The Greek Revival in American architectural history can be traced to a man in the 1790s named Benjamin. Nope, not Benjamin Franklin. This Benny was named Latrobe and he holds the unofficial title of being the first professional architect in the United States. This was at a time when nearly everybody was an amateur architect by necessity. One must suppose that Thomas Jefferson might deserve the title of America’s first professional architect if he’s build more and had he not so many other things on his mind.
At any rate, the Greek Revival of Benjamin Latrobe created a sensation that spread throughout Philadelphia and then throughout the new nation from Maine to Georgia. When Latrobe wrote a book about Greek design and architecture, it was possible for many of those amateurs to try their hand at creating a house that might have looked at home in Athens.
The primary thing to keep in mind if you want to be one of those who has been inspired by the Greek Revival given us by Benjamin Latrobe is that when it comes to all things Greek, it’s a situation of all things temple-like. Pillars, pediments and porticos are the keywords of Greek Revival. The gabled end of what was then the standard architectural design was simply turned forward and the front of the house became a statement of some ostentation.
Ostentation still rules the roost of Greek Revival architecture. You can’t have a Greek revival home without columns so just start saving more if you don’t have enough of the green stuff to pull off at least two columns and preferably more. The doorway is the real essence of the attention given to the front of the house by the columns. The more imposing the front doorway can be, the better. There is no such thing as a detail that is out of proportion to the rest of the house. You can have huge columns on even a tiny house and as long as the rest of the entryway is decorative adorned, you can pull Greek Revival. Front windows should be taller and wider. The door itself is usually the centerpiece of the Greek Revival Southern Edition house, but the Greek Revival up north often had the door situated to the side.
Molding under the columns should be decorated with relief blocks that are spaced like teeth or the fins of a comb. Simple Greek geometrical designs work best, but sometimes you will see a floral design carved in very shallow relief. The variations between Southern Greek and Northern Greek extended to the size of the portico. The portico in the south became the expansive veranda while some smaller homes to the north did not even include a portico in their plans. You can go the northern route, but, well, seriously…why?