Seattle architect Tom Bosworth, FAIA, re-clad the 1926 bungalow's exterior in cedar shingles. He pulled the front wall three feet forward, providing space for an entry vestibule flanked by closets, and added a hipped-roof skylight to the center of the house.

Seattle architect Tom Bosworth, FAIA, re-clad the 1926 bungalow's exterior in cedar shingles. He pulled the front wall three feet forward, providing space for an entry vestibule flanked by closets, and added a hipped-roof skylight to the center of the house.

Credit: Michael Jensen

Out of the millions of houses built in the United States from the early 1900s through the 1970s, the vast majority qualify as a classic builder-driven house type. American foursquares dominated the outskirts of cities in the late 1800s and early 1900s, only to give way to the beloved bungalow of the 1910s, '20s, and '30s. The Cape Cod cottage and the center-hall colonial, both revivals of house types built for centuries, enjoyed pre– and post–World War II popularity. During the 1950s, '60s, and '70s, the ranch house and the split-level muscled in and redefined the look of the suburbs. Each of these six types reflects the idealized lifestyle of its era, and each one has its own idiosyncrasies. Buyers are drawn by their locations, their detailing, or their affordability—and turned off by their modest kitchens, baths, and master suites. For better or worse, these houses provide a vast canvas of potential remodels for today's architects. And the quality of their renovations affects the built environment just as much as brand-new development.

Revisions of Home

  • split-level

    Hands-down, the split-level owns the title of architects' least favorite house to remodel. “It's a difficult type to work with because it's so poorly constructed, and the room sizes are way too small,” says Lane Williams, AIA, a Seattle architect who says he tries to avoid split-levels. This house...

     
  • ranch

    Perhaps no other house type has inspired as much love and loathing as the ranch. This descendant of Frank Lloyd Wright's Usonian houses became ubiquitous across the post–World War II landscape, and architects adore its open, one-story plan.

     
  • colonial revival

    The center-hall colonial revival is a lot like a well-made tuxedo: It outlasts trends and is perfect for formal occasions. But, as with a tux, it's unyielding for everyday situations. The living room usually sits too far away from the kitchen and dining room to serve as the comfortable gathering...

     
  • cape cod

    Ever since it rose to nationwide prominence as one of Levittown's main house types, the Cape's spare, one-and-a-half-story elevation has captivated home buyers. “People feel a Cape looks like home,” says Sarah Susanka, AIA, author of the

     
  • bungalow

    Judging from the high percentage of architects who live in remodeled bungalows, this house type holds enduring appeal for the design-conscious.

     
  • foursquare

    Take a look at a typical foursquare floor plan, and its practical Midwestern roots become instantly apparent. No space is wasted on hallways or superfluous storage; each room leads logically to the next. This house type's simple, almost cube-like, form and its four-room-up, four-down plan hold...