What Is a Dutch Colonial Style House?

A Dutch Colonial house with a manicured lawn

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Have you ever seen a house that reminded you of an exceptionally good-looking barn? You were probably looking at a Dutch Colonial house, which is one of the most distinctive styles of early-American architecture, thanks to its German-inspired gambrel roof. Dutch Colonial houses are cozy, quaint, and found across the country.

What Is a Dutch Colonial House?

Dutch colonial architecture is a classic home style of the Northeast United States, originating in the 1600s. It is known for its distinctive gambrel roofs, overhanging eaves, Dutch doors, and heavy use of natural materials.

What Makes a House Dutch Colonial Style?

The most instantly recognizable feature of Dutch colonial houses are their gambrel roofs, which give these homes a barn-like appearance. Also known as “Dutch roofs”, these symmetrical roofs have two slopes on each side; the upper section is pitched at a shallow angle, while the bottom section is pitched steeply, with long eaves that extend past the sides of the house. The original Dutch colonial houses were single room dwellings, so to create more living space, large porches were built on either side of the house beneath the lengthy eaves. 

In the colonial era, all houses were built from natural materials, and in the case of the Dutch, their houses were usually made from stone on top of a wooden frame; Modern interpretations of Dutch colonial may eschew stone siding in favor or shingles or clapboard, which will always have a natural appearance, even if they’re made from durable synthetic materials. Inside, the Dutch left their wooden ceiling beams fully exposed.

For functional reasons these houses always had at least one fireplace connected to a stone chimney running up the side of the house; larger dwellings could have had two or more fireplaces, each with their own dedicated chimney. Today’s Dutch colonial revival houses also feature fireplaces, but with flues that have been modernized for safety and efficiency, connecting to a single chimney that has been erected in the middle of the gambrel roof.

Dutch colonial houses feature double hung or “sash” windows, which feature two square, paned window panels that can be raised from the bottom or lowered from the top. For decorative purposes, some Dutch homes added one or two arched windows, which were usually positioned around the chimneys. Traditionally, the most popular window coverings are swinging wood shutters; in modern incarnations, these shutters may not be functional, and permanently attached to the exterior of the house solely for design purposes. 

One of the most famous features of these houses is their distinctive front doors. Colloquially known as “Dutch doors,” these heavy wooden doors are split horizontally so that the top half could be opened to let in fresh air, while the bottom half remained closed. 

The main features of Dutch colonial-style houses are:

  • Gambrel roof
  • Long overhanging eaves
  • Natural materials
  • Fireplace and chimney
  • Sash windows
  • Wooden shutters
  • Dutch door

The History of Dutch Colonial Style Houses

In the 17th and 18th centuries, Dutch colonists predominantly settled in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Delaware, building houses that incorporated some architectural elements from their homeland, and creating a style that was distinctly American. These early Dutch colonial houses were no more than one-and-a-half stories tall, so that they could avoid paying a British tax levied on two (or more) story houses. 

Even after the colonial era ended, these houses remained somewhat popular throughout the Northeast. Then, in the late 19th century, a colonial revival movement swept the country, as people developed nostalgia for simpler times in response to the rapid modernization of the Industrial Revolution. Dutch-style houses were swept up into this movement, though the term “Dutch Colonial” was not used to describe them until the 1920s. These houses were not exact replicas of their ancestors, with blueprints reflecting the needs of the 20th century homeowner, but reflected the original Dutch design in their details, and always featured a gambrel roof.