Beginner's Guide to Home Style and Architecture


Does the phrase split-level mean anything to you? How about a ranch rambler or a mid-century modern home? When house hunting, not only will you learn the process for securing finances, you’ll also be exposed to the vast assortment of homes available on the market. 

There will be some styles and architectural elements you’ll love, and some you’ll hate immediately. Unfortunately, the heart wants what it wants, so it becomes difficult to remain practical while assessing which type of function or footprint your next house needs to have. 

Arm yourself with a bit of home design knowledge before setting out to Sunday open houses

Knowing that a split-level home has at least two sets of stairs to climb before you tour the house might take the property right off your list of potentials if stairs are a deal breaker. 

Let’s start with the general construction of the house. These building types all vary in the amount of ownership the buyer ultimately has. 


Affordability and low maintenance are a couple of selling points for a townhouse. Often, they’re built with multiple levels and it’s common to have a kitchen located on one of the upper floors. Your neighbors will share walls, and noise may become an issue. Ownership includes the land the townhouse is on and the exterior of your home, so the upkeep is also yours to manage. 

Outside, each townhouse has its own entry and typically a small yard or deck. If a garage is available, it may also have a shared wall with the interior space. Townhouses are part of a homeowner’s association with fees for community lawn care, snow, and trash removal, to name just a few of the maintenance tasks covered. 


Condos tend to be more affordable for first-time buyers and optimal for those who prefer little to no maintenance. Ownership is really relegated to the space in your condo. No land is directly purchased, but all condo owners own a share of the exterior and common land. Owners also pay homeowner’s association fees, which tend to be higher than a townhouse. Fees include payments for exterior maintenance, insurance for repairs, and trash and snow removal. 

Condos are typically one level, but within a multiple level building with elevators. They have shared hallways, entries, and interior walls. Parking varies from a community lot to heated underground garages. Parking may require extra fees. 

Multi-Family Residences

Ranging from a duplex to a four-plex, these types of structures are, in simple terms, one house structured into more than one dwelling unit. There is one owner for the entire house and the units cannot be sold separately. 

Multi-family residences are built in a couple of ways, either side by side or having a few floors. Some have a common entry while others have separate doors for each tenant. 

Detached Single Family Home

Likely the most common but most expensive option, a house is a large undertaking for many reasons starting with the price tag, followed by ongoing maintenance and repairs. However, the entire property is yours to alter as you wish, and privacy is only limited to your closest neighbor. 

The investment in the long run is usually better for a single family home with the freedom to sell as needed. A house in a neighborhood may or may not have a homeowner’s association, but the fees are not as high as a townhouse or condominium. 

Architectural Styles Found in American Homes

Although any of the previously listed homes styles may have the "look" of a common architectural element, it’s really commonplace to envision a detached single family home with specific architecture. 

In the United States, these are the top 10 most preferred types of homes. 

  1. Craftsman
  2. Country
  3. Traditional 
  4. European
  5. Ranch
  6. Farmhouse
  7. Cottage
  8. Modern
  9. Southern
  10. Mediterranean

There are some discrepancies on the nomenclature from region to region across the country, so for the best descriptions with illustrations of each residential style, refer to The National Association of Realtors publication, Realtor Mag. 

Why We Prefer Certain Residential Styles

Personal experience often determines a buyer’s preference of certain characteristics. If the buyer had an idyllic childhood in a country home, this might be the first style they choose. Conversely, if they hated the flights of stairs their standard colonial contained, then a ranch home might be their first open house visit. 

Today, the influence of DIY and home shows greatly impacts what viewers decide is the best type of home for their families. It’s very easy to get swept into the final product or "reveal shot" that encompasses a fully decorated and repaired home of the owner’s dreams. 

Exposure to many versions of houses is helpful knowledge to compare and contrast, but the abundance of information also leads to disappointment if certain features are not available in your price range or location. 

It is interesting to note that geography plays a crucial role into which residential styles are prevalent. Temperature and even the construction site on the property for a new build comes into consideration. This is why traditional brick homes in the desert southwest aren’t prevalent and why not every home is suited for a basement.

Pre-determining the needs and financial plans of your family easily rules out many type of residential styles that do not fit practical requirements. Although your heart may be set on a modern-rustic farmhouse, those won’t be plentiful in Downtown Atlanta where it’s necessary to find an easy commute to and from work. 

Buying a home is a complicated and thoughtful process. After determining the financing options, choosing a style and location will be next up on the priority list. Hopefully, after picking the practical parts of your new home, there will be room to explore different architectural styles to suit your creative spirit

By Dawn M. Smith