Ubiquitous New England home designs with a twist

It is no surprise that New England has some of the oldest housing stock in the country. Our neighborhoods may not present like some housing tracts in the South and Southwest — where every home looks like the last and all feature the garage prominently out front — but our choices have a few common refrains: You can play count the center-hall Colonials and Capes in every town.

Cable shows have fed a frenzy to renovate, with homeowners clamoring for designs that accommodate today’s ways of life. Enter open layouts, media rooms, personal gyms Mark Wahlberg would envy, back-to-back kitchens (one is to hide the prep mess, the other to entertain guests as if the cooking were effortless), second home offices, outdoor kitchens, and accordion walls that erase the boundaries between living space and nature (mosquitoes).

We asked several renowned architects to offer their versions of twists on prominent architectural styles and explain what sets them apart from the rest. May they inspire your next project or home shopping expedition.

Psd-Wychmere-Contemporary-Cape-Cod-Cottage
. —Brian Vanden Brink

Contemporary Cape Cod Cottage

John R. DaSilva, design principal at Polhemus Savery DaSilva Architects Builders in East Harwich

What are the signature elements of this style?

One-and-a-half-story houses with gable ends facing the sides rather than the front were developed out of need-driven scarcity and hunkering down against the weather. They are Cape Cod’s only original house type but have spread far and wide, even becoming the typical vernacular in post-World War II suburban developments like Levittown on Long Island.

What makes it popular?

It is still an efficient house type but now more beloved as a representation of simple, contented living than of practicality. In this example, exaggerated scale both emphasizes the “Cape’’ qualities and allows the style to be applied to a full-size contemporary house rather than the little cottages of the past.

Chris-Grimley-Overunder-contemporary-Urban-Historical
. —Bob O’Connor/OverUnder

Contemporary Urban Historical

Chris Grimley, founding principal at OverUnder in Boston

What are the signature elements of this style?

Recognizable from the outside as a 19th-century brick home, the interiors are a 21st-century design for expansive, minimal, and comfortable living spaces. Every interior architecture decision is understood in terms of its surrounding space. A floating, folded cantilever staircase connects the floors. A floor-to-ceiling frameless glass wall replaces a heavy baluster. A floating wood handrail is unobtrusive, as are the frameless bedroom doors. Natural stained Douglas fir for the floors and built-in storage areas create a harmonious visual continuum.

What makes it popular?

The inherent charm of a home in one of Boston’s historic neighborhoods is often limited by the desire for contemporary amenities and features suitable to how we live today. Many homes in Boston’s historic neighborhoods, like this one built in 1899, are protected by landmark commissions from making changes to the façade and roofline, ruling out expansions to the living space. But with a full renovation to the interior, and an approved addition to the rear of the house, it is possible to create a sophisticated, livable, and calm oasis in the city for a family with children.

Kripper-Newton-House
. —Jane Messinger

Contemporary Vermont Vernacular

Amir Kripper, founding principal at Kripper Studio in Boston

What are the signature elements of this style?

The design inspiration — the abundant living space within a modest structure coupled with the exterior characteristics of the metal roof and the combination of cedar siding and board-and-batten siding — are elements of the Vermont design vernacular. A contemporary approach is most noticeable with an abundance of entry points for natural sunlight through sliding glass doors, casement windows, and paned windows, all framed in black anodized metal. The front porch is streamlined to fit the profile of the house. A railing of black anodized metal posts and wire cables defines the porch without blocking the front view. Inside, the open-floor concept offers uninterrupted views, especially from the entrance to the back patio.

What makes it popular?

As a new ground-up construction among the Newton neighborhood’s remaining homes of midcentury buildings, this 6,000-square-foot structure accommodates abundant living space on two floors and in a fully finished basement with a movie theater, wine cellar, and a gym. With an interior connection to a three-car garage, the L-shaped structure presents harmoniously with the neighborhood without overwhelming the size of the lot. A gradual rise in the elevation from street to house, with a low-profile retaining wall, subtly announces the arrival of something new and important in the neighborhood.

Modern-Tudor-Slocum-Hall
. —Daniel Nystedt

Modern Tudor

David Boronkay, principal/owner of  Slocum Hall Design Group in Watertown

What are the signature elements of this style?

Tudor Revival homes had a surge of popularity at the turn of the 20th century through the 1930s. These homes are typically clad in brick and/or stucco and often feature timber sticking. Updating the exterior can be difficult while preserving the Tudor aesthetic; however using black windows, updated color palettes, and modern landscaping can breathe new life into these often dark homes.

What makes it popular?

In towns like Brookline, Newton, and Wellesley, where Tudor Revival homes are found en masse, there are strict regulations against demolishing homes more than 50 years old. Extensive renovations can update the interiors, which often consist of small, dark rooms. Opening walls, adding glass to the rear of the house, or enlarging the home with an addition that is sympathetic to the architecture are ways we often manage updating these homes for modern living.

Brown-Jackson-House-Flavin-Architects
. —NAT REA PHOTOGRAPHY

Mid-Century Modern

Colin Flavin, founding principal at Flavin Architects in Boston

What are the signature elements of this style?

This style prizes the understated beauty of natural materials and the symmetry of clean, low-profile lines. These elements are visible in the shallow-gable roofs and floor-to-ceiling windows. A major focus was to build lightly on the land by nestling the house into its landscape.

What makes it popular?

The exposed post-and-beam wood interiors create an organic feel, expressing continuity between internal and external environments. The step-down family room and single-story layouts for kitchen, dining, and main living areas emphasize the family-focused nature of these homes. The original architectural vision easily adapts to modern renovations.

Modern-Farmhouse-Slocum-Hall
. —Shelly Harrison

Modern Farmhouse

David Boronkay, Slocum Hall Design Group

The Modern Farmhouse typically features large porches with a mix of black metal accents, board-and-batten siding, and oversized windows. On the inside, you will find large, open spaces with an emphasis on clean lines, bright and neutral colors, shiplap-clad ceilings, simple wainscot-clad walls, and wide-plank floors.

What makes it popular?

Found throughout New England in newer developments or as new construction, these homes have grown in popularity due to their style, which is reminiscent of regional vernacular architecture with an updated and elevated twist.

Hybrid-Colonial-Revival-Slocum
. —Lynne Damianos

Hybrid Colonial Revival

David Boronkay, Slocum Hall Design Group

What are the signature elements of this style?

One of the typical exterior features found in a Colonial Revival is a symmetrical front-facing façade with extensions off one or both sides. The front door is typically centered on the main elevation and set under a portico that is often accented with columns or posts. This example, built in 2014, mixes Craftsman elements like the oversized six-over-one windows, deep eaves, and rafter tails. You may also find Shingle-Style elements, like the flared detail between the first and second floors.

What makes it popular?

In established neighborhoods, especially historical districts, the Colonial Revival will always be popular. Finding creative ways to update the aesthetic by borrowing design cues from other styles makes for a more updated appeal.

Psd-Eagles-Nest-Contemporary-Shingle-Style
. —Brian Vanden Brink

Contemporary Shingle-Style

John R. DaSilva, Polhemus Savery DaSilva

What are the signature elements of this style?
Membranes of cedar shingles wrap volumes that look as if they were pumped up with air and tethered to the ground. Disparate elements are brought together by the shingle wrapper, allowing unification with varying degrees of symmetry or asymmetry.
What makes it popular?
It is one of the few truly American inventions in architectural styles — incorporating influences from British Queen Anne architecture, Japanese woodwork, and, most significantly, American Colonial architecture. Casual but balanced, unified but eclectic, the style has represented relaxed New England seaside living since it originated in places like Newport, R.I., and Bar Harbor, Maine, in the late 19th century. Both sprawling and, as in this example, compact houses can feel comfortable in the style.

Psd-Ridge-Rider-Contemporary-Modernist
. —Brian Vanden Brink

Contemporary Modernist

John R. DaSilva, Polhemus Savery DaSilva

What are the signature elements of this style?
Modernism in house design started more than 100 years ago as radical change. By the mid-20th century, it was a style like any other, and the original flat roofs had been expanded by architects like Frank Lloyd Wright to include shallow-pitched ones with angled overhangs over gabled ends. Flat, planar walls with abundant windows are also common to connect inhabitants visually to nature.
What makes it popular?
This example highlights taut, flat walls by stretching them into fanciful brackets that appear to hold up volumes extended horizontally into the landscape. Such horizontal reach was a particularly American development to the style as it represented the expansive landscape that is more available here than in the European countries of its origin.

Modern-Prairie-Slocum-Hall
. —Slocum Hall Design Group

Modern Prairie

David Boronkay, Slocum Hall Design Group

What are the signature elements of this style?
The Prairie Style, most commonly associated with Frank Lloyd Wright, is rooted in nature so that a harmonious balance between the site and structure is created. Strong horizontal lines, low-pitched roofs, and tall windows are typical, as is an open floor plan that incorporates plenty of natural light, elements, and materials. The design focus is to bring in the outdoors.
What makes it popular?
We have seen this style achieve popularity in states like Montana and Colorado, as well as in the Pacific Northwest. We designed this custom home for our clients who wanted something modern in feel but with a timeless element woven through the design. The wooded, sloped site — coupled with the desire of the owners to have a house that felt integrated into the natural surroundings — lent itself well to this newer hybrid style.

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Check out these twists on ubiquitous New England home designs