Neoclassical Architecture and Design - Explained

Neoclassical Architecture and Design - Explained

Architecture
By Mateos Glen Hayes December 03, 2021

A modern interpretation of ancient lines, Neoclassical architecture is the 18th-century reboot of classical architecture. It tried to bring the grandeur and scale of ancient architecture into modern buildings, and it’s safe to say that it was pretty successful. Some of the world’s most recognizable buildings in Europe and North America were constructed in the Neoclassical style, and entire cities were rebuilt in this style with spectacular results. If you’ve ever had the chance to visit a major European city, you’ve undoubtedly seen Neoclassical architecture in one of its many forms.

Neoclassical style is also quite striking when it comes to interior design, and homes with a neoclassical interior design tend to be quite spacious and elegant. And indeed, that’s no surprise once you consider the grand imperial roots of this design style. A house with a Neoclassical modern interior is a house with unparalleled grace and simplicity of form. It’s proof that minimalism isn’t the only design style that values simplicity and decluttering.

Origins of Neoclassical Architecture and Design

Architects, like all people, are quick to tire of the same things over and over again. We’re always aching for something fresh and new, and this is the exact situation that faced European architects in the 18th century.

What Are the Origins of Neoclassical Architecture?

What Are the Origins of Neoclassical Architecture?

The New Comes From The Old 

Rococo architecture had gained quite a bit of popularity in Europe at this time, but some architects believed it to be excessive and garish and were tiring of it. This led to a push for a return to simplicity, and that “back to basics” movement led to the birth of Neoclassical architecture. Unlike Greek Revival and other Classical revival styles, Neoclassical architecture was not about incorporating details of Greek or Roman architecture into modern buildings of the time. Instead, the Neoclassical style was about adapting the entire design philosophy of ancient Greek and Roman architecture for modern use.

In practice, that meant that rather than just incorporate some friezes and false columns on the siding of buildings, Neoclassical architecture sought to completely reproduce and reimagine Greek/Roman-style architecture.   

Building a New Country

Neoclassicism became especially popular in the United States, which had become independent just a few decades before the rise of the design style. It quickly was adopted as the architectural style of the new republic by American architects who envisioned the young country as a new Roman Empire. Famous examples of the architectural style in the United States include the White House, the Capitol Building, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Supreme Court Building.

The White House Is a Great Example of Neoclassicist Design

The White House Is a Great Example of Neoclassicist Design

Neoclassicism Today

Neoclassical architecture remains quite popular in major cities throughout the world. It spread beyond Europe to different continents and is the go-to style for civil buildings the world over. As a result, it is an architectural style that is associated with the government, education, law, and sophistication. There are still many new buildings built in the style today, albeit in a reimagined form that adds a dash of modern minimalism to classical lines and features.

How to Recognize Neoclassical Architecture

The trademark signs of Neoclassical architecture stand out by design, and so are hard to miss.

It’s Not Too Hard to Pinpoint Neoclassical Designs

It’s Not Too Hard to Pinpoint Neoclassical Designs

Columns 

This is one of the details that tend to stand out the most in any neoclassical building. Neoclassical structures typically (but not always) sport massive columns made of granite, marble, and sometimes concrete. These are almost invariably articulated, meaning that the columns have vertical lines called flute lines which span from the base to the top of the column. Neoclassical columns usually have intricately ornamented volutes, which are the sculpted details that crown the column. Ionic style columns are some of the most common types, sporting distinctive scroll-shaped detailing. 

Classical Block

This style of Neoclassical architecture is notable for being square or rectangular, with flat roofs and flat exterior walls. Classical block buildings also feature exterior arches and/or columns which help to decorate the outside and accentuate the style’s angular form. One of the most famous examples of this style is the Palais Garnier opera building in Paris, France.

Neoclassical Designs Are Everywhere in Paris, France

Neoclassical Designs Are Everywhere in Paris, France

Temple-Style 

This is essentially the poster child of Neoclassicism, as it represents the most prominent buildings built in the style. Think Lincoln Memorial and British Museum and you’ll get the picture.  

Palladian 

These buildings are inspired by classic Italian villas which were built during the Renaissance period. In the United States, the White House and the Capitol building are trademark symbols of this design style, replete with ornamental eaves, large columns, and spires.

The British Museum Would Also Fall Under Neoclassical Architecture

The British Museum Would Also Fall Under Neoclassical Architecture

How to Recognize Neoclassical Interior Design

As with all design styles, there are some key essential details that make up the whole. 

Classy Decor 

Modern Neoclassical furniture is usually made of symmetrical designs of exposed wood or metal. Aside from some slight ornamentation, furnishings in a Neoclassical house are generally quite simply designed, with minimal decoration. However, they do make use of high-quality materials and luxurious upholstery. A great example of Neoclassical furniture is the classic chaise lounge, which is commonly seen in sitting rooms and embodies elegance and sophistication without delving into excess.

Classy Neoclassical Decor Is a Staple of Neoclassicism

Classy Neoclassical Decor Is a Staple of Neoclassicism

Beautifully Crafted Motives 

The Neoclassical decorating style is characterized by symmetry and by simple lines. Common decorations include Ancient Greek-style marble statues, porcelain jugs, and lightly colored wall designs. Floral motifs are especially popular, and major rooms such as sitting rooms are sometimes tied together with a neutral colored rug with oriental style pattern work on hardwood floors

Mild Colors

The neoclassical interior design uses a combination of neutral colors such as white, gray, and cream, and brighter colors such as green, blue, and yellow. Some neoclassical home designs will also incorporate bright accent colors such as red, silver, and gold.

Cream Is a Prevalent Color Tone in Neoclassical Interiors

Cream Is a Prevalent Color Tone in Neoclassical Interiors

Quick Tips for Bringing Neoclassical Design into Your Home

This is one of the easier interior styles to put together, as many of the elements required to put together your own neoclassical home design can be easily and affordably purchased. 

Furnishings

When it comes to furniture, most of what you’ll need can be found at most flea markets or antique stores. However, you want to make sure you don't just get any old furniture. Victorian furniture for instance is much more intricate than what is needed and will come in more complex shapes with lots of ornamentation. Instead, look for simpler pieces with fewer decorative elements and more restrained colors.

Antique Stores Are Full of Neoclassical Furniture

Antique Stores Are Full of Neoclassical Furniture

It is recommended that you opt for hardwood furniture, although some metal-framed pieces can also do quite nicely. Also, keep an eye out for throw pillows that sport floral themes on them as this helps recreate the elegant aesthetic. Blue, yellow, and green are all good furniture colors. For that extra layer of sophistication, look for furniture pieces with metallic accent colors such as gold or silver.   

Decor

The floor is another important part of this style, especially if you’re planning to create a Neoclassical living room design. Hardwood flooring is the best for capturing the simple yet sophisticated vibe of the design style, although engineered hardwood is also fine if you want to minimize the chance of moisture damage. The next important item is a rug, as this is a standard detail for a Neoclassical sitting room and helps to tie everything together.

Generally speaking, you want to get something that is low contrast and has colors such as black, cream, or white. This will help contrast with brighter colors from furniture and other details. A Neoclassical interior benefits hugely from an abundance of natural light since this helps to accentuate its elegant lines. Consider installing larger windows where possible to take full advantage of this fact. 

Painting 

The walls of a Neoclassical interior are usually either white or cream-colored, as this contrasts nicely with the dark brown of hardwood flooring. Window treatments such as curtains can be tastefully offset with one of the mild neoclassical colors such as blue or green.

Written by
Mateos Glen Hayes

Written by Mateos Glen Hayes