When you think about southern living home plans, a number of architectural motifs spring to mind: grand while pillars flanking wide front porches; grand elliptical staircases; two-story construction with symmetrical windows. The movie Gone With the Wind created the image of Tara – Scarlett O’Hara’s antebellum home – as the quintessential southern house style. However, there is not only one style of architecture which is associated with the American South. Depending on the particular region, you might encounter French Creole style architecture, American Federal style architecture, or plantation style houses.
Some of the distinctive features associated with southern architecture were quite common in American homes throughout the nation in the late 1700’s to mid 1800’s, but they are associated more with the South for a number of reasons. One is that depressed economic conditions in the post-bellum South led Southern homeowners to preserve their homes intact rather than remodel them or tear them down and rebuild, as people in other parts of the country did. Another reason is that Thomas Jefferson popularized the Greek Revival look of colonial house plans both in his home at Monticello and also in the campus he designed for the University of Virginia. He also influenced the Greek Revival design of the U.S. Capitol building. In other Southern areas, however, regional deviations from the basic style developed due to the scarcity of land, the terrain, or the warm climate. In damp areas prone to flooding houses were often built several feet off the ground, with access to the front door provided by straight or curved staircases, often embellished with forged iron railings.
Regional variations on the basic Southern style include the Charleston Single, which was a Federal style house characterized by a central hall leading to two or four rooms on each floor. The front porch and two doorways were located on one side of the house, and when the outer, hospitality door – the one closest to the street – was left open so the neighbors knew that the occupants were receiving visitors. Turning the house plan to the side allowed a deeper layout on long and narrow lots and also gave the occupants more privacy. The windows and doors were oriented to let in the ocean breeze. Another distinctive Southern regional feature is the flying staircase, which characterized the homes of Savannah. The homes in Savannah faced the city squares laid out by James Oglethorpe and they featured piazzas, large columns, and flying staircases which spiraled up without touching the wall. The architectural style of Natchez, Mississippi is lavish and ornate, since this town grew wealthy from cotton commerce shipped by steamboat. The residents of Natchez reflected their prosperity in what many architectural critics feel is the finest collection of nineteenth century antebellum homes in the South. In Louisiana the accent was French, of course, with intermingled influences from Spain and the West Indies as well as France. The French Creole style of southern home plans developed in the late eighteenth century and is best known in New Orleans, featuring hipped roofs, porches or galleries with wrought iron columns and railings and French windows.