New Orleans Architecture Tour’s Guide to New Orleans Houses!
Single and Double Shotgun (1830 – 1940)
Shotguns are called shotguns because they were developed so that all the doors line up – “you can shoot a gun straight through the house and not hit anything”. Now, you never need to shoot a gun from the front of the house to the back of the house, but you are going to want the ventilation that this layout provides. It is hot, hot, hot in New Orleans for most of the year, so we had to come up with ways to be as cool as possible before air conditioning was invented (I’ll tell you what though, this layout doesn’t matter in August – there is no breeze).
Shotguns can come in single or double varieties. Sometimes, they have a little hump in the back which we call a camelback. They can be decorated in any style – ranging from Greek Revival, Italianate, Eastlake, or Craftsman. Both the single and double shotguns in this drawing are Eastlake Style –a style known for its turned spindles and fanciful woodwork.
Bungalow houses were developed in India, and became popular in California in the early 20th century. As it was the beginning of the glamorous Hollywood era, the whole country had it eyes on California trends and so the California Bungalow was born. We call them “California Style” in New Orleans. These buildings share many similarities with Shotguns, they are 1 story high and have porches. The differences begin in the interior. Bungalows have asymmetrical room placement, whereas shotguns (if you were paying attention earlier) are a straight line of rooms. In New Orleans, our bungalows typically are raised up in what we describe as a raised basement. Bungalows are decorated in many styles ranging from Craftsman, Colonial Revival, Spanish Revival, Tudor Revival etc. The Bungalow in this picture is a Craftsman Style- notice the tapering wooden columns and colorful prismatic attic windows.
Creole Cottage (1790-1850)
Creole Cottages are thought to have originated in Africa and brought to New Orleans through Haiti after the Haitian Revolution. These building are made out of brick and covered with plaster – which would have been necessary to conform to the fire codes instituted by the Spanish. The outer façade typically contains two doors and two windows which from the front could suggest a multifamily residence. Instead, they were built as single family homes that offer the family the flexibility to choose the primary door utilized by the residents or even the ability to take in boarders and give them their own entrance. The interior of the home is two rooms by two rooms with storage areas (known as cabinets) located towards the back. Above the main floor is an attic, which can be accessed through a spiral staircase in the cabinet, making these homes one and a half stories tall. Originally, Creole Cottages were very plain, but in later years homeowners might add decorations to them to “modernize” them. Our Creole Cottage has had Italianate Brackets added to it, a century after the house was built!
Greek Revival Style (1830-1865)
Greek Revival is a style that can be applied to any type of house. While Greek Revival Style started on the Eastern Seaboard in 1818 (with the Second Bank of Philadelphia) it became popular in New Orleans in the 1830s. It was the style of ancient Greece –the best and oldest democracy. Seeing as the United States was a newly formed democracy, why not emulate their buildings? Greek Revival Style was used for residential and public buildings. One of our best examples of this style is Gallier Hall – it looks like a Greek temple in Athens! This representation of Greek Revival Style includes a large triangular pedimented porch, Ionic fluted columns, heavy linteled windows, and dentils (little squares that look like teeth that decorate cornices).
American Cottage (1820 – 1870)
The American Cottage is also referred to as a Center Hall Cottage because right behind the front door you’ll find a hall that runs the length of the house to the back door. Typically, Creole architecture does not have hallways as they thought it was a waste of space to have a separate space to walk through. In most cases, the Creole buildings use their balconies as exterior hallways. On the other hand, Americans love their privacy and so they put hallways in their homes (this also helps with ventilation!) You can find American Cottages in many styles but they are most prevalent in Greek Revival and Italianate Styles. The one in the print is actually a Greek Revival/Italianate Transition Style- it took all the best features of both styles. It has Greek Revival triangular pedimented windows, wooden columns, and a symmetric façade. On the Italianate side there are double brackets above every column, arched dormer windows, and an arched transom. Generally, the straight lined details are Greek Revival and the curvy/arched details are Italianate.
An entresol is a variation of Creole Townhouse (see below). What makes an entresol a variation is that it has a special hidden space between the first and second story that one can use for storage. If you look closely you can tell that there is a gap between these floors and the second story balcony is raised significantly – it is easier to notice if there are standard height second story balconies around. Typically, the entresol is lit by arched windows. The example of entresol in this drawing is the Pharmacy Museum, designed by J.N.B. de Pouilly in 1837. It has the raised second story and the arched windows. If you find yourself by the Pharmacy Museum, take a peek in the arched windows – you’ll see boxes. They are still using it for storage almost 200 years later!
Creole Townhouse (1800-1850)
The Creole Townhouse was developed after two fires basically burned the French Quarter to the ground during the Spanish Era. These buildings indicate the growth of the city in this period as they are mixed use buildings. They have commercial property on the bottom and apartments in the floors above. There are a few variations of the Creole Townhouse: some have entresols (a storage space between the first and second stories), and some have porte-cochères (carriageways that allow the residents to bring a carriage into their courtyard). Creole Townhouses were started in the late Spanish Period and were continued to be built into the antebellum era, so they can be decorated in different styles. The Creole Townhouse on this print has a porte-cochère to the left, and is decorated in a Greek Revival/Italianate Transition Style. It has rectangular heavy linteled windows (Greek Revival) and cast iron (Italianate).
American Townhouse (1820s -1890s)
American Townhouses are multiple storied buildings that are different from Creole Townhouses in that they are strictly residential. (As I mentioned above, Creole Townhouses are buildings which have commercial components on the ground floor and residential floors above.) These homes are also sometimes referred to as Double Gallery Houses, as it is a prominent feature of this type. Variations include Row Houses which are homes that are joined to their neighbors – they share a wall with the house next door. American Townhouses in New Orleans are frequently decorated with Greek Revival, Italianate and Queen Anne features, but every once in a while you might find them designed in earlier Empire and Federal Style. The American Townhouse displayed is one that you might find in the Garden District, as it is decorated in the very popular Greek Revival/Italianate Transitional Style. The Greek Revival features include Corinthian capped columns, rectangular shaped windows on the top floor, and overall symmetry. The arched surrounds on the windows and door, modillions along the upper cornice, and the cast iron, belong to the Italianate Style.
Queen Anne Style (1880-1905)
Queen Anne Style was a very popular style in the United States. It is generally referred to as “Victorian Style” but it should be noted that Queen Victoria reigned from 1837-1879, so many styles (Greek Revival, Italianate, Second Empire, Gothic Revival, and Queen Anne) existed in her long lifetime. Queen Anne Style is a radical departure from the more formal “rule following” classical styles like Greek Revival. The main characteristic of this style is texture and it is exhibited through the use of various materials such as fish scale shingles, wooden siding, roof slates arranged in multi-colored patterns and capped with ridge tiles, and a reliance on asymmetry.
The Queen Anne drawing has all these whimsical features displayed proudly. Symmetry is definitely out the window – we have an oriel on the left, and a round porch on the right. One of the prevailing features is the use of intricate woodwork, seen on the spindles of the porch. While these homes were typically painted in earth tones in the late 19th century, in the modern era a brighter palette has been adopted to really highlight these extraordinary homes.
Mausoleum (1789 – Present)
New Orleans is well known for its above ground tombs. During our French Era, people were buried below ground – in the levees, the church yards, and even in the floor of the St. Louis Cathedral. When St. Louis Number 1 Cemetery opened in 1789, the Spanish started burying people in above ground mausoleums to save space. Remains of entire families can be interred in these tombs. A trip to any cemetery in New Orleans will reveal that the architecture of the city is reflected in our tombs. Greek Revival, Italianate, and Egyptian Revival decorations were popular, so be on the look-out for columns, arches, and pyramid forms.
The Mausoleum in the drawing is a Greek Revival/Italianate Transition style – it has a rectangular opening, but also an arched parapet decorating the top of the tomb.
Second Empire Style (1870 – 1885)
Second Empire is the style that emerged in Paris during the reign of Napoleon III. In the United States, this style was rapidly adopted and used for many residences and prominent public buildings such as the State, War, and Navy Building in Washington D.C. and the Philadelphia City Hall. While these buildings typically share many decorative features with the Italianate Style, the main characteristic of Second Empire Style is the Mansard Roof. Mansard roofs were developed by French architect François Mansart and are distinctive because they have a double slope (the top slope can be very shallow – even almost flat, with a much steeper slope below) that allows for an extra-large attic space. These steep roofs are the perfect place to install elaborate bulls eye dormers.
This Second Empire house is capped by a slate Mansard roof that is topped with cast iron cresting. The curved balcony has also has cast iron details and arched decorations found above the windows of the balcony and the door.
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Thanks for reading this quick summary of New Orleans Architecture! I hope that it gives you a better understanding of different types and styles of our incredible homes. Do keep in mind that there are many variations to be considered so I do not think of this as a definitive guide.
If you enjoy the house drawings, be sure to check out Cape Horn Illustration. They have this amazing print for sale here. For 10% off enter code “NOLATOURS10”. Offer good until Sunday (10/ 27/19) at midnight.
Prints can also be found at the 1850 House.