In this second part of our series, we’re going to look at the history and elements that make up the architectural style known as Greek Revival. We see a lot of this style in Middle Tennessee, as most Antebellum homes were built in the Greek Revival, Classical Revival, or Federal style: grand, symmetrical, and boxy, with center entrances in the front and rear, balconies, and columns or pillars. While all three of these revival styles have some basic elements in common, each has distinct design elements that make them unique. Here’s a look at Greek Revival.
A Brief History of Greek Revival Style in the US
Even though Greek Revival seems quintessentially southern, evoking visions of Gone with the Wind’s Tara, the style, in fact, began in 1825 with public buildings in Philadelphia. European trained architects designed in the Grecian style, and the fashion spread via carpenter’s guides and pattern books. At the time, America was looking to ancient Greece for inspiration, not just in its architecture, but in its philosophy, the arts and science, as well. The popularity of Grecian style was essentially an expression of America’s triumphant sense of destiny and the sense that our newly formed nation was the spiritual descendant of Greece, birthplace of democracy. Popular from 1825 to 1860, the Grecian architecture was prevalent right up to the Civil War.
Key Elements of Greek Revival
Low pitched gable and hip roofs were typical. The cornice line was embellished with a wide band of trim to emphasis the temple-like roof.
Windows were mostly double hung with six panes to each sash. Decorative windows were frequently in three-part assemblages. Window surrounds tended to be less elaborate than doorways.
Tall columns and pediments
The ancient Greek temple model, with its row of tall columns and pediments, includes two of the most obvious characteristics of this style of historic home design.
Painted plaster exterior
Although the actual buildings in Greece were all made of stone, American homes of this style were not. Instead, they were crafted in wood and covered in plaster, then painted white to create the look of stone.
The arched entrances and fanlights common in the Georgian and Federal styles were not part of the Greek revival movement, but elaborate door surrounds were frequent features of Greek Revival homes. Typically, sidelights with small panes and a rectangular transom (over the door) were framed by heavy, wide trim, sometimes recessed for a more three-dimensional look. The door itself might be single or double, divided into one, two, or four panels. A portico or porch was almost invariably added in front of the entrance.
The moldings were bold, yet simple. Heavy cornices, gables with pediments, and unadorned friezes were typical inside and out.
Expensive homes would usually 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.
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