Fripp House, Bluffton, SC

The transformation of Deep South homes

Architectural evolution: Tracing the transformation of Deep South homes from colonial to contemporary.

Story by Sheila Paz

Architecture has played a significant role in transforming the looks of the Deep South. Across the span of several centuries, our geographic subregion of the Southern United States (South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana) has grown from simple American colonial architecture to stunning contemporary architecture. Take a walk down memory lane and see how the homes of the South have changed over time. 

American Colonial

With its self-explanatory name, American colonial homes became a prevalent style from the 1600s to the mid-1700s. Colonizers from all over were settling and starting to build the first houses in present-day America. Key features and characteristics include symmetry, steep roofs with gables facing the front and back, central chimneys, rectangular house shape and multipane windows. 

Walk the plank: The Pirates’ House, located at 20 East Broad Street in Savannah, was first opened in 1753 as an inn for seafarers and fast became a meeting point for pirates and sailors of the seven seas. Since then, the iconic American Colonial-style structure has been entertaining visitors with a bounty of delicious food, drink and rousing good times.

Savannah, Georgia, USA - October 12, 2021: The Pirates' House is a restaurant that dates back to 1753 and once served seafarers and pirates. It is said to be haunted.
©Rachael Martin

Antebellum Era 

Antebellum homes were built in the early 1800s, just before the American Civil War started in 1861. These homes exhibited Greek Revival elements such as symmetry, grand columns and pediments. Antebellum homes were large and meant to reflect the status and wealth of plantation owners. They featured large wrap-around porches and balconies. 

Elevated elegance: The Antebellum-era Fripp House was built sometime around 1830 by James L. Pope. Set on eight-foot piers, its three stories loom tall over Bridge Street in Bluffton, a dizzying height for the generally low-lying homes of the age. Currently in the hands of private owners, it once served as a bed and breakfast.

Fripp House
©Mike Ritterbeck


The Federal architectural style was popular in the Deep South from the late 18th century to the early 19th century. It emerged during the Federalist era, which coincided with the early years of the American Republic and the presidency of George Washington. Federal buildings were often designed with a symmetrical facade, with a centered entrance and evenly spaced windows on either side. The style incorporated classical architectural elements such as columns (particularly the Ionic and Corinthian orders), pediments and arches. These elements were often used to create a sense of grandeur and dignity.

Stately charm: Built around 1811, the Federal-style Cuthbert House in downtown Beaufort is mounted on a raised foundation with central hallways on both floors extending from front to rear. The façade has a central, double-tiered portico supported by Tuscan columns. Today it operates as a bed and breakfast. 

Cuthbert House
©Cuthbert house

Victorian Era 

Victorian architecture emerged from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s. It combined Gothic Revival, Italianate, Queen Anne and Romanesque styles. Named after Queen Victoria of England, these houses exhibit the industrial and technological advances of the era. Victorian-style houses feature eclectic designs with ornate moldings, brackets, spindles and carvings. They incorporate decorative windows, porches and towers as well as boasting vibrant colors and asymmetry. 

Victorian splendor: The Dickinson-Exley house (left), located at 14 West Duffy Street in Savannah, was built in 1890 by the Home Building Company. The beautiful Victorian-era home features a large kitchen and master suite as well as four fireplaces with original slate mantels. The home has a unique cross-gabled roof, splayed two-story bay windows and nine set-back Eastlake-decorated gables. 

Dickinson-Exley house, Savannah

Carolina Farmhouse

The Carolina Farmhouse architecture style was popular during the late 18th century and throughout the 19th century. It emerged in the rural areas of North and South Carolina as settlers built homes that reflected their agricultural lifestyle and the local climate and materials available to them. The style reached its peak popularity in the early- to mid-19th century when farming was a central economic activity in the region. Key features include expansive porches, steely pitched gable roofs, dormer windows, wood siding, double-hung windows and raised foundations. 

Journey through history: The Heyward House, located at 70 Boundary Street in Bluffton, has risen to prominence as a visual shorthand of Bluffton’s historic charms. Originally built by John Cole in 1841, the Bluffton Historical Preservation Society now calls it home and has done a remarkable job restoring and maintaining the grounds. That includes restoration work on the two outbuildings around the back of the property, old slave quarters and a kitchen. When you visit, be sure to see the mirror in one room in which a Union soldier carved, “Flee, rebels. Hell is here,” on the day Bluffton burned.

Heyward House
©Mike Ritterbeck

Craftsman Era 

The Arts and Crafts movement of the 1860s led to the creation of American Craftsmen Homes from 1900 to the 1930s. These homes showcased the beautiful craftsmanship of the hand-made materials complemented by decorative elements such as brackets, lintels, rafters and beams. Notable features of craftsman homes include horizontal lines, low-pitched gable roofs, earth-toned exteriors and the option of one or two stories. 

Craftsman heritage: This Craftsman-era home, located at 1118 East Duffy in Savannah, was built in 1910 and features an inviting front porch and an open floor plan. The fully renovated home has kept the stunning detail of old-world craftsmanship with refinished original heart pine floors, coffered ceilings, built-in cabinets and exposed brick that is more than 100 years old. 

118 East Duffy

Mid-Century Modern 

Mid-Century Modern homes emerged from post-World War II optimism in the country. These homes possess an array of design elements including clean, sleek lines, expansive windows that bring in the natural light and open floor plans. With a connection to the outdoors, Mid-Century Modern homes often incorporate inviting outdoor living spaces. Neutral and earth-tone hues enrich doors, panels and other features that achieve the Mid-Century Modern style. 

Mid Century Modern Style Beach Home
©Karen Culp


Contemporary architecture is one of its own that does not reflect a time period. Instead it reflects the trends of the time it was built. The aesthetics of the houses are clean lines, open spaces and sustainable practices. Contemporary houses embrace asymmetry, fluid and rounded shapes as well as natural and unconventional materials. These houses incorporate new technologies to give them a fresh approach to modern living.

John Kilmer Interiors and Denise Stringer
©Lisa Staff

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