The Unique Appeal of French Creole Homes
French Creole architecture is one of the most prominent building styles of the Old South. This stately form is recognizable on homes of all sizes, and immediately evokes the South’s vibrant past. Although it is called “French” Creole, the style draws from a mix of other cultures, including Spanish, African, and Native American.
The French Creole style is most easily distinguished by generous front porch galleries which usually span the length of the house, fronted by light wooden colonettes. What usually makes a French Creole porch stand out is the fact that the building’s roof extends all the way across the porch, instead of stopping at the edge of the house and then changing its angle slightly to cover the porch. Most French Creole homes are also built up to avoid seasonal river floodwaters and hurricanes – the main rooms in these homes are placed well above grade, while ground level rooms are used for a variety of non-essential purposes – for this reason, French Creole homes are also known as “tidewater” homes. A broad staircase connects upper floor galleries with the ground level, and acts an extension of the main entrance. French Creole homes are also characterized by heavy timber construction, occasionally with an infill of mud or brick. A unique building material, known as bousillage, was also pioneered in the construction of French Creole homes – it was comprised of moss, animal hair, and mud. Many homes in this style were also distinguished by multiple French doors, and extremely steep angle braces.
There are also a variety of commercial and urban interpretations of the French Creole style. French Creole cottages in downtown New Orleans stand flush with the property and generally have no gallery. Townhouses of this style included a low mezzanine-type storage area known as the entresol between the first and second floor, and a wide carriage passage connecting the street to the building’s main courtyard. Many buildings of this type can still be seen in New Orlean’s French Quarter.
French Creole homes originated in New Orleans in the early 1700s, and quickly spread across the south as builders looked for a practical yet attractive style for this region’s humid subtropical climate. “Creole” refers to a people of mixed French and West Indies or Latin American heritage who live in the Gulf of Mexico region.
Original French Creole homes provide some of the most attractive examples of residential architecture in the South, from small cottages to large plantation estates.