The Forgotten Architectural Style: National Folk

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National Folk I-House

The Forgotten Architectural Style: National Folk

Do you have a home that DOESN’T seem to fit into any of the popular architectural categories such as Craftsman, Victorian, Plantation, etc?

Yea.  So do we.

Our house is NONE of the above.  However, the architectural style of our home is extremely common here in the midwest.  It’s the kind of house you see on the side of a highway, or plopped smack dab into the middle of a neighborhood, not matching any of the neighboring homes.  A plain-jane house.  No frills, no fancy porch, no awesome features whatsoever.

Everyone talks about the most common styles such as ranch, craftsman, victorian…but no one really talks about “National Folk”.

What is National Folk?

National Folk is a style of construction that was most common in the late 1800’s, early 1900’s.  Folk houses are the earliest type of structure according to Virginia McAlester & Lee McAlester in A Field Guide to American Houses. The Folk category contains three different types of structures: Native American, Pre-Railroad, and National.

This style of home was typically built along railroad lines.  Builders were no longer limited to local resources, as sawmills were able to move their materials in bulk via the railroad.  Rail transportation transformed log and sod homes into wood-framed houses.  In the Midwest, the most popular styles of National Folk homes were the gable-front-and-wing house, two-story I-house, hall and parlor house, side-gabled and square pyramidal.  Most of these styles are seen in our tiny little town, that is located on the railway.

National Folk I-House

Photo courtesy of the Oklahoma Historical Society

National Folk homes were built with inexpensive, mass-produced materials.  The woodwork isn’t ornate since it is typically made of 1X4’s and 1X6’s.  They weren’t very expensive to build, and that made them great investment properties of the early 20th century.

Our I-House

Our home was built in 1910 and was originally a 4-room home.  We estimate that in the mid-1930s, the kitchen and a bathroom were built onto the rear of the house, about the time that indoor toilets were being introduced in our small town.  In about 1955, a laundry room and breakfast nook were added to the kitchen.  We assume that the rear addition to our upstairs was built about the same time.  That addition holds 2 bedrooms and a bathroom; making this a 4 bedroom, 2 bath house, with an enormous, oddly shaped living room, and odd kitchen alcove area.

When it was first built, it was an income property, according to the registrar of deeds in our county. Rented to railroad workers, and smelter employees from what we can gather from  We are the 4th owners since 1910.  The family before us raised their family here and did most of the additions.  They lived here for approximately 70 years.




She’s rough now, but she’s going to be beautiful.

In Progress:

We are unsure as to why the front door is off-center, as I-houses are typically symmetrical.


Painting finally begins since we found the porch!
National Folk I-House
A few areas to touch up, some landscaping; and I’d say the front will be done…for now.

Since I have lived here, we have exposed the original porch, and have added a much needed bigger window to the kitchen, and exposed the wood floor, and painted.  Oh my, how it needed painting!  The picture above is what the kitchen looked like before.  Yes, we salvaged the old cabinetry and reused it in our new kitchen. You can see the breakfast nook at the far right.  However, by the time I came along, it was no longer a breakfast nook, it was an odd-shaped room which held the stove only.

Here is that breakfast nook after we began our remodel.  I wanted to incorporate it into the rest of the kitchen, however, with gas lines, plumbing lines, and the main sewer line for the upstairs running down this wall, it just was not possible the remove the wall.  So we opened up the doorway as much as we could.  I love plaster walls, so we only removed enough plaster to open up the doorway, and to allow for a bigger window.

Smack dab in the middle of a remodel…what a change!

Oh, that floor.  I’m not a fan of painted floors.  I was dreaming of a beautifully stained floor, on the darker side to contrast the white cabinets.  However, we sanded and sanded this floor, tried staining….and you could still see the huge water stain from a leak LONG before I came into the picture.  I tried to go darker and darker until it was almost black.  I felt like it swallowed the light, but I really wanted to keep the wood floor.  So we decided to try paint.  It actually turned out great in my opinion.  We love it.  Check out how to repair a painted floor here.

Here is our kitchen now:

Please excuse the mess, we live here.  hahaha

This is phase 1 of our kitchen remodel.  We are going to be incorporating part of our wasted space in our laundry room VERY soon.  (Don’t worry, we will blog about it, and I promise to take better pictures!)  Our laundry area takes up 1/4 of the room, and it leaves a 10′ X 15′ dead area that’s used for storage, and we figured that space would be better used as part of the kitchen.  Our plan is to build more counter space and to incorporate the rest of the cabinets from the kitchen remodel.

7 thoughts on “The Forgotten Architectural Style: National Folk

    1. I had never heard of National Folk either until I realized this house didn’t fit into any category. I had never attempted a painted floor, either. Would I do it again? Absolutely. But only if I couldn’t save the original wood.

  1. Interesting. I think I have a National Folk house. I just called it “farmhouse”, but it’s not on a farm!

    Have you done a tutorial on painting the floors? My floors are pretty trashed throughout, so I’m looking for solutions!

    1. I had no clue what “National Folk” was either until I started researching “farmhouse”. Then it made sense. I am actually planning to post about our floors later this week. They were super simple to do, my knees ached for a week after, but so worth it.:) Stay tuned!

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