The colonial style evolved from the European influences of immigrants, dating back to the 1600s and maintains a lasting influence even today. It brought the styles, techniques and traditions of early American settlers from England and throughout Europe, and settled in what we now refer to as Colonial America. Using what materials were available, the colonists built homes to meet the year-round demands of the climate.
Over time, the colonial style became distinct in different regions of the United States. While it flourished mainly in two regions – the Northeast and the South – builders began to tweak the styles to give birth to several other recognized regional housing styles that express the original colonial influences. These distinct styles evolved into New England Colonial, German Colonial, Spanish Colonial, Dutch Colonial, Georgian Colonial, French Colonial and Cape Cod, which you can read about in more detail here.
The colonial style is mostly traced back to the influence of architects during the reconstruction of England following the fire of 1666 and was based partly on Roman and Greek ruins. Several architects – like the Italian Andrea Palladino – influenced British architects like Christopher Wren, James Gibbs and Robert Adam during the rebuilding of London.
Because of those influences, colonial-style homes share several characteristics. The most common are based on square floor plans and the use of symmetry. The other traits include a central entry door and interior stairs, rooms branching off of a central hallway, and straight rows of windows on both the first (often two on each side of the door) and second floors. Other characteristics include columns, paired chimneys, and steeply-pitched roofs. You can view examples of these characteristics here on Houzz.com.
While the colonial style of architecture is somewhat ubiquitous across the United States, it has also left a continuous influence on many other types and subtypes of homes.