French Colonial Architecture History

It's no surprise that French Colonial homes quickly became one of the most popular designs in America. When the French landed on American soil, they brought with them their flair for the romantic. The original methods of house building in America met basic needs, but by the late 1700s the French had abandoned their original blueprints, which resembled medieval homes built with palisade foundations, and begun constructing raised houses that offered protection from the elements and allowed better airflow to the upper levels. These homes, often called Creole Cottages or Cajun Cottages, became popular along the Mississippi River Valley.

French Colonial dwellings are beautiful pieces of architecture, with stately lines and tall, narrow double doors, known as French doors, with multiple panes of glass. This style of home became quite popular in the low country in the New Orleans area through the 18th and 19th centuries. Many examples can still be seen in the city of New Orleans as well as along the Mississippi Delta, though few of the original homesteads remain unscathed by the passage of time and the constant ebb and flow of the river waters. In the Louisiana area, when describing the famous architectural design of French Colonial homes, it is often referred to as the West Indies/Spanish Provincial design.  

French Colonial Architecture
French Colonial homes were created in the typical Colonial style, with straight lines and a hipped roof that was often shingled. The house itself was supported by brick columns or wooden posts. Many homes boasted wrought-iron decorations, such as fencing and grilled windows framed by double shutters. The raised lower floor often was used as storage and for cooking, which allowed the top floor to remain cooler.

Typically, a heavy timber frame was used to build these homes. A common feature is an exterior staircase that travels from the ground floor to a gallery or covered porch that wraps around the entire house. A multitude of windows usually covered the front of the house. French doors were used both inside and out.

The large, welcoming front porches were open to allow breezes to flow freely. These were popular places to congregate, since French Colonial homes were usually built without an inner hallway or entryway, to maximize living space.

Each interior room is usually equipped with a set of double French doors, which lead to balconies or porches that wrap around the house. Doors were decorated with wide brackets and wrought-iron detailing. The covered porches formed effective thoroughfares that connected each room. Because of the desire for a cooling breeze, very few porches were enclosed.

French Colonial Revival
The French Colonial Revival style is relatively new. French Revival homes that are created today tend to include a central hallway for convenience. In addition, the newer houses often spotlight the front door with a cathedral or temple-like entrance. Unfortunately, the romantic double doors that were a hallmark of French Colonial design have been relegated to single doors in Revival homes.

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