With its combination of clean lines, imposing scale, and stately details, Neoclassical architecture always makes a statement. Here in Dallas, our historic courthouse and the Dallas High School are both examples of this timeless look. Although many people associate Neoclassical with government buildings, it’s also a popular style for traditional homes.
Neoclassical, or “new classical” is the revival of ideas and culture from ancient Greece and Rome. True classical architecture was built between 850 B.C. and A.D. 476.
By the late 18th century, architects and interior designers throughout Europe were beginning to tire of Rococo style. Excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum inspired designers to return to the simplicity and elegance of the ancient past. Neoclassical became so popular that by the year 1800, almost all British architects were using it.
During the 19th century, US architects defined the aesthetic course of the nation by designing universities and government buildings in a Neoclassical style. This was intended to suggest similarities between the new republic and ancient Rome. Today, Neoclassical buildings can also be found in France, Russia, and Latin America. Some famous examples of Neoclassical design include the U.S. Capitol, the Panthéon in Paris, the Prado Museum in Madrid, and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Virginia.
You might wonder if Neoclassical is too ostentatious for residential architecture. Not so: Neoclassical homes are still being designed and built all across America.
Some of the key tenets of Neoclassical architecture include symmetry, dramatic columns, domed roofs, and triangular pediments. Columns are built according to the Doric, Ionic, or Corinthian orders (classical style guidelines) and will always be placed in even numbers. Unlike British Neoclassical homes, American Neoclassical homes are often built with a double portico. Some Neoclassical homes also have a balustrade along the second story porch.
The thought behind Neoclassical is that pure, simple forms should be the basis of great architecture. However, there is still room to include some ornamental details. Examples include dentil moldings (rectangular blocks along the roof line or below the cornice) and Corinthian columns, the tops (capitals) of which are densely decorated with scrolls and foliage.
Many American Neoclassical homes are constructed using Flemish Bond red brick and limestone corner stones called quoins. Door and window trim, columns, roof-line balustrades, and shutters are all made of either limestone or wood. The brick exterior walls and wood ornamentation of a Neoclassical home help to give the building its sense of solidness, but the wood ornamentation also needs to be carefully maintained over time. Anything made of wood should be repainted or re-stained once in a while, as well as inspected for rot.
Unlike casement windows, traditional double-hung windows do not have an airtight seal when closed. They also tend to leak more air as they age. If you buy an older Neoclassical home, you may want to have the windows inspected. Repairing or replacing these windows with modern replicas can help you save money on your energy bill.
Interior design in Neoclassical homes
When it comes to color, Neoclassical rooms tend to have a light overall color scheme, with a few dramatic or darkly colored accents. For example, one room may have an overall black-and-white scheme with geometric patterns; another room could use softer cream, pale blue or pearl as its main colors. Popular accent colors for these rooms include navy blue, terra cotta, gold, and wine red.
In the 1700s, designers who worked in Neoclassical style chose furniture that balanced clean lines and Greco-Roman details. Antique furniture from this period often had tapered or fluted legs, scrolls, lyre backs, and rosettes. Upholstery was usually in colors like rose, white, gray-blue, and striped or toile patterns. Gilt accents on mirrors and furnishings are also quite common. Since this style is associated with luxury, you may want to splurge on high quality fabrics such as silk, linen, brocade, and velvet.
One key difference between Neoclassical and other traditional styles is that Neoclassical has less clutter. Of course, there are some accessories that are a must for this look. Busts, statues, obelisks, urns, large mirrors, crystal chandeliers, and classic art will help cinch the style.
Since Neoclassical rooms tend to have a “clean” look, some Dallas homeowners are combining elements of Neoclassical with modern and contemporary design. Be careful to not include too many accessories, especially in rooms that already have busy patterns. Just a few pieces will go a long way to getting the glamorous look you want.
Whether you prefer traditional or contemporary, Neoclassical style has a lot to offer. If you own a Neoclassical home and are not sure how to balance this style with your other furnishings, consider enlisting the help of a designer familiar with the style.
Written by Caitlin Crowley