“ On the whole, this project has been spectacularly successful, we really love the new kitchen, bath and patio! ”
The Federal, or Adam, style dominated the American architectural landscape from roughly 1780 to 1840, having evolved from the Georgian style, a principal design of the colonial period. Fundamentally, it was the comparatively progressive European ideas about architecture that prompted this American change in taste. Indeed, many historians today think of the Federal style as merely a refinement of the Georgian style, a view easily justified by a close comparison of the two.
In general, the term Federal connotes the period in American history when the Federal system of governance was being developed and honed. More specifically, it refers to the buildings that went up during the ensuing construction boom in which designers readily incorporated styling variants popular in Europe.
Despite the long fight for independence, Americans were highly influenced by Robert Adam (1728–1792), Great Britain’s most popular architect. Adam’s work drew heavily from ancient Greek and Roman forms. Nonetheless, to this day, its association with America’s hard-won independence lends the Federal style a special cachet with preservationists and architectural enthusiasts.
Federal-style buildings are found in virtually every city on the East Coast, from New England’s seaport towns, where merchant princes grew rich from trade, to Georgetown and Alexandria, Virginia, which were burgeoning in population and importance around the same time. Easily recognizable Federal-style residences-turned-museums in Greater Washington, DC, include Woodlawn Plantation (1805) in Virginia, Tudor Place (1815) in DC, and Decatur House (1819) in DC.
View our portfolio to check out Federal and other style homes the Wentworth team has remodeled in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area.
Typically, a Federal-style house is a simple square or rectangular box, two or three stories high and two rooms deep. Some structures are more prominent, modified with projecting wings, attached dependencies, or both. Occasionally, elaborate curved or polygonal floor plans can be found, such as with the Octagon House (1799) in Washington, DC.
The Beall-Dawson house in the Rockville historic district is an excellent example of Federal style, exemplifying the shift away from the rigid axial symmetry of the Georgian style. Its asymmetrical arrangement of wings and other dependencies owes as much function as form.
Many Federal-style design elements are notably understated. Exterior decoration, for example, is generally confined to a porch or entry element. Compared to a Georgian house, the columns and moldings are narrow and relatively simple.
Federal-style decoration often showcases geometrical concepts. Elliptical, circular, and fan-shaped motifs formed by fluted radiating lines are common. One of the oldest American examples of such flourishes is on the dining room ceiling of Mount Vernon. Executed in plaster, the design contains an ornamental rinceau border festooned by corn husks and a central rosette.
Not surprisingly, the building materials in Federal-style structures vary by location. The homes of the Northeast typically feature clapboard siding, while Southern houses are often made of brick. Architects in the urban North also commonly built with brick for their fireproofing qualities.
Interested in learning more architectural terminology? Visit our glossary of architecture terms and definitions.
The size of window panes in historically accurate Greek Revival residences typically reflect mid-19th-century glazing technologies. As a result, most windows are double-hung with six panes to each sash. Decorative windows are frequently found in three-part assemblages. Among the style’s unique features are the small rectangular windows set into the frieze beneath the cornice instead of dormer windows, which were common at the time. In this style, window surrounds tend to be less elaborate than doorways.
If you live in a Federal-style house, you probably appreciate the uniqueness and charm that only exist in historic buildings. You may not want to move, but what if you crave a larger kitchen, extra bathroom, or updated materials? Wentworth can meet your needs! Our design-build team specializes in the Federal style, so rest assured that we’ll keep the original design in mind as we update your home for 21st-century living. Here are some of the projects we can complete:
Browse photos of the Federal-style homes and other historic buildings we have renovated in the Washington, DC, area. If you’re ready to discuss your home renovation ideas, contact us today!
Many Federal-style homes in the region are long in the tooth. When exterior elements show their age, our specialists work closely with you to determine whether these elements can be preserved or whether it is best to recreate and replace the feature. If replacement is warranted, our dedicated craftsmen are experts at creating facade enhancements that perfectly match the original.
Wood shutters are a “nice touch” that can enhance the exterior of Federal-style homes. When choosing shutters, durable woods are preferable to any plastic. Wood shutters create an elegant, classic appearance that will resist damage from the sun, wind, and other elements.
It depends on the age of the home, the complexity of the requested work, and any underlying structural issues with the foundation, plumbing, electrical, or masonry. Before breaking ground, our teams will thoroughly assess your home’s condition, prepare a comprehensive report of the work required, and provide an estimated timeline for completion.
Depending on the work required, it may be. Homeowners in DC must secure permits for new construction, additions, demolition, and many alterations and repairs. As part of our services, we will secure the required permits and ensure compliance with the applicable building codes, historic building requirements, and safety standards.
Upgrading the lighting within Federal-style homes is a cost-effective strategy for modernizing the ambiance within the room. The design and layout of most spaces make it possible to tactfully and discretely insert layered lighting to enhance functionality, security, and safety.
Most Federal-style homes in the area were built long before asbestos was used as a common building material. Thus, it is not common in many homes. However, it may be present in homes that underwent renovations between 1930 and the late 1970s. If we find asbestos during our site assessment, we will take the appropriate steps to remove it from the home safely and efficiently.