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Federal Style See also New York Neo-Georgian/ neo-Federal style

Central Pavilion, Tontine Crescent, Boston, 1793-1794, by Charles Bulfinch. "Julia Row", New Orleans, 1830s: Federal townhouses with commercial space behind the ground-floor arcaded windows. A federal style colonial home in Chester Township, New Jersey.
Federal Style Gallery    
1. Boston, MA. State House, Charles Bulfinch, architect. c.1795-1797. Bulfinch based his design for the State House on the Somerset House in London. Prominent Federal features include bilateral symmetry of the facade, ballustrade at the roof line, Palladian windows on the second floor, string course (i.e. belt course) separating the first and second floors, and classical columns on the portico. 2. Boston, MA. St. Stephen's Church, 1802-1804, Charles Bulfinch, architect. This is the only Bulfinch church still standing in Boston. 3. Madison, IN. Excellent example of federal-style entryway.
4. Washington, D.C. The White House, 1800. Federal building with Greek-revival portico and federal-style oval room, in this case, the famous "Oval Office". 5. Lewistown, PA. McCoy House. 6. Branford, CT.
7. Connecticut. Good example of Palladian window on second floor above the entryway. 8. Stafford, CT. Another excellent example of a Palladian window, usually associated with the Federal (Adam) style. This example includes a hipped roof. 9. Savannah, GA. c.1820. The Davenport House. Considered the best preserved example of Federal style in Savannah. The saving of this house from demolition in 1955 by a group of women is what started the Historic Savannah Foundation, the primary group responsible for Savannah's historic preservation efforts since then.
10. Savannah, GA. c.1834. The Stephen Williams House. Both this house and the Davenport House (above) exemplify the common southern practice of raising the house above street-level, to avoid dust, noise, and traffic outside the lower floor windows 11. Alexandria, VA. Simple federal entryway, excellent Federal-style stone window heads, flat with keystones. Otherwise, an upscale Georgian row house with huge firewall and twin chimneys. 12. Alexandria, VA. Excellent example of Federal entryway, probably around 1810. Fluted pilasters support a broken pediment. Could be interpreted as Greek Revival, though Calloway (2005) shows this form as distinctly Federal (see sources on home page). Photo #8 above has very similar entryway
13-14. Sturbridge, MA. Gable-front entry with rounded "globe-window" transom light above the door. This design appears on other Federal buildings in this area, though I don't know its origin. The gable-front facade is a Greek Revival feature, though the entry is still Federal.   15. Boston, MA. The 1st Harrison Gray Otis House, c.1795. Charles Bulfinch, Architect. Prominent features include the Federal-style entryway (1801) with fanlight, Palladian window on the second floor, lunette window (half-moon shape) on the 3rd floor, and string courses (or belt courses) separating the three floors. As with most Federal-style buildings, the massing of the structure is based on a bilaterally symmetrical Georgian plan, in this case with five bays on the front facade, central entryway and interior halls.
All photos copyright by Thomas W. Paradis. Special thanks to
Federal-style architecture occurred in the United States between 1780 and 1830, particularly from 1785 to 1815. The period is associated with the early Republic, and the establishment of the national institutions of the United States. This same period is associated with the motifs of furniture design, emulating similar design principles of the architectural period. The founders of the United States consciously chose to associate the nation with the ancient democracies of Greece and Rome. This was a deliberate and marked contrast with the Gothic style, which was used for many English public buildings and associated with feudalism. Federal style takes influence from the Georgian Neoclassical style, but differs in its use of plainer surfaces with attenuated detail; it was most influenced by the Adam style, an interpretation of Ancient Roman architecture fashionable after the unearthing of Pompeii and Herculaneum. The Bald Eagle was a common symbol used in this style, with the ellipse a frequent architectural motif. This style is also referred to by its era: Federal Period.

The style reflected the nationalist aspirations of the time. Its successor was the Greek Revival style.

Architects of the Federal period
Asher Benjamin
Charles Bulfinch
James Hoban
Thomas Jefferson
Pierre L'Enfant
Benjamin Latrobe
John McComb, Jr.
Samuel McIntire
Robert Mills
Alexander Parris
William Strickland
William Thornton
Ammi B. Young
Federal Style Architecture is the American version of European Neoclassicism. The other American version was Classical Revival / Roman Classicism.

In Britain, in the second half of the 18th Century, Roman architectural precedents, especially in the contemporary excavations of Pompeii, were popularized by Robert Adam. The style is referred to as Adamesque, but more commonly as "Georgian" in honor of the reigning monarchs.

The English style came to America by way of British pattern books and an ever-swelling wave of masons, carpenters, and joiners who emigrated from England. After the Revolutionary War, in a display of patriotic zeal, the entire period in America, including Georgian architecture and furniture, became known as "Federal." The most common symbol used in the Federal style is the American eagle.

Thomas Jefferson modeled his home, Monticello, and the University of Virginia on Roman precedents popularized by 16th century architect Andrea Palladio. Palladio's designs were also the model for Robert Adam's country villas (Harewood House). The urban designs by Adam, however, are influenced more by Roman urban excavations, e.g., in Herculaneum and Pompeii, and Adamesque urban designs are the major influence of American "Federal" style. Thus, a distinction is made between public buildings in Jeffersonian Classical Revival / Roman Classicism style and Federal urban dwellings.

The best-known American architects known for their Federalist buildings are Charles Bulfinch, Samuel McIntyre, Alexander Parris, and William Thorton.

Windows in the Federal period usually have a number of small panes of glass because it was difficult to make large pieces of glass. There might be 12, 8, or 6 panes in both the top and bottom window sashes.

Paint colors were limited, the most popular being yellow, ochre, or white. Outbuildings and even the nonpublic side of more important buildings often were painted red, the most economical paint color for the period.

Houses: The Adam house is most commonly a simple box, two or more rooms deep, with doors and windows arranged in strict symmetry. The box may be modified by projecting wings or attached dependencies. The stylistic focus is on the main entry -- a paneled door often framed by half or three-quarter length sidelights and thin pilasters or columns. The door is often crowned by a fanlight, or entablature.

Federal style identifying features:

Low pitched roof

Side-gabled, hipped, or center-gabled style roofs

Smooth facade

Elliptical or semicircular fanlight over front door (with or without flanking slender side lights)

Fanlight often incorporated into more elaborate door surround, which may include a decorative crown or small entry porch. Fanlights are almost universal in the Adam house.

Cornice usually emphasized by decorative moldings, most commonly with tooth-like dentils

Large windows with double-hung sashes usually having six panes per sash and separated by thin wooden supports (muntins);

Windows aligned horizontally and vertically in symmetrical rows, usually five-ranked on front facade, less commonly three-ranked or seven-ranked; windows never in adjacent pairs, although three-part Palladian-style windows are common.

Geometric forms such as polygonal or bowed bays

Interiors: showcased hexagonal, oval and circular rooms (The most famous federal-style "oval room" is undoubtedly the Oval Office of the White House.)
Adam Brothers' details

Special thanks to
Federal 1780-1850

The Federal style was conceived by the Adams brothers in England. Their design added delicate details to the earlier and simpler Georgian style. Americans modified their work by using curved, circular, elliptical, and Palladian windows, recessed wall arches, and oval-shaped rooms. This new style was an expression of the identity of the new United States.

Like the Georgian style, the Federal style is generally symmetrical, and boxy with simple symmetrical facades, and shutters. The major differences are that the Federal style is more decorative, and incorporates curves. It was the most popular style in the US from about 1780 to 1830.

Federal houses usually have many of these features:
Center entrances on the front and rear
Semicircular or elliptical fanlights over the front doors
Narrow sidelights (windows) flanking the front doors
Decorative crown or roof over the front doors
Double hung, evenly spaced, multi-paned windows; arranged symmetrically around the center doorway
Shutters accenting the windows
Palladian, circular, or elliptical windows
End chimneys
Eaves were emphasized with decorative moldings, usually including tooth-like dentils, or brick corbeling
Low-pitched or even flat roofs with a balustrade
Decorative swags and garlands
Oval rooms and arches

Galveston, Texas.