Greek Revival Architecture
Inspired by classical architecture and, in particular, temples, Greek Revival homes feature a symmetrical façade with a low-pitched gable roof and rows of impressive columns.
An architectural style that first appeared in the 1820s and really flourished in America during the 1830s through the Civil War, Greek Revival architecture was popular both for private and public buildings, such as banks, libraries, churches and courthouses. At the time, America was looking to ancient Greece for inspiration; not just in its architecture but in its philosophy, arts and democracy, as well. This period was early in the establishment of American democracy. Independence from British rule had been fought for and won and the new country was rapidly expanding in both population and land.
When news spread that archaeologists had dug up signs of ancient life in the Greek isles, Americans wanted to know more. It made sense to mimic what we admired. So we borrowed Greek names and attached them to towns popping up all over, from Georgia to Maine and throughout the Midwest: names like Athens, Ithaca and Sparta.
The architects of the day traveled to Greece and brought back detailed drawings from the ruins of temples so they could more closely match antiquity. Even today, many Greek Revival homes share a common architectural detail: These palatial homes were often modeled after Greek temples, particularly the Parthenon.
- Tall columns and pediments. The ancient Greek temple model, with its row of tall columns topped by a pediment, includes two of the most obvious characteristics of this style of historic home design.
- Painted plaster exterior. Although the buildings and ruins in Greece were all made of stone, American homes of this style were not. They were instead crafted in wood and covered in plaster, then painted white to create the illusion of stone.
- Horizontal transom. It sits over the front door, instead of a fanlight like the earlier Federal period homes.
- Moldings. Bold but simple moldings, throughout the interior and exterior of the house, also exemplify the look of high-style Greek Revival.
- Embellishment. Expensive homes might add more detail, like framed dormer windows on the second story, with pilasters and pediments. The less wealthy adopted similar features but with less flash.
- Andalusia. This famous example, designed by Thomas U. Walter, is near Philadelphia. It is one of the most widely noted Greek Revival-style homes in the country.
- Mansions along the Gulf Coast. These fine examples of the Greek Revival style might be made of flashboards instead of clapboards. Flashboards have a tongue-and-groove fit so seams don’t show. They paint into a nice smooth finish — again, like stone.
Meticulously landscaped gardens surround Sag Harbor's own Nathan P. Howell house, a Greek Revival-style estate that dates back to 1833. Tall ceilings, light-filled parlors, original fireplaces and antique details make the home feel grand and put history right at visitors' fingertips.
Practically Speaking: Hassles and Headaches
Their low-pitched roofs can cause problems and require regular repairs to prevent leaking. The wooden columns also can cause problems for the homeowner if the bottoms rot out. To preserve the column, the rotten sections must be carefully cut out and replaced, preferably by a skilled craftsman who specializes in historic reconstruction.
Overall, the hand-carved details common in more elaborate Greek Revival homes require routine maintenance, even if it’s just a regular paint job to protect the wood.
Even so, if your lifestyle includes entertaining guests, if you are naturally drawn to formality and detail in design, and if you don’t mind the maintenance, then a Greek Revival home might best suit your taste.