What Is a Federal Style House?

How to Identify Architectural Styles in the Washington, DC Area

One of the best things about Washington, DC is the number of differences in not only the culture but also the architecture. The federal, or Adam, style is one such style—and you can find many of these homes in DC and the surrounding areas. But how do you identify it?  

What Is Adam Architecture?

What is a federal style home? What are its distinguishing characteristics? Adam style homes are characterized by their:

  • Simple square or rectangular shape, generally two or three stories high and two rooms deep
  • Understated exterior design elements, typically confined to the porch or front entry
  • Narrow and simple columns and moldings
  • Geometrical concepts—elliptical, circular, and fan shaped motifs formed by fluted radiating lines

Brief Summary of the Federal/Adam Style

This architectural style dominated the American architectural landscape from roughly 1780 to 1840, having evolved from Georgian roots. In fact, many historians today think of the federal style as merely a refinement of the Georgian style; indeed, these two styles are similar in certain ways. Fundamentally, it was the comparatively progressive European ideas about architecture that prompted this American change in taste.

Some of the best examples of the federal style here in the DC metropolitan area are Beall-Dawson House in Rockville’s historic district, Woodlawn Plantation in Northern Virginia, and Decatur Carriage House in NW Washington, DC.

Pictures of Federal Style Buildings

Beall-Dawson House

Beall-Dawson House (

Decatur Carriage House

Decatur House (

Contact the Wentworth team today to learn more or if you’re ready to remodel your home!

“ The quality of the finish work was incredible…This is a top-quality architectural design/build firm that will not disappoint you when it comes to the quality of thinking about design, and the quality of execution on the part of their employees. Unlike many firms, they are committed to the working within your budget but will stretch your dollar in precisely the right direction—to maximize your investment’s value to you and your home…I hope Wentworth is as proud of the work they did for us as we are of having worked with them. ”

J.A.N., McLean, VA