In the beginning of the 17th century, a group of Pilgrim settlers made their way from Europe to the shores of, what is today, Massachusetts, where they created the first colonial settlement in North America. One could say that this is where colonial architecture and design began — with the arrival of the very first settlers. Since then, as the British hold over New England and other parts of the continent grew, British Colonial design dominated the original 13 colonies.
The British Empire was not alone in its colonization of various corners of North America. The French, Spanish, and Dutch also had colonies all across the world, including many territories currently in the United States. So, distinctions between Dutch Colonial homes and those of Spanish, French, British, or German influence do exist and are noticeable.
British Colonial designs in the northern colonies, such as New England or Cape Cod, vary quite a bit from those found deeper in the south, such as in the Carolinas or Georgia. Since the climate is different, as are the materials that are available in those areas, the realization of the style ended up being a bit different. You will find that Cape Cod and New England houses stayed true to the motifs of the original British Colonial design, as they favored practicality and utilitarian design over ornamentation and regality. The further south you go, the more that sentiment is reversed. Since the climate down south is warmer, it wasn’t as pertinent to be economical with the construction materials such as wood, natural stone, brick, and iron.
So southern states had more freedom to focus on stylization and design aspects of their homes since the weather was not as much of a limitation for them. For example, French Colonial homes often featured ornate wooden window cases, more complex roof designs, and grand balconies, which made use of wrought iron railings. On the interior French Colonial also featured elegant trim and other accents, which the British Colonial avoided in order to conserve the construction materials.
Although Colonial has many sister realizations of the style, we can pinpoint which one dominates the scene. While there is no doubt that the melting pot that is the US has brought together styles from all corners of the globe throughout the centuries, the biggest influence on American Colonial design is accredited to the British. Whenever we talk about American Colonial design, we really mean British Colonial design. And while French, Spanish, Dutch, as well as many others that came later, such as Russian, Polish, and Scandinavian, have influenced the architecture of this country, the roots of American Colonial architecture lie with the British Empire.