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!

“ I just wanted to tell you how happy we are with the work you designed and oversaw...We are so proud to show the kitchen and family room to friends and relatives, and love their reactions (gasps of awe and jealousy). Mike and Enio were amazing, working so hard -- every single day, beginning at 7am -- and paying such close attention to details I never would have noticed. They clearly treated this job as their "baby," not wanting to cut corners even if they could get away with it...They also were great about cleaning up; I am positive the garage is cleaner now than before this job started! ”

A.C., Bethesda, MD