American style varies, but is easy to incorporate into any home

  • The first Tiffany lamp was created in 1895. The originals were created by hand. Tiffany-style lamps are now mass produced and have become an iconic staple in American homes.

    The first Tiffany lamp was created in 1895. The originals were created by hand. Tiffany-style lamps are now mass produced and have become an iconic staple in American homes. Courtesy of CTW Features

  • The American Craftsman style came into popularity in the late 19th century. Exposed rafters, handcrafted woodwork and mixed materials were notable elements of this still-popular style.

    The American Craftsman style came into popularity in the late 19th century. Exposed rafters, handcrafted woodwork and mixed materials were notable elements of this still-popular style. Courtesy of CTW Features

  • As American settlers began to spread out across the country, they had to adapt their architecture to fit different climates and to what building materials were available.

    As American settlers began to spread out across the country, they had to adapt their architecture to fit different climates and to what building materials were available. Courtesy of CTW Features

 
By Alice Oglethorpe
CTW Features
Posted2/15/2015 1:00 AM

It's easy to list the food, fashion and music that are quintessentially American -- apple pie, blue jeans, Elvis. However, when talk turns to architecture and interior design, what qualifies as "American" gets a little more confusing.

"When you think of a Japanese home or a Spanish home, you can come up with specific features they all have in common," says Laura Neuman, an interior designer and owner of PepperJack Interiors in Loomis, California. "But the traditional American style of architecture and design depends very much on where in the country you're talking about."

 

Depending on the composition of people (ethnic populations) and regional geography, American styles widely differ. Neuman says, "There's colonial style on the East Coast with bricks and columns, California bungalows on the West [Coast] and a whole lot of different styles in between."

The earliest and most traditional American architecture can be seen in the Mid-Atlantic. "At the beginning, American architecture was almost a copy of European architecture," says Margaret McCurry, an architect with Tigerman McCurry Architects in Chicago. "That's why in Virginia, the old homes look like they are straight out of England."

But as settlers moved around the country, they had to adapt the architecture they knew to fit different climates. "For example, in the South, the hot and humid summers forced homebuilders to add breezeways," McCurry says. "So now, when you think of classic architecture in Southern states, you think of breezeways."

The location also dictated what materials were used on the homes. "In the heavily forested Northeast, you have homes made out of wood," McCurry explains. "But in the Southwest, you don't have as many trees, so houses are traditionally made out of adobe."

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While traditional American architecture varies by location, classic American furniture varies by era. The Hickory Chair Furniture Co. started manufacturing furniture in Hickory, North Carolina, in 1911 and has become recognized as a quintessential American furniture brand.

"We are known for having a very American style because a lot of the collections we have are based on past historical eras, like the colonial time for our James River collection," says Skip Rumley, vice president and creative director.

As for American style today, Rumley says, "It's more relaxed and casual. We like things with a little patina on them -- we don't want furniture to look too precious or hands-off."

The good news is that, while nailing down American traditional style may be tough, it's easy to blend American style into your current home. "The more eclectic and mixed up your home is, the more American it seems," McCurry says. "Blend old antiques with a midcentury chair and a more modern piece of art." Whatever you do, avoid buying items that have an Americana theme." That would be overkill, designers agree.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"You don't want to decorate with red, white and blue and hang paintings of bald eagles everywhere," Neuman says. "The most important thing to remember is to decorate with authentic design elements. Use the natural materials, décor and architectural styles that are original to your location."

That means that, when picking wall paint, look around. "Paint your house in colors that represent the desert in the Southwest and paler, wintry hues in New England," says Janet Bertin, an interior designer and owner of Decorating Den Interiors in Alexandria, Virginia. "And go for wooden floors, which are classic American, but make sure to use trees that are indigenous to your area."

One last item to think about adding to your home is a front porch. "With so much beautiful land to admire in America, traditional homes were built with sun rooms and porches to sit on and enjoy the view," McCurry says.

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