The American Foursquare

Prospective buyers will want to give these simple homes a second look after you've pointed out their special features.

July 1, 2004

Practical and economical, American Foursquare houses are found in nearly every part of the United States and much of Canada. From Seattle to Miami, San Francisco to New York, they line the streets of older neighborhoods, providing comfortable, space-efficient housing for mostly middle-class families. Because they are so common, these houses are easy to overlook. However, there's more to the American Foursquare than meets the eye. To entice your prospective buyers, share some of these important Foursquare facts.

What is an American Foursquare?

The boxy houses we know as American Foursquare (or four-square) go by a variety of names. You may have heard the terms Denver Square, Seattle Box, Prairie Box, Box House, Double Decker, or Double Cube. As the names imply, these houses are almost perfectly square. Although there are regional variations, a Foursquare home typically has these features:

  • Two stories, with an attic and a full basement
  • Boxy shape
  • One-story porch across the front
  • Squat, pyramid-shaped roof
  • Single dormer at the center

The interior of an American Foursquare house echoes its box-like form. Typically, each floor contains four rooms, one neatly tucked into each corner. On the first floor you will find an entry foyer, living room, dining room, and kitchen. The second floor is an orderly arrangement of three bedrooms and, in one corner, a bathroom.

One-story houses with the same cubical shape and pyramidal roof also belong to the Foursquare family. You may find clusters of these "Workingman's Foursquare" homes in industrial towns built during and after World War I. Like their larger cousins, single-story Foursquares are symmetrical, uncomplicated, and inexpensive to build.

What Style Is a Foursquare?

A Foursquare house can wear many faces. Some homes are constructed with brick, stucco, or textured concrete blocks. Others are sided with clapboards, cedar shingles, or a combination of the two. Surface features and decoration (applied in moderation) may express a range of architectural styles. A Foursquare house with crisp white clapboard siding and black shutters is usually identified as a Colonial Revival. The same Foursquare shape takes on Queen Anne airs when it has bay windows and decorative brackets. Add stucco siding and a porch with stone columns, and the house resembles a Craftsman Bungalow. Indeed, the variety is endless: depending on the details, a Foursquare home may be Spanish Eclectic, French Provincial, Tudor, Neoclassical, or Art Deco.

Why So Square?

During Victorian times, the fashion was to build houses that were complex and often highly ornamented. Homes of the 1880s and 1890s often had irregular rooflines with several gables, asymmetrical arrangements of windows and doors, and complicated floor plans that required many hallways and stairways. By the turn of the century, however, homebuilders were seeking easier, more economical forms.

The classic Foursquare shape became an American standard in the early 1900s and dominated neighborhoods throughout the first decades of the 20th century. The square form made these houses especially practical for narrow city lots. Arranging the rooms in quadrants eliminated the need for long hallways and made efficient use of interior space. What's more, simple, symmetrical Foursquare homes were less costly to build than more complicated Victorians. Mail-order companies often favored no-fuss Foursquares for pre-cut "kit" homes. Sears Roebuck & Co. featured 15 Foursquare models, ranging from the unpretentious wood frame "Hamilton" to the Spanish Mission "Alhambra" with scalloped parapets.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Vision

Perhaps the most important information you can give prospective buyers about your Foursquare listing is the role America's favorite architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, played in its development. Wright and other popular Chicago architects rebelled against the fussiness and constraints of Victorian-era architecture. Seeking simplicity, they pioneered a new breed of housing designed to blend in with flat, prairie landscapes. Wright's "Prairie" houses had low ceilings, open interior spaces, and minimal decoration. The emphasis on square shapes and horizontal lines gave rise to the humble, unpretentious American Foursquare form.

Some Foursquare houses are considered vernacular subtypes of the Prairie style. Sided in concrete block or earth-toned stucco, they have wide eaves and long porches with thick, square pillars. Other Foursquare homes are distant cousins with only the low roof and boxy shape suggesting Wright's original vision. However, all Foursquare houses were built to meet the housing needs for a new century and changing lifestyles. Today, these uncomplicated, solidly built homes continue to express values many buyers seek.

Learn More

Old House Web: The American Foursquare
Architecture Coach: Mail Order Magic, April 2004


Residential Styles & Structural Elements


Cavetto is a concave molding that is a quarter-round. It is used for crown molding as a transition from wall to ceiling planes.