Dutch Colonial Revival

Nostalgic and beloved, the Dutch Colonial Revival style evolved between the 1880s and 1940.

Although there’s hardly anything Dutch, or colonial, about this house style, it is universally recognized by its distinctive gambrel roof. Neither the first wave of architect-designed “cottages,” nor the modest and symmetrical houses built in 1920s suburbs, were actually revivals. Instead, they represent a new, albeit nostalgic, type.

A typical, early-20th-century Dutch Colonial-style house with side porch extensions, a long dormer and a cambered entry portico, and cutout shutters.

Rob Leanna

The double-pitched roof was grafted onto everything from tiny houses to impressive two-storey manors. Some houses have elements in common with Craftsman style; others feature such neoclassical details as Greek columns, Palladian windows, or Adamesque mantels. Unlike more academic revivals, the pleasantly informal Dutch Colonial reminds us of farmhouses and barns. Houses are clad in stucco, hand-split shingles, clapboard, and brick—as were the vernacular originals.

The gambrel roof isn’t typical of houses in Holland. Furthermore, straight-sided gambrels were built in Colonial New England. But the double-pitched roof—especially those with flared eaves—will always be associated with the Dutch (and Flemish, Huguenot, or German) rural settlements of Long Island, New Jersey, and the Hudson River Valley. When such noted architects as Aymar Embury II and Wilson Eyre incorporated gambrel roofs into their sprawling, large but informal “cottages” for wealthy clients, a so-called Dutch Colonial revival began.

Craftsman and Colonial Revival influences on a 1920s house in Indiana.

Jean Kallina

Dark paint in the 1880s—shingles stained walnut brown or dark red—gave way to light and white exteriors in the 1920s. (Through the ’teens, colors imitated the aged red sandstone, whitewash, green oxide of copper, orangey iron oxide, and mildewed shingles of the originals.) For the body color, drab yellow, greys and greens, and Delft blue were popular, and by the ’20s exterior trim was lighter than the body, often painted in a warm white or creamy yellow. A punch of color was reserved for the shutters or blinds; that dull blue–green used for a hundred years approximated early green pigments after they had aged. Dutch Colonial houses are associated with cottage shutters, with a sawn-cutout crescent, diamond, heart, acorn, heraldic shield, etc. 

A simple swag treatment emphasizes handsome trim in a Dutch Colonial house.

The architect-designed houses built before World War I have a lot in common with the Shingle Style, another modern adaptation of Colonial-era building forms. Not so the symmetrical, suburban Dutch Colonials built during the 1920s and 1930s. A one-storey wing appended to one or both ends saw use as a breakfast room or carport, later a garage. The old-fashioned, so-called Dutch door made a comeback. Builders loved the historical associations, however tenuous, and buyers loved the sweet informality. Sears was a major promoter, featuring 10 or more “Dutch Colonial” kit houses.

An early Dutch house in Kingston, N.Y., is given a Colonial Revival treatment. right A picturesque brick example, in N.J.; note the entry stoop.

William Wright

Dutch Colonials show up in suburbs coast to coast, but the style was especially popular, not surprisingly, in Dutch-settled New Jersey, where the 1960s brought another wave of gambrel roofs.

The Hallmarks

A picturesque brick example, in N.J.; note the entry stoop.

• GAMBREL ROOF The broken-pitch roof is the defining feature of any Dutch Colonial house built after 1880. 

• DORMER Houses of the revival period almost always have dormers—or a single, long dormer—to provide more usable square feet upstairs.

Dutch Colonial, ca. 1915 A new suburban style of the early 20th century, these houses were often built as symmetrical, three- or five-bay houses with a double-pile plan inside: two rooms on each side of a center hall.

Rob Leanna

• ENTRY STOOP Houses without a porch often have an entry with a cambered (arched) or projecting roof over the door and, typically, facing benches. It’s sometimes called a stoop, which, like the front steps on New York townhouses, comes from the Dutch stoep.

• COLONIAL REVIVAL DETAILS Look for neoclassical (Georgian, Federal) elements in windows, porches, and interior trim. Paneled shutters are popular, including those with a cutout motif such as an acorn, a pine tree, or a sailboat.

Suburban Dutch Colonial, ca. 1923 On narrow lots, the gambrel end could face the street. In this not-uncommon example, the side wall is continuously framed; the second-floor extension is not really a dormer, the “gambrel” a decorative effect.

Rob Leanna

• SIDE WINGS Early Dutch houses were often added to laterally through the years. The Dutch Colonials of the revival period, however, had projecting wings right from the start: a pergola-porch, a sunroom, or a one-car garage.

Flemish Gambrel, ca. 1690–1720 From another era entirely: With its atypical flared eaves, the Jacobus Demarest house in Bergen County, N.J., is a model for later Dutch Colonial houses. The prominent Demarest family were Dutch Huguenots.

Rob Leanna

Dutch Colonial Revival Interiors

Iconographic “colonial” items such as a Windsor chair or spinning wheel might be set against William Morris wallpaper and the odd piece of Stickley furniture. Period photos show that a mix of Empire, Queen Anne, and Craftsman furniture was typical; consider true antiques, Flemish furniture, Colonial Revival rockers, and reproduction William and Mary, Sheraton, and Chippendale pieces. Painted furniture had motifs of flowers and medallions. Householders mixed in upholstered chairs, even willow. But Victorian furniture was never more out of style than in these houses.

The Colonial Revival mantel and corner cupboard are ubiquitous. Woodwork was often painted in a glossy off-white know as Colonial Ivory. Polished wood floors with scatter rugs are a Colonial Revival convention. The almost-modern houses lend themselves to treatments both informal and traditional. One example has hewn beams and country furniture; the next, a Sheraton dining room with formal drapery. In some areas, houses were built with more fidelity to original Dutch dwellings, and historical rooms can offer inspiration.


Books and products mentioned in oldhouseonline stories are chosen by our editors. When you buy through links on this site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Of general interest are books about Colonial Revival and, for houses 1904–1918, Arts & Crafts houses and interiors. More specifically:

The Colonial Revival House by Richard Guy Wilson: Abrams 2004. A sweeping treatment of the Colonial Revival and its motifs, from Shingle Style to suburban houses. Good background in the period’s architecture and decorative arts, with 275 photos for inspiration.

Dutch Colonial Homes in America by Roderick Blackburn, photographs by Geoffrey Gross: Rizzoli 2002. The only serious recent study of 17th-and 18th-century Dutch houses in New York and New Jersey. Beautiful photos provide insight into the originals.

Beyond The Bungalow by Paul Duchscherer and Linda Svendsen: Gibbs Smith 2005. This book of lavish photographs includes other houses of the bungalow period: chalets, Foursquares, and English
and Colonial Revivals.

Tags: OHJ December 2021

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