What's in a style: French Eclectic

Although its heyday only lasted a couple of decades, the French Eclectic style has since seen something of a revival. Based on architectural features observed overseas, the style has often been used for grand mansions but has sometimes been employed for simpler homes as well.

The French Eclectic style first became popular in the 1920s. Virginia Savage McAlester, author of the 2015 book "A Field Guide to American Houses," says many architects and builders were among the soldiers who served in France during World War I. Having visited the villages and towns of the country, they returned to the United States with new inspirations for architectural designs.

While French Eclectic is a rather flexible style, it can always be spotted by its distinct hipped roof. This type of roof has all four sides sloping down toward the walls. It is usually tall with a steep pitch. Jackson's Grant on Williams Creek, a housing development in Carmel, Ind., says the roofs of the French Eclectic style often flare up just before the eaves.

The majority of French Eclectic homes are asymmetrical. Some are symmetrical, while others are towered. Homes in the symmetrical style have a central doorway, while asymmetrical ones have the main entrance located off-center. In the towered variant, the door is typically located in a circular tower built into the structure; this tower is capped by a conical roof.

Symmetrical homes are more likely to have dormers breaking through the roofline, and may also be distinguished by balconies off the second floor windows. The Perinton Historical Society of Fairport, N.Y., says dormers can be arched, gabled, or hipped. Steven Randel, writing for the home design site Houzz, says asymmetrical French Eclectic homes tend to have multiple eave lines as well as a large, pronounced chimney.

The entrance is sometimes a fairly simple affair, but in other homes it can be quite pronounced. McAlester says symmetrical French Eclectic homes are more likely to have details such as pilasters and pediments surrounding the entrance. Fittingly, French doors are a frequent part of the design.

Casement and double-hung windows are common, with casement windows sometimes including small leaded panes. Shutters are often included in the design.

French Eclectic homes use a variety of materials for siding, but the most common are brick, stone, or stucco. The site Old House Web says decorative half-timbering, which mimics a construction style where the timber frame of a home's exterior is visible, is sometimes part of the façade.

Similarly, a variety of building materials are used for other purposes. Randel says the roof might use materials such as slate, tile, or wood.

The flexibility of the French Eclectic style allows these homes to be very distinct from one another. The style is also more complex than many others, which helps boost the construction costs and narrow its use to more high-end homes.

The French Eclectic style began to fade out of use after World War II. However, it has re-emerged on a more modest scale in recent decades.


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