New England Architecture 101 – Federals

The Federal house is sophisticated and stately.

By Yankee Magazine

Feb 21 2023


Federal House

Photo Credit : Illustration by Rob Leanna

Sometimes also called “Adam”-style, Federal homes look like Georgians but flaunting the confidence and style of a newly independent nation. Symmetry still reigns supreme; however, glasswork gets an upgrade, with larger panes in windows, semicircular or elliptical fanlights over doorways, and vertical sidelights that make entrances appear larger.

Time Period: 1780-1820, locally to 1840

Characteristics: Sophisticated and stately, with generous use of curves and glass

Famous Example: Otis House (the home of the Historic New England Library and Archives) in Boston, Massachusetts

Where to Find Federal Homes: Prosperous port cities such as Salem and Newburyport, Massachusetts; Providence and Bristol, Rhode Island; and Portland and Wiscasset, Maine.

If you’re trying to spot a Federal house quickly, the semi-circular fanlight over the door is a good indicator.
  1. Windows: Window panes are bigger and thus fewer, at six per sash.
  2. Roof: Low-hipped roofs and paired chimneys are common.
  3. Doorway: Semicircular fanlights and vertical sidelights are a Federal hallmark.