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French Colonial Architecture

Updated: Jun 6, 2023


Known for their symmetrical style, steeply pitched roofs, and large, wrap-around porches on both lower and upper floors, French Colonial homes are extremely common in the southeastern United States, particularly Louisiana. Sometimes referred to as Cajun cottage, Creole architecture, plantation architecture, or raised homes, the style has become an iconic building style of the American southeast. While the French Colonial style has evolved and adapted over the last few centuries, today's French Colonial homes have retained many of the traditional elements and features.


History of French Colonial Architecture

Dating from the early to mid-1600s, when French colonists began arriving in the United States, French colonial homes are commonly found in areas once ruled by France, including parts of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. Louisiana, however, has the largest concentration of French Colonial homes in the United States. Typically, architectural styles are informed by the environment, the environment, and the tools and materials available for the building. For example, the early Spanish Colonial style made use of adobe (made of clay and straw) and clay roof tiles because the materials were readily available in the southeastern and southwestern United States. When the French colonists arrived in the Louisiana Territory, however, their surroundings did not inform their building styles, nor did they inform the materials they used. In contrast, the first French settlers built houses better suited to temperate climates rather than the hot and humid conditions in the southeast.



Accordingly, early French colonial houses were built with wooden frames inserted directly into the ground; steep roofs made of thatch, stone or tile; and smaller rooms, typically separated by a stone fireplace. Over time, the French Colonial building was adapted to protect homes from heat, humidity, rain, flooding and hurricanes:


  • Iconic wraparound porches, called galleries, were built to protect homes from strong sunlight, heat and rain.

  • The houses were supplemented with a raised basement to protect the living areas from flooding.

  • Ceilings were raised and vaulted to reduce the excess heat that builds up inside the house


While French Colonial homes were once small, symmetrical structures typically measuring one room deep and two rooms wide, the average size has also changed over time. However, to reduce construction, new rooms were often attached to existing rooms and not separated by a corridor. This building technique, which you'll find in many of New Orleans' shotgun-style homes, had the added benefit of creating a cross-ventilation system that allowed cold air to penetrate all rooms in the house. Today, it is rare to find a new French Colonial style home. Unlike Spanish Colonial architecture, French Colonialism did not experience a major revival among home builders in the United States.




Essential Elements of French Colonial Architecture

While it's rare to find a new French Colonial home in the United States, there are a few distinctive features you'll see in French Colonial homes in Louisiana, Mississippi, and along the Ohio River:



A square, symmetrical exterior: Most French Colonial homes are square, wooden structures with a centered front door flanked by two windows. Most interior rooms have access to the outdoors via French double leaf doors. A raised basement: To protect the home's living areas from flooding during the rainy season or hurricanes, French Colonial homes were often erected in first-level basements. These basements provided additional storage space for the family as well as protection from the elements.


High ceilings: High ceilings were built to alleviate the hot and humid conditions in French Colonial homes, so you will often see tall, slender windows and doors on home exteriors. A wide wrap-around porch: A wrap-around porch, known as a gallery, is an important element of French Colonial architecture. Most French colonial homes included a lower porch outside the servants' room and an upper porch surrounding the owners' rooms. Although these porches were originally built to protect the house from heat and rain, they were styled with wrought iron fixtures in the 1800s. Adding iron elements to a home is not a traditional French technique, so the iron porches and balconies you see today are typical of the French Colonial structures of America.


Exterior stairs and corridors: To cross-vent the house, many French Colonial houses were built with exterior stairs and corridors. Click here to get holistic design consultancy from Therapinterior that will improve your life.





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