American Federal

The Federal style is the firat phase of Neoclassicism in America. Derived primarily from English model, the style takes its name from the time of its inception, which coincides with the establishment of the federal govenment in America.


Motifs include eagles , paterae, swags, egg and dart, palmettes, honeysuckle, classical figures, baskets, urns, and stripes. The image of George Washington appears often in decorative arts.


Public Buildings

American Neoclassical architecture differs from England’s in scale, construction methods, and building materials. Scale remains domestic instead of monumental. Wood-frame construction and brick pervail instead of stone.

Types: Building types include statehouses, churches, meetinghouses, banks, theaters, and warehouses.

Site Orientation: Urban structures are sited on streets. Lawns often surround Churches.

Floor plans: Plans arre symmetrical or nearly so. Many combine contrasting circular or ellipticalspaces with rectangular ones in the English manner. Staircases are often circular in form.

Material: Brick, alone and in combination with wood dominates public structures. Brick and wood may be painted to imitate stone, which is rarely used.

Facades: Are symmetrical and typically combine circular and rectangular forms. Walls may be plain or articulated with slender pilasters and other elements. Columns are widely spaced and attenuated. String courses may separate stories, and pediments or projecting porticoes mark entrances.

Windows: Sahs windows are taller with thinner mullions. Some have lintels or are framed withclassical details. Fan and Palladian windows contrast with rectangular openings.

Doors: Door surrounds feature pediments and columns or fanlights and sidelights. Doors, which may be single or double, are paneled and painted a dark color or white.

Roofs: They may be low-pitched gables or flat and hidden by a balustrade. Statehouses, churches, and steeples often have domes and cupolas.

Private Buildings

Types: Dwellings include detached structures and row houses. Urban houses ae the main carriers of the Federal style.

Site Orientation: Urban structures are sited on streets but may be surrounded by lawns. Rual houses are generally oriented toward the main road.

Floor plans: Plans develop from symmetry and may continue the rectangular block and double-pile plan. Many have three stroies. Row houses follow standared London plans of front and back rooms with side passages for entries and stairs.

Materials: More houses are of brick, but wood remains a common choice. Trim typically is of wood. Shutters are usually painted dark green.

Facades: Dwelling facades feature contrasting curving and rectangular form. Projecting bow centers, simicircular projecting porches, and rounded windows introduce curves and movement. Columns are widely spaced and attenuated, and delicate classical ornamentation is low in relief.

Windows: Sash windows on domestic sturctures are tall with thin mullions. Occasionally, windows may be set within relieving arches.

Doors: Fanlights above front doors distinguish Federal houses. Doors are paneled and painted a dark color or white.

Roofs: They may low-pitched gables or flat and hidden by a balustrade. A few houses feature hipped roofs.


Public and Private Building

 Federal interiors follow those of Robert Adam, but are more simply decorated with fewer colors. Lavish gilding, elaborate classical reliefs, and paintings are rare. Classical motifs are architectural details dominate. Hierarchy of room decoration continues.

Types: Important public spaces, such as those in statehouses and churches, serve as places for gathering, meeting, and sometimes entertaining.


Materials: Plain plaster replaces paneling for walls. Most rooms have a baseboard, dado, and cornice. Classical moldings form cornices and chair rails. Wooden and white, gray, or pink marble mantels depict classical elements.

Color: White, off-white, buff, gray, and many shades of blue and green are typical colors. Marbling and graining are fashionable.

Lighting: Candlesticks and candlelabra in both silver and brass adopt classical shapes, particularly columns. Whale oil and Argang lamps become more common. Shiny surface and strategically placed mirrors maximize light, but many rooms are dark even during the day.

Floors: Softwood floors are typical. Masonary floors are rare in America. Floor coverings include floor cloths, matting, and commercial and homemade carpets.

Walls: Classical wall divisions are typical and inculde a baseboard, dado, dado-rail, shaft or upper wall, and entablature. wallpaper, increasingly fashionable, comes from England, France, and China, but is also made in America. Borders, essemtial on painted and papered walls. Typically, borders outline all architectural features.

Mantels: They are simple and classical. Some fireplaces are rebuilt to accommodate coal grates.

Federal Fireplace Mantel in the Adam Style.

Windows: They may be left plain, have interior shutters, or display simple window treatments. Typical treatments may consist of a single swag with fastoon or sheer white cotton next to the window topped with floor-length curtains and shaped valances in solid colors.

Doors: Important doors are paneled and either painted or of polished mahogany. Those in major rooms have classical surrounds.

Ceilings: Most ceilings are plain, flat, and light in color. A few ceilings feature painted or stenciled designs.

Furnishings and Decorative Arts

Federal furniture adopts the light scale, geometric contrast, veneers, straight legs, and classical ornament of European Neoclassical models such as Adam, Hepplewhite, and Sheraton from England and the Louis XVI style in France.

Types: New types of furniture include work and sewing tables, night tables, cellarettes, and knife boxes, large dining tables that seat 20, card tables, tea tables. Sofas and suites of furniture are more popular.


Heart-back chair

Side Chair ( heart-back)



Lolling “Marth Washington” chair



Tables: American use a variety of table including game and tables, tea tables, breakfast tables, work table anddining tables.

Storage: Chest of drawers, commodes, bureaus, and desks and bookcase reflect Neoclassical influence in scale, form, and ornamentation.

Beds: The typical bed has four slender turned, carved, reeded, or fluted post and a flat or serpentine tester.



Looking Glass:









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