The Shingle Style: Getting the Details Right

What eventually became known as the Shingle Style first appeared in this country in the late 1800s, promulgated by architects such as McKim Mead and White, Bernard Maybeck and William Ralph Emerson. One of the first noted projects of this style was the Victor Newcomb house of 1880 in Elberon, N.J., designed by McKim Mead and White. The Shingle Style has been a popular American architectural style throughout the 1900s, often seen in the form of vacation homes around seaside communities of the Northeast but also in other regions of the country from New England to California.

These houses are characterized by irregular floor plans; moderately sloped multi-gabled, hipped and gambrel roof forms; single-story porches bordered with columns; dormers; double-hung windows with plain trim boards; prominent corbeled chimneys; and shingle-sided faades. The informal, yet elegant, arrangement of building forms often was asymmetrical compositions with various parts working harmoniously.

Living and working in a small coastal community in the Northeast, I often take inspirational strolls through neighboring seaside communities and visually study much of the turn-of-the-century architecture. The northern New Jersey shoreline once was dotted with numerous fine examples of original Shingle Style homes designed by prominent period architects. Several of these homes were the summer cottages of wealthy Wall Streeters who vacationed on the Jersey Shore during the summer months. Some of these original Shingle Style homes were at one time tastefully renovated or remodeled. Others have been demolished throughout the years making room for newer homes.

A great deal of these newer homes have been beautifully detailed and meticulously crafted in the spirit of the Shingle Style. However, there are countless examples of homes that seem to miss their mark. The components of the style are present, yet the proportions and scale are off; rooflines tend to look busy and unresolved leaving a disorganized appearance. Today, even though the style remains strong, oftentimes the individual components within the Shingle Style vocabulary become misused and improperly organized. Columns often are arranged improperly, the proportion and scale frequently appear awkward, and details seem to be unresolved, leading to uncomfortable faade compositions and unbalanced elevations.


This pertains not only to new construction but to the remodeling industry, as well. Components, such as column arrangement, overhangs and cornices, porches and porticos, eaves and soffits, etc., not only apply to the Shingle Style, but to various other traditional American styles, such as Bungalow, Craftsman and Prairie. Careful consideration should be taken when organizing the various forms and components that are to be incorporated. Very often the correct solution is just as cost-effective as the incorrect one. Throughout the years I’ve seen countless examples of new or remodeled homes where a tremendous amount of money has been invested on detailing and trim, only to find the details and forms implemented left the house with a very unsettled appearance.


One of the most common examples I see is incorrect column placement and the relationship of the column to the entablature, or beam above. The column often is placed too far in or too far out from the entablature. The worst case is on a corner detail where the relationship of the column to the beam above is even inconsistent from one side to the other, making for a very sloppy appearance. The proper alignment of the column shaft to the entablature above should not cost any more than the various incorrect installations. Oftentimes, it will take only some additional field coordination during the rough framing phase. If the foundation and framing are aligned properly, it should all fall into place correctly.

Following some basic design fundamentals and proper coordination from plan to execution in the field should enhance most designs. Careful consideration of how the elements relate to one another in scale and character will make your project more successful.