of my childhood and had wonderful experiences visitng these old homes. Verandahs, spiraling staircases, outdoor kitchens, and nooks and crannies. Your very thorough in your research and I look forward to reading more of your arts selection. Voting UP