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American Foursquare Style

American Foursquare StyleThe American Foursquare, sometimes called the “Prairie Box” was a hugely popular architectural style in almost every part of the country. It is one of the consumate American house styles.

Though not technically an architectural style on its own (it’s a subtype of The Prairie Style), the American Foursquare is so prevalent that I thought it deserved its own page.

Simple, efficient and affordable, the American Foursquare could be fit onto any small city lot. Popular from the 1890s into the 1930s, the American Foursquare, like the American Craftsman of the same time, was a return to simpler design in reaction to the Victorian styles that preceded it.


Born in the time of Sear’s & Roebuck’s massively popular mail order catalogue and during the Industrial Revolution’s heyday, the American Foursquare was an everyman’s house.

Its efficient layout fit perfectly onto the compact lots of growing city neighborhoods of the time as Americans moved from rural areas to cities for the new manufacturing jobs of the time. Mail-order Foursquares were plentiful across these first-rung neighborhoods.

The Details

Very unique 21-over-1 windows with porte-cochère
Very unique 21-over-1 windows with porte-cochère

The American Foursquare is almost exclusively a 2 1/2 story house built in a perfect square shape. The roof is either a hipped or pyramidical shape with very rare exceptions. A central dormer that matches the roofline is another tell tale sign that you’re looking at an American Foursquare.

Its square shape not only gave it its name but also it’s remarkably standardized layout. The downstairs typically had a living room and dining room on one side, and the foyer, kitchen and stairway on the other. The upstairs usually consisted of two bedrooms and a bathroom on one side, and a third bedroom and stairway on the other side. Four rooms on each floor, thus the name.

A full front porch with either greek or craftsman inspired boxed columns is another typical feature. Though often without the intricate detailing of the Queen Anne style, these porches were a prominent part of almost every Foursquare.

A small Foursquare with off-center entrance
A small Foursquare with off-center entrance

The Foursquare also has some of the most eclectic variations of any style. Brick, stone, stucco, shingle, clapboard siding, none are more prevalent than the others. Some are simple folk versions, and others are high-style with delicate Italianate rafter tails or Mission style tile roofs.

The interiors are just as varied. Often, they were finished with earthy colors and natural woodwork like its contemporary the American Craftsman, but some were just as ornate as the Victorians they shared a street with. Plaster walls and wood floors were of course the norm for the period as well.

The Foursquare is an infinitely adaptable and changeable house. Built to suit the needs and wants of its occupants, or the whims of the architect, it can become almost anything. Just like the Americans who created it, the American Foursquare is the melting pot of architectural style.

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23 thoughts on “American Foursquare Style

  1. We bought our brick Foursquare 20 years ago and have the fortunate circumstance of being neighbors with the great-grandson of the original builder who homesteaded this property in 1900 and completed the house in 1903-4. I love both the simplicity of design. We were lucky to have bought it in almost unaltered condition outside of 5-7 layers of wallpaper in every room. The woodwork is all original with it’s shellac finish and hardwood floors throughout. We love it.

  2. We live in a 100+ year old Foursquare in Bay City, MI (the headquarters of Aladdin Homes). Ours is a mail order home, not an Aladdin, though. We love our old Foursquare.

  3. Hi Scott
    I have a four square home but instead of a front porch I have a closed in sunroom . I was looking at our hasi g a new front door and sidelights . One door that i was looking at was a rod iron design in the front door and also i the sidelights . I’m not sure if it would fit the style of the house what do you think and do you have any suggestions?

  4. We just bought a four square in Wisconsin. It was built in 1914. It has a second story external door on the back of the house. Many in the area are like that, often opening to nothing. I can’t find anything on why they were originally there. Any ideas?

      1. There is a home in my neighborhood that has a door on the second floor that led to a small balcony. It was used to shake out the rugs on the second floor when everyone had wood floors and rrugs.

        1. Second story enclosed balconies were also common as sleeping porches due to how common tuberculosis was. Sleeping in fresh air was thought to help, which was not entirely wrong.

    1. Cathy, it likely went to a small balcony that has since been removed. I have a 1914 foursquare w/ a small (7×7′) balcony. When I bought it, the balcony door was gone and filled in but I could see a clear outline in the clapboard where it had been. The railings were also gone but I could see on the clapboard where the railing met the walls. I could see around my neighborhood, other houses around me w/ this back balcony door and no porch anymore (I refer to it as “the death door”). I restored my balcony back to how it originally was using a salvaged balcony door and custom built railings.

  5. Hi Scott, I’m trying to research my new home. I think it might be a four-square, but I’m not sure. Can ypu give me your thoughts on this? We’re in northeast pa. I was told it was built in 1900, but I think it might be older. The original part of the house (front) has great old wood floors that I refinished, stairs entered thru a door downstairs, and the upstairs was converted into an apartment. The basement is only 5 ft high, the front foundation is stone, hence wet. The previous owners “updated”, and im also having a hard time trying to find out what it would have looked like when it was built. Can you help?

  6. My sister just bought one a fixer upper…1925 foursquare, trying to figure out Reno budget…not bad shape,good bones. Need bathroom upstairs..had one bedroom on first floor,steps run up middle.want to redirect steps to kitchen and claim space for a master downstairs…withe the plaster wall will this be doable…I see so much potential…
    Why was the know original bath on second floor…they put a 1/2bAth in a closet….

  7. We restored a foursquare house and were always told it was built in 1900. Researching the history of previous landowners, I’m just not sure how accurate that is. Are there any details that would help determine the year it was built?

  8. I think I have a foursquare home. Three bedrooms on floor two and a large room behind the smallest bedroom and runs the entire length of the house. I have extra large living room, dining room, backup plan that room all on left side then stairs, kitchen, kitchen nook and bathroom on floor 1. Porch runs length of house. Furnace, (boiler)bathroom in basement. Is it still a foursquare?

  9. American Foursquare is typically considered a house type or form rather than a style. As a vernacular form, one would see elements of an architectural style applied to the form, most often on the porch: Prairie, Neoclassical, Colonial Revival, etc.

  10. Where are those pictures taken of the American Four-Square house examples? I wanted to cite one of them in a Historic Preservation presentation.

  11. I bought a 1928 foursquare fixer upper last June for a steal. Not only is the house framed with cedar, the oak floors are so sturdy and well crafted that there is not a single creak anywhere to be found anywhere in the home. If those materials and craftsmanship where used to build a new house of that size now, the wood and labor would cost more than we paid for our foursquare plus renovations. I’d choose an old foursquare with great bones over a slapped together mcmansion any day. And I seriously doubt many of these newer, cheaply constructed wood framed homes will age as gracefully or even still be standing firm when they reach their 90 year mark.

  12. Hi Scott, I’ve been doing a lot of internet research about restoration products and came across your blog. I grew-up in an American foursquare and she is a really beauty!

    I thought you may be interested in checking out Allback organic linseed oil products. The Allback family is reintroducing traditional non-solvent based paints, oils, and waxes for interior and exterior use. They’ve cleaned and processed organic linseed oil as a base, creating truly beautiful oil that you cannot find in an American hardware store. It’s a small Swedish company but you can find their products at http://www.solventfreepaint.com for the North American market. You may be interested in trying this stuff out. We’ve been using it on our foursquare and the results are like no other paint/oil we’ve ever worked with. Thanks for your post!

    1. I know the products well and have had colleagues use them in our humid environment down here in Florida with frustrating results. Mildew mainly causing large problems in our wet climate.

  13. The American Foursquare Style is one of my favorites!! I love the porches and dormer windows, and even though back in their day, they were considered ordinary homes, I think they look so grand on tree lined streets nowadays.

    I was reading through your style lists, but I’m still not sure what “style” of home the one we are buying is. I think it might be Colonial Revival, but it has some Craftsman characteristics too. Would you have time to see a photo of it to help classify? Thanks and still enjoying the posts! 🙂

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