Architecture Corner – The American Foursquare

The American Foursquare style first appeared on the housing scene around 1890 and enjoyed widespread popularity across the nation well into the 1930s. It offered a practical and welcome change from over 50 years of costly, mass-produced Victorian “gingerbread”.

The classic multi-story Foursquare house had a small, nearly square footprint that made it ideal for narrow city lots. It was economical to build and its design allowed inhabitants to utilize every square inch of the roomy interior space.

house square

The Foursquare is easily identified by its boxy shape. Wide stairs lead to a front porch which spans the width of the house. Plain columns support the porch roof. The centered front door and equal grouping of windows on either side (upstairs and downstairs) give the house its symmetrical appearance.

The hip roof comes to a peak in the center and features a central dormer. Some models use brick, stucco and textured blocks, but the traditional Foursquare is a frame structure dressed with clapboard on the first story and shingles above that. A decorative belt course separates the two materials.

Inside, each story typically contains four rooms, one tucked perfectly into each
corner. The entry hall, living room, dining room and kitchen are located on the first floor, as is a central staircase leading to the second floor.

square house

Upstairs, three bedrooms with built-in closets and a single bathroom are all neatly packaged into the space,
eliminating the need for a long hallway. Above this is a large half-story attic with a dormer window. A full basement generally houses the furnace and offers additional storage area.

The Foursquare as a style fell out of favor as people moved out of crowded cities and into the sprawling suburbs. Lots were large and the modern one-story ranch house became the residence of choice.

Recently, the revival of older urban areas from coast to coast has led to a renewed interest in the traditional American Foursquare home.