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What is a French Colonial?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 16, 2024
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French colonial is a style of architecture that was typically used in regions of North America and Asia colonized by the French. This style is typified by architectural elements such as prominent columns, a wide overall floor plan, and a porch on the second floor of the building. This porch is typically reached by an external stairway and is incorporated into the overall aesthetic of the building. A French colonial commonly refers to a building, usually a home or office, which either dates back to a traditional period of French colonization or has been more recently built to emulate that style.

There are a number of common attributes a French colonial will usually have, and these are often true both of older buildings and newer ones. One of the first, very noticeable, aspects of this style is the use of prominent columns in the architecture of the building, especially the front façade. These columns create a striking initial impression and are often what draw people to this type of architecture. Many French colonial style homes in the American South, such as Louisiana, have these columns, which create vertical lines within the visual space of the building that plays across the inherently horizontal nature of these houses.

A French colonial will usually be two stories tall and include a basement as well that supports the first floor of the building. Both the first and second floor will often have a porch, and these buildings are typically fairly wide. The strong horizontal presence of these buildings is established through the wide porches on both floors and the roof, which is usually a rectangular hip roof that comes to a single point. A French colonial is typically designed so the horizontal columns and the general width of the building play off each other to create a strong form that feels balanced and is appealing to a viewer.

In the United States (US), French colonial buildings can often be found in the South where French colonies were prominent before the establishment of the US. There are also some homes and buildings in Canada that reflect this style of architecture and many of the buildings in the US were initially based on styles utilized in Canadian colonies. French colonial architecture is also quite prominent in areas of Asia that were previously French colonies, such as Vietnam.

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