The Foursquare, or Box, is a type rather than a style. It is characterized by its cubic form and simple, economical floor plan.
The antecedents of the American Foursquare differ depending on your source. Its origin may lie in a cross-pollination of the waning Queen Anne style with the nascent emergence of the simplified Free Classic and the resurgent Colonial Revival style that became incredibly popular during the later half of the 1890s as a result of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition (also called the Chicago World's Fair). Versions of the Foursquare appeared in publications and plan books before 1900 so popularity being what it is, it wasn't long before savvy builders simplified the shape and detail making it affordable to the middle-class. As a farmhouse, it competed against the wing-and-gable type that was predominant across the US during the late 19th century.
It wouldn't have hurt that it was a square house of dependable proportions and solid, honest construction in a country where a square deal was offered by then President Theodore Roosevelt. From it's very beginning, it was perceived as an American type and style.
Initially, the most common plan was a formal entry with the stairs to the second floor, and a living room, dining room, and kitchen on the main floor. On the second floor, most plans had a bathroom in one quarter and three bedrooms, though four bedroom variants were common. The details were most often classical or Colonial and included simple Doric columns on the front porch, six- or eight-over-one windows, and a pyramidal roof sometimes seen with modillions or ornamental brackets. A 1/2- to full-width porch is also a standard feature.
From about 1905 to 1915, many Foursquares adopted the open floor plans of the bungalow-type homes. The essential configuration remained unchanged but instead of the traditional plan, the staircase is usually incorporated into the living room.
It is one of the most widely built, early 20th century house types for a variety of reasons. It is an extremely simple form, energy and resource efficient, easily standardized, and economical to build. All are key reasons for its popularity, but like a plain vanilla cake, it also took decorative details well.
The Foursquare type accepts a variety of different styles including Prairie and Craftsman. The Prairie Box usually has square columns, simpler but stronger horizontal lines evidenced by banded trim and ribbons of windows as well as stucco siding. A Craftsman version may have "artistic" design elements such as exposed rafters and clustered or battered porch pillars. The rooms are often spacious with built-in cabinetry, window seats, and buffets. A rare Spanish type is occasionally seen. The Alhambra by Sears was one example.
A smaller variant is the Classic Cottage which is usually a single story.
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