It’s hard to miss a classic farmhouse. The gables, the eaves, pillars holding up a large cover for a front porch. Often two stories, sometimes with storm shutters, and horizontal white wooden siding…these homes express a simple unassuming functionality. Across the US there is a surprising variety of farmhouses and farmhouse inspired residences. However there is actually no official definition of the farmhouse style.
The Farmhouse style seems to be more defined by character attributes than design cues. Originally the homes were built, as the name explains, as homes by farmers. These were do-it-yourself people, that thought more about practical function than architectural design. But they capture an American essence that seems to speak of something wholesome, of family and refuge.
However there is a classic sense, a mixture of old styles about farmhouses. Greek columns often hold up the porches. The gabled roof came from northern Europe, and actually originated on ancient Greek temples. Covered porches are thought to have come to us from the ancient Roman portico, but brought to America by African slaves who were drawing on the use of covered porches in western and southern African architecture; and that design is thought to have been inspired by porches built on Italian homes during the middle ages.
Wooden Siding Origins
Wooden siding, another common feature of an American farmhouse is actually called clapboarding. This came from across Europe where people simple split wood from trees and overlapped them to protect the home from the elements. There’s an interesting correlation between clapboarding and Clinker, which is how boats were once constructed. It makes sense that northern Europeans would turn to ship-building techniques to make their homes water-tight and safe from the elements.
This technique gave the American farmer a way of siding his own home from local raw materials, that would prove sturdy enough for Midwestern weather. However, the innovative farmers added a layer of protection by painting their clapboarded homes white. This extended the life of the wood against rain and moisture.
The American farmhouse style, like so many American icons draws on old world European traditions for inspiration. We see the same steep roof lines, wooden siding, and gabled windows called dormers. The dormer style seems to have originated in England in the 16th century. But the term dormer is actually French after the style was popularized in Paris during the 17th century.