What is Federal?

Federal refers to an American architectural and interior design style that flourished from roughly 1780 to 1830.


Federal is a distinctive architectural and interior design style that emerged in the United States during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It is characterized by its adherence to the principles of neoclassicism, which was inspired by the classical Roman and Greek architecture. The style reflects the aspirations of the newly independent American republic, emphasizing symmetry, proportion, and the use of classical elements such as columns, pediments, and domed roofs in architecture.

In interior design, the Federal style is known for its elegant and refined decor, incorporating delicate furniture, pastel color palettes, and decorative motifs that include swags, garlands, and urns. Wallpapers and fabrics often feature these neoclassical motifs, with woodwork and moldings being finely crafted and abundantly used throughout interior spaces. Light and airy rooms, adorned with mirrors and fine artwork, are hallmarks of the style.

The Federal style represents a transition from the more ornamental Georgian style that preceded it, moving towards a simpler aesthetic that would later develop into the Greek Revival and Gothic Revival styles. While it is deeply rooted in classical traditions, the Federal style incorporates a uniquely American sensibility, making it a significant part of the country's architectural and interior design heritage.


Federal architecture is commonly seen in historic buildings, especially those that served as governmental or institutional structures during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In interior design, Federal-style homes often feature entryways with fanlight windows above the door, symmetrical room layouts, and classical furniture pieces. Decorative elements such as plaster ceiling medallions, ornate fireplaces, and built in bookcases also typify the style. Ongoing interest in Federal design has inspired contemporary interpretations, blending traditional elements with modern comfort and aesthetics.


  • How does Federal style differ from Georgian?

    The Federal style evolved from the Georgian style and is generally considered less ornate and more refined. Federal design focuses on symmetry, proportion, and classical motifs, while Georgian design has a heavier reliance on decorative embellishments and richer color schemes.

  • What are common features of Federal-style furniture?

    Federal-style furniture is known for its elegance and refinement, featuring straight lines, light construction, gently curving forms, and minimal decoration. Mahogany is a commonly used wood, and pieces often include inlays and veneers with motifs such as eagles, shells, and urns.

  • Is the Federal style still popular today?

    Yes, the Federal style remains popular, especially in the preservation and restoration of historic homes and buildings. It also influences contemporary interior design, where designers blend its classical elements with modern aesthetics for a timeless look.

Practical Application

To incorporate the Federal style into modern interiors, focus on symmetry and proportion in room layouts and furniture arrangements. Use classic motifs in wallpapers, fabrics, and decor, but keep the overall look light and refined. Choose furniture pieces that reflect the elegance of the era, and combine them with contemporary comforts. Embrace the style’s affinity for natural light by designing airy and well-lit spaces.