Defining Style: Federal/Adam

Jeff Smith

The Federal style is an adaptation of the more practical Georgian style, and the difference is in the details. The style emerged after the Revolutionary War, and refrained from citing the obvious Georgian influence to avoid any reference to King George. Originally adapted by two brothers surnamed Adam, the Federal style is likely to have delicate features and an array of flourishes inspired by Greek and Roman monuments. Like its Georgian predecessor, Federal style typically features symmetrical rows of windows around a centered door. Designs commonly are differentiated by Palladian windows and include embellishments such as a semicircular fanlight over the front door, circular or elliptical accent windows, and decorative swags, garlands and moldings.


Federal/Adam houses frequently feature clapboard as the dominant exterior cladding. Durable vinyl siding clapboard comes in a variety of configurations including 3″ to 8″ reveals. Beaded and Dutchlap styles are also used.


Cladding shapes are not typical for the Federal/Adam style. In rare cases, shakes or shingles may be found as the primary exterior cladding.


Historically, a light to medium palette was common in all colors except reds, greens and browns. Modern interpretations incorporate a much broader variety of colors, including deeper hues. Vinyl siding offers a diverse and attractive color palette, including more than 350 colors certified for color retention.

Trim and Accessories:

A wide selection of trim and accessories are available for use with vinyl and other polymeric siding. Options suited for Federal/Adam style include a heavy cornice with crown, medallions or dentil molding on fascia or frieze [or both]; decorative front door surrounds with elliptical or half-round fanlight transoms and head trim, or triangular or broken pediments and pilasters; window crowns with keystone trim, or pediments and lineals; band boards at foundation; beaded soffit; roof balustrade; and shutters.

Customizing Style:

To emphasize the clean lines and delicate details inspired by the Federal/Adam style, designers use vinyl siding, trim and accessories. Traditional characteristics are being realized with a new sense of durability and beauty thanks to vinyl and other polymeric siding.

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