Architectural Styles

American 4 Square

American 4 Square

Also known as: Prairie Box

The American Foursquare is a style well suited to urban life. It is a distinctly American styled home whose simple and straight-forward symmetrical design yielded roomy interior space that made use of every inch on confined city lots. In many respects, the Foursquare is almost what typifies the “All-American Home”, and was a simple design in large part reacting from the overly-ornate Victorian and other Revival architectural styles that were popular in the mid to late-19th century.

The design style was particularly popular with mail-order homes and was a big seller for Sears and Roebucks and other catalog companies and home-build kit companies such as Sterling Homes, Bennet, Aladdin and Gordon Van Tine. Stylistically, the American Foursquare shared similar aesthetic and design ideas with Prairie style homes and architecture, and their construction heyday overlapped, from the late-1890s to the mid-1930s.

The American Foursquare style home was popular throughout the Midwest. Many of them were constructed across Illinois and many areas of Chicago, Cicero, Oak Park, and Forest Park all have fine examples of American Foursquares that have endured through today. Below are some design and architectural elements that helped to define the style:

  • Square or slightly rectangular box shape
  • Two and half floors, with four rooms on the first and second floor in a symmetrical box layout. Larger homes might have more rooms, but they were still symmetrical in layout. Foursquares typically were built over full basements.
  • Attic dormer centered in the front of the home with a monitor roof, one which mimics the lines of the main roof.
  • Shallow, low-hip roofs, often with Prairie style deep overhangs.
  • Covered front porch that extends across the entire face of the home. Front doors were often centered on the porch to emphasize the symmetry of the style.

American Foursquares were common in nearly every construction material, and examples can be seen in brick, stone, concrete blocks, stucco and siding. American Foursquares also allowed easy integration of other architectural styles, so the addition of bay windows, shutters, and symmetrical towers could make a Foursquare appear to be a Queen Anne, or the use of exposed roof rafters and structural wood members combined with built-in cabinets and hand-crafted woodwork could emphasize the Craftsman style.

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