Starter-home workhorses include the Cape Cod and the Colonial, designs that have been around for centuries. Later styles, such as the ranch and split-level, evolved as cars and televisions became everyday features of middle-class life. No matter what the form, starter homes were meant to be functional, affordable, and easy to build.
Cape: Around since 1710, it was built by ship carpenters to resist ocean gales. "The Cape is the most simple building in American residential history, four walls with a relatively steep roof and a door in the middle," said Lester Walker, author of "American Homes, An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Domestic Architecture." Its simple design lent itself to mass production, and Capes sprang up in subdivisions built after WWII for veterans eager to start families.
Colonial: Dating to the 1600s, the Colonial enjoyed revivals in the 1920s and the 1950s. The Colonial is popular again today as buyers gravitate toward larger homes. Sometimes built with a gambrel roof and sometimes a garrison style with a second-floor overhang that allows for more space upstairs, a Colonial is typically larger and more expensive than a Cape.
Ranch: Born in California and the Southwest, the ranch swept the nation around 1950 because, like the Cape, it was easy to mass-produce in post-WWII subdivisions. Its one-story, rambling design could accommodate a carport or a garage, and the ranch could have a porch or patio built off any room. Said Walker, "It was the height of California cool."
Split-level: the 1960-era design reflected America's love affair with TV. Besides living rooms, split-levels had family rooms where children could watch cartoons while parents enjoyed peace and quiet elsewhere. "People wanted to get the kids out of the living room," Walker said.
The Three-decker: Also known as the triple-decker, it began springing up along streetcar lines in 1890 as a new form of multi family housing for immigrants and factory workers. Three-deckers would later be recognized as one of New England's most distinctive contributions to residential architecture. First-time homeowners would buy a three-decker, live in one apartment, and rent out the other two - as they still do today.