Dutch Colonial Revival with flared eaves

This Dutch Colonial Revival home has flared eaves, a shed dormer and an end chimney with a sailing ship metal cutout.


Interestingly, Dutch Colonial Revival style didn’t get its name directly from Holland or even Colonial architecture. Instead, it refers to the 17th-century Dutch colonists who settled in coastal New York and New Jersey. They brought with them their unique and distinctive recipe for roof design, namely the Dutch gambrel. The gambrel roof offers two different roof pitches: one very steep and the other very shallow. This concept maximizes usable floor space in what would otherwise be a traditional, unusable attic.

Interest in the use of this roof style waned in the early 19th century, but revived as a subset of the popular Colonial Revival movement between 1890 and 1930.

Considered a romantic style because of its overall low profile and comfortable scale, Dutch Revival was popular with the American public as evidenced by its proliferation in suburban developments pre- and post-World War I.

The unique roof shape quickly distinguished them from their gable- and hip-roofed neighbors. Most homes of this style are 1 1/2 or 2 stories in height, with wood clapboard or cedar shingle siding. The use of brick or stone was unusual.

The core of the exterior elevation is often symmetrical, but the wings often deviate from the symmetry for porches and side entries.

Iron Medallion of Dutch Sailing Vessel.jpg

An iron medallion of a Dutch sailing vessel is one of the characteristics of a home with Dutch Colonial Revival design.

The massive masonry chimneys are typically located on the ends of the structure and decorated with a metal cutout of Dutch sailing ships or a large letter representing the family’s surname.

Traditionally, dormers serve as an extension of the upper, shallow-pitched roof. The dormers are built as single elements or as a shed, collecting many dormers into one.

Dutch Colonial on West Chestnut; former home of C. Emlen Urban.

From 1923 to 1927, famed Lancaster architect C. Emlen Urban once lived at this Dutch Colonial Revival home on West Chestnut Street. It was built circa 1920.

Shutters are common on the upper and lower stories, and will often have a decorative cutout on the upper panel. The cutout may be the silhouette of a tree, ship or moon.

The style’s popularity was further enhanced by its availability as a “mail-order” house design offered by Sears & Roebuck and the other mail-order companies of the 1920s and ’30s,

World War II marked the end of the “gambrel rush.” Its complicated roof framing was not aligning with the postwar efforts to provide fast and affordable housing for returning GIs and their families. Lancaster offers many examples of Dutch Colonial Revival architecture, particularly in neighborhoods established between 1900 and 1940.

Where does the name gambrel come from?

The root of the name is “gamba,” Latin for the shape of a horse’s hind leg.

Did the gambrel roof design save on house owners’ taxes?

Yes. During the 1700s, the houses with a gambrel roof were taxed as a single-story residence.

What other building types use the gambrel roof design?

Gambrel roof designs are found on barns, historic churches, Colonial inns and certain retail and civic buildings.

This column is contributed by Gregory J. Scott, FAIA, a local architect with more than four decades of national experience in innovation and design. He is a member of the American Institute of Architects’ College of Fellows. Email GScott@rlps.com.

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