American homes are a lot like America. They are a mix of designs from many countries, all combined together.

For example, a visitor to a neighborhood in the United States might see several kinds of colonial houses. These houses are often box-shaped, two-story houses. They have a front door in the middle, and five or seven windows. Both sides of the house are usually the same. Their original design came from ancient Roman and Greek buildings.

Jackie Craven is a reporter who writes about architecture. She told VOA over email, “Our homes, like our people, draw from many sources.”

The style of American homes also show what was happening in the country at the time they were built. In the 1800s, the U.S. was growing economically. Workers learned how to make many copies of the same thing quickly, for not very much money. One result is that a number of Americans could pay for the building of large, complex houses. These are called Victorians after Queen Victoria who ruled Britain from 1837 to 1901.

Victorian houses follow Queen Victoria’s romantic image. They are usually three stories tall and asymmetrical – in other words, the sides are not the same in size or shape. One side may have large windows. Another may have a porch. At first, Victorians were painted in a mix of earthy colors, like browns, greens and dark orange. In later years bright pinks, blues and yellows became popular combinations.

At the end of the 1800s, the Industrial Revolution made steel part of the American environment. Steel helped build railroads and skyscrapers. It also helped make a few American businessmen very wealthy. Some built extremely large mansions that looked more like European castles than family homes.

They mixed old Italian, French, and Roman Empire building traditions that aimed to show how powerful and rich the owners were. Inside, the mansions had huge stairways and dining rooms big enough for 100 people.

But by the beginning of the 1900s, houses became simpler and smaller. One company, called Sears, made house building kits you could order from a catalogue. The business sent you the parts and the plans for the house. Then you and a few friends built it yourself. The houses lasted, too – about 70 percent of Sears kit houses are still standing.

Susan Piedmont-Palladino is an architect and the director of Virginia Tech’s Washington Alexandria Architecture Center. She observes that most American homes are for just one family: one set of parents and their children. The single family house, she says, “dominates” American neighborhoods.

She also notes that as American families are getting smaller, American houses are getting bigger. For example, in the late 1900s some Americans built large houses again to show their wealth and power.

But these houses are not as unique or beautiful as the mansions of the late 1800s. Many of them look similar to each other. They are known in a negative way as McMansions – mansions that are as common and quickly made as the food at a McDonalds fast food restaurant.

Exercise 1


Read the following vocabulary with your teacher.

colonial (adj.)  /kəˈloʊnijəl/ -  of or relating to the original 13 colonies forming the United States

  • The book describes life in Colonial America.

romantic (adj)  /roʊˈmæntɪk/ - not realistic or practical, not based on what is real

  • He has some romantic notions about life on a farm.

porch (n.) /pɔːtʃ/ - a  structure attached to the entrance of a building that has a roof and that may or may not have walls

  • Daniel and Lydia sat out on the porch for many hours

mansion (n.) /ˈmænʃən/ - a large and impressive house : the large house of a wealthy person

  • He lives in a mansion with 10 bedrooms and an indoor swimming pool.

catalogue (n.)  /ˈkætəˌlɑːg/ - a book containing a list of things that you can buy, use, etc., and often pictures

  • She ordered clothes from a catalog.


Exercise 2


Answer these questions about the article.

1. What do colonial houses look like?

2. Who are the Victorian-style houses named after?

3. When did the Sears houses become popular?

4. What are McMansions?


Exercise 3

Make a sentence.

Make sentences using these words.

colonial, romantic, porch, mansion, catalogue


Exercise 4


Have a discussion on following questions.

1. What do you think about different styles of American houses?

2. What does a typical house in your country look like?

3. If you could design a perfect house, what would it look like?

4. How do you think houses will look in the future?



This lesson is based on a news article originally published by VOA.