6 of the Best Classical Architects People Should Copy

Hi Everyone,

Oh man, the designs for my place are taking FORever!

Interior design is not easy to do.

That is if someone wants something special and to avoid catastrophes like this.


Of course, there’s a LOT in between something spectacular and a total train wreck.


By the way, if you DO enjoy a good trainwreck, please visit Kate Wagner’s gut-busting McMansion Hell for a rollicking afternoon of “they’ve-gotta-be-kidding” fun.


However, please don’t go too far away because there’s the 180 opposite here of what I think is sublime beauty in the realm of architecture and especially as it applies to residential interiors.


Of course, jaw-dropping interiors are usually 100% custom, and therefore expensive. It’s costly, not only for the execution and materials but for the design work itself.

I feel that I have enough training and experience to at least come up with a good design for my own job. However, some modifications are substantial enough that will require the services of a structural engineer to work with us. Hopefully, we’ll be able to make that staircase hug the back wall of the living room.


To that end, there is a TON of research I am doing.


I learned, for example, that in the state of Massachusetts, for the type of dwelling I live in,  I can get away with a tread length of 9 inches and a riser height at max 8.25″. This means I can save 15″ in the total length of the staircase.


However, I also discovered something the other day that’s working in my favor.

I realized that the measurements as written on the master floorplan are correct; however, the drawing itself is NOT correct.

The lower level was drawn a foot short. Believe me, I went back and remeasured to make sure, and yep, they short-changed me an entire foot, and it was in the huuuuuuge walk-in closet, which is even more huuuuuuge than indicated on the original drawing, above.


But, here’s the beauty of this.


Between my realization that I can get away with a small stair size and the additional foot, I don’t think that I’ll need to move the den door over. In addition, we can avoid having to relocate one of the beams supporting the fireplace. However, that one is definitely way beyond me. And, actually, beyond the scope of architects as well. That’s where the structural engineer comes in.


I’ll leave it at that, for now. But, suffice it to say that I’m very much enjoying the design process and very happy with how it’s coming along.


However, like most of us, I go to the masters for ideas and inspiration in all of my designs.


I realized years ago that I naturally gravitated towards classical architecture and design.

I don’t know where that came from because I was raised in a cornfield in Indiana. However, I’m not one to question a great gift I was given. Thank you, God.

So, today, I have a special treat for you.


I am featuring six of my favorite classical architects in the USA.


But, what is it about their work that makes them “classical?”

It’s pretty simple. They are all masters of the classical architectural idiom. They fully understand proportion and one other important factor amongst many.



I’m a firm believer that it’s the details of the space that separate the mediocre from the sublime.


We’ll be going over that in great uhhh, detail, shortly. However, for one of my favorite posts that discusses the basics of classical architecture, please check it out here.

And for a post going over perfect architectural proportions, please go here.


Okay, back to the six great classical architects.


And, except for my number one choice, the others are not in any particular order.

However, I’m going to begin with the only one I actually know from having spent three days with him on a tour five years ago in High Point. You can read about that here and see William in the group shot in the lower right corner.


William T. Baker from Atlanta, Georgia.


However, he introduced himself to me as “Bill.” I’m embarrassed now to say that I had no idea who he was. He is just that unassuming, humble, and super nice. One day, I sat next to him on our tour, and in his charming, southern gentlemanly demeanor, he asked me all about my blog. Poor guy. lol

In the years after that, I’ve come across his incredible work many times. And, then it hit me. Wait. I know him!


Please enjoy three vignettes from William Baker’s gorgeous rooms below.


William T Baker -Conner_classical architects - elegant fireplace mantel

An elegant fireplace mantel surround. The gorgeous styling is by interior designer, Patricia McLean


William T Baker - classical architects - Carter-dining-room-mantel

I believe this is in a dining room decorated by Phoebe Howard.

Yes! Good job, Laurel!


William T Baker Jacksonville estate - Carter-dining-room-niche
This looks to be another detail from the same lovely dining room.


William has also written several beautiful books on interior design. You can find them here.

For William T Baker’s complete portfolio, please go here.

You can also follow Bill Baker on Instagram here.


Next on my list of great American Classical Architects is Donald Lococo.


Donald Lococo is a frequent collaborator with another favorite of mine, Darryl Carter. Together, their interiors are magical. And, while I’ve never met Donald, twice, he’s found my blog post and thanked me for sharing his work. It’s quite rare, and I never expect that to happen but greatly appreciated.

You can see other examples of Donald’s work here. Most of these are collaborations with Darryl Carter.


Donald Lococ Architects City Home masterful kitchen design

Masterful kitchen design by Donald Lococo. I chose this image because I adore the crown moulding. Please notice how it goes out over the ceiling. This gives an optical illusion that the ceiling is higher than it is. However, vertically, the moulding is actually not that large.

This post goes over some rules for selecting crown moulding and other interior trim.


Donald Lococo Architects - Darryl Carter design_American-Tudor

In this  American Tudor home, Donald once again collaborated with Darryl Carter, and the results, I think are sublime.

To view Donald Lococo’s entire portfolio, please go here. Donald also works in a classic modern style.

Also, please follow Donald Lococo’s Instagram here.


The Third of Six Classical Architects is Douglas Vanderhorn


Doug’s work is primarily in Fairfield County, Connecticut. You know, (or maybe you don’t), the affluent towns of Greenwich, Darien, New Canaan, and some of the most expensive real estate in the world. His pool houses are legendary.


Of interest, many of Douglas’ homes are quite large.


And yet, they never would be called McMansions. His skill is so amazing; he can make a huge home feel warm and approachable.

A couple of years ago, I went on a garden tour with my wonderful friend, Deborah Von Donop, in Greenwich, Ct. You can see the post from the tour here. Well, a few weeks later, I got a message on Instagram from Douglas inquiring if he could use *my* photo on his feed?


photo - LBI - Douglas Vanderhorn Architects - Greenwich home
Oh my, was I flattered!!! Of course. Help yourself!

So, another super-nice and phenomenally talented classically-trained architect. Please enjoy a few images I selected of Douglas Vanderhorn’s beautiful work.


classical-revival-Douglas Vanderhorn architects - classical entry


Douglas Vanderhorn Architects - classical architecture living room


Douglas Vanderhorn Architects - classical architecture - stunning dining room - French doors

All of Douglas’ rooms have perfect proportions and gorgeous classical detailing. The French doors look exactly like what I have in mind for my living room.


The next of the classical architects is James F. Carter.


JamesFCarter instagram - beautiful architectural drawing


James F Carter via his Instagram – beautiful architectural drawings

James is originally from Alabama. However, his practice is focused primarily on the east coast and also New England.


James Carter_classical architects - beautiful home
The classical home above is one of my favorite projects of his. But, everything he does is absolutely perfect.

The gorgeous house above is reminding me of this post about painted brick.


James Carter_classical architects - exterior detail

A detail of the portico showing classical motifs.


James Carter_classical architects - classical entry - black and white floor

The wonderful, beautifully restrained, classical, yet warm and approachable entry.


James Carter_classical architects- entry - classical-house

And, a view from the other side.


Veranda James Carter green library

Via Veranda James F Carter green library or study from the same home.


You can see more of James F Carter in this post from last year.

For James’ complete and exquisite portfolio, please go here.

Also, please follow James F Carter on Instagram here.


Number five on my list of six American Classical Architects is Charles Hilton.


Charles is another classical architect located in Greenwich, Connecticut. No worries. Classic homes proliferate in southwestern New England like crazy. There is plenty of work for all who are so talented. And, Charles definitely belongs in this group.

Hilton Architects bedroom


Hilton architects detail fireplace mantel


Hilton Architects - stunning classical bathroom

I am completely in awe of the stunning detailing in this gorgeous bathroom by Charles Hilton.

You can see his complete portfolio here.


And, please follow Hilton Architects on Instagram, here.


And, drum roll for my number one pick of the classical architects is no surprise since I’ve featured his work dozens of times.


You can see many of the posts featuring Gil Schafer’s work here.


Gil Schafer, can do no wrong in my book. In fact, his work keeps getting better and better, if that’s even possible.

His website recently went through a major overhaul and includes many new projects. He also gets top marks for the best photography, as well.

Below are a few select images that demonstrate why I adore his work so much.


Gil Schafer - moulding-cabinetry-classical architects

This, right here.


gpschafer-mcg-jupiter-classical architects - classical fireplace mantel


And, finishing with another brilliant fireplace mantel design by Gil Schafer. The above mantel is very similar to the design I am envisioning for my new mantel.

One day!

Please also follow Gil Schafer Architects on Instagram.

And for proper fireplace mantel proportions, please go here.


I hope you enjoyed this post about six of my favorite classical architects.


Please know, of course, there are many other architects whose work I adore, both in the US and elsewhere. However, I felt this was a good place to start.

Are there some fantastic classical architects that you’d like to share with us? I need to discourage your adding links, but please feel free to share names and other information.



PS: Please check out the newly updated HOT SALES. There’s still time to shop for Father’s Day, as well. And, also, you’ll be able to see some early Prime Day sales. Amazon Prime Day is June 21-22nd.


28 Responses

  1. Hi Laurel,
    Well, I guess I got lucky here in Ohio. I had the ugliest 70’s staircase..open tread, etc. A Mennonite finish carpenter rebuilt it into the most beautiful classical staircase..with a pencil behind his ear and scrap paper for notes. I may have already sent you this email.. because I feel so lucky.. I want to put him on a plane with his pencil, ruler, and scrap paper and send him to you for 2 months..
    Let me just say, and i know you know this already, it’ll be worth it when you are done..

  2. Hi, Laurel.
    Thank you for sharing these talented architects! When I got to the content from James F. Carter I was blown away! Totally speechless. I have never seen (or noticed) such attention to detail. The details of the white brick house, oh, my! It appears to have working shutters. The proportion of the shutters to the windows is what caught my eye. And those beautiful round gutters neatly tacked down and terminated in some sort of below ground drainage system instead of dumping out to a splash block.

    Continuing to the inside and the image labeled “View from the other side”, there is a clever little door under the stair. I also have a little door under the stair, but HIS door has the same trim on the bottom as on the walls, and the doorknob is much smaller and less obtrusive so the entire door blends visually into the wall. I’ll definately be perusing his portfolio tonight.

  3. Laurel – love this post. For those in need of beautiful classic homes I suggest a trip to Newport, RI. Please check out the work of Wilson Fuqua in Dallas. He did Cathy Kincaid’s home and he has a wonderful classic aesthetic you would appreciate. I have recommended the book you featured once “How to Get your House Right” to many people, including designers.

  4. I agree that compromising on your stairs will be a HUGE mistake. I had a staircase just like that and slipped and fell a few times. You don’t want to be carrying anything in your hands, especially future grandbabies on that staircase.

    I also thought about some of the homes I’ve visited in Amsterdam where not only are the treads short and narrow, but the entire staircases are almost vertical. It wasn’t bad going up, but coming down is heart stopping. At the very bottom of one of the staircases, there was a full glass door about 3 feet directly in front of the last step. I got goosebumps just recalling that nightmare.

    Best wishes on your new home. You do such a fabulous job and I look forward to, and enjoy your blog

  5. Hi, Laurel!

    I am in LOVE with the beautiful house on the main page of the post…Golden Ratio 1/3, 1/3 1/3…can you tell we have been doing a summer drawing class with our boys and just talked about proportion in landscape?!!
    I got rid of my house with stairs, so no suggestions, but I remember as a child visiting Monticello and the guide saying how Jefferson hated stairs taking up space…so his were 2 feet wide, and no one was allowed up them because they were so unsafe (at least that’s what I remember…) Your posts are always so lovely, thanks for another treat!

  6. I dislocated my shoulder when I slipped on narrow, steep basement stairs similar to the ones you describe.

  7. Absolutely adore the mantle in that green library of James Carter. So beautiful! I so wanted a Royal Barry Wills house when looking for a new old house but it was not to be. He’s a native of Massachusetts and his firm is still in existence today. I adore his cape ramblers.

  8. Hello Laurel, Your careful phrasing made me think that legal tread sizes are not necessarily the safest or most comfortable ones. This is one issue I would research a lot (I know you already have) before making a decision.

    Speaking of Fairfield County, last night I was looking at a map of Fairfield County in Ohio, and noticed a community call N. Berne (too small to be counted in census), and near it was another place called Laurelville (population 527), so of course I thought of you.

  9. Beautiful examples of classical architecture Laurel – great post to bookmark! There is an excellent book you might like by Marianne Cusato & Ben Pentreath called Get Your House Right. The book helps to articulate why a house feels right (or wrong) or why it appears to be an unconvincing imitation. It covers everything – far too extensive to list here – in a very approachable way. Also re: stairs; our mass-build townhouse has almost exactly those proportions and has caused more than a few slips & tumbles. We added a bit of depth to the tread when we renovated, which helped, but I still hit the back of my leg frequently trying to ensure I’m on solid footing. It’s not a natural gait at all.

  10. Thank you for this post on classical architecture. I live in Carmel CA and I can’t watch McMansion Hell bc it reminds me of all the terrible architecture here! We have a Butterfly House that looks like the Flying Nun and it sold for a ridiculous price a few years ago…..it is truly awful. The Carmel cottages are sweet but the McMansions are a nightmare.

  11. I agree with Madonna (and others) with regard to the tread length of 9 inches and a riser height at max 8.25″…perhaps draft your sons to go with you to a nearby building which has those stair dimensions, and try going up and down stairs (while carrying items you might carry in your home).

    In terms of architects, I loved an “Adams” style house Ken Tate designed in Mississippi (Southern Living, March 1990). He has published multiple books on classical architecture.

    I have also enjoyed the work of Russell Versaci (Creating a New Old House, Roots of Home) whose work ranges from beautiful classic custom homes, down to his 550 square foot Southern Piedmont “Pennywise” plan (Southern Living, October 2012) with its timeless 19th-century details (for those of us with a bit smaller budgets).

  12. Laurel, thank you for improving my taste level. This is precisely the sort of posting which trains my eye. I am loving it. I knew homes I’ve seen all over America were just wrong, but it is wonderful to see the beautiful ones. Unfortunately, I will be lucky to have the simplest of homes when I move back to uber expensive California. But looking for something with even the hint of these sumptuous details will help me find a little jewel. My two homes here in Michigan are both well proportioned in the main and have nice moldings everywhere. The Tudor I used to own was perfectly proportioned, especially on the main level. I will be renting in CA until the market stops rocking and rolling. Many thanks to you for both validating my style eye and elevating it.

    I agree with the warnings about stair proportions.

  13. Your link to bad architecture was too funny. The unfortunate thing about building a new home is that you are not afforded the opportunity to live in a space and learn what makes sense for the space. I would be curious to know how much emphasis is placed on the history of architecture in today’s architects. Just because you can create it in Autocad does not make it good. I adore your sense of humor and have enjoyed the “education” that you provide and exposure to styles that I never would have considered. Thank you.

  14. Good morning Laurel,
    I can’t believe I’m saying this but I’m 67yrs old & have never been inside a home with classic architecture.
    I’m obviously not living right. It’s going on my bucket list immediately!

  15. Laurel, I know from your posts that your kids are really tall, which nearly always translates into large feet! You might consider how your tallest boy would manage to clamber down the stairs. It’s no problem going up, but when the treads are short, it is difficult coming down. Have your sons practice coming down short treads and see if 9 inch treads make sense.

    1. Hi Madonna,

      Please forgive me. The actual length of the treads is 10 inches. That is because there’s an overhang of about an inch. However, the stairs are measured from the end of the nose to the end of the other nose below it, which is 9 inches. The codes are extremely conservative.

  16. Love the work of all of these classical architects! I would add James Crisp (Millbrook, NY) and second Patrick Ahearn! I also love the work of the architects at Historical Concepts.

  17. What a lovely post, as usual. I have some similar moulding in my home, that turns flat on the ceiling. It does give a sumptuous look!
    Please don’t compromise your rise and run ratio on your steps, the unsafe feeling will surely mimic the spiral death stair! I have walked away from beautiful homes
    for just such an issue. In fact, I almost purchased an 1800 era home that had been moved from Massachusetts to NC, and rebuilt stick by stick. It was glorious, but the stairs were a true hazard, and we would have to had ripped them out and brought them into our century! Don’t go backwards!! Of course, I am
    Not getting any younger, so I think a lot about ease of use in my home.
    Love your blog and all that you share with us!

  18. I love your blog and read it faithfully. Yes you are correct, if your condo is a one or two family building the tread height allowed is 8.25 inches here in Massachusetts. I will caution you however from personal experience as we get older that height is a hard one to manage!

  19. Good morning Laurel, Darlene’s comment above is very apropos. I have and old “back shed attic stair” in my living room that goes to my office. very short treads and high risers and not so safe, but maybe safer than the open circular stairs you have. fun read once again, beautiful photos of beautiful homes.

  20. Hey Laurel,
    I love following along with your plans for your magnificent Boston home. If you choose to use a nonstandard stair to tread ratio to save 15”, please consider how it’s going to feel. We’re not used to steep stairs with smaller treads and I can speak from experience when I say it feels off and is perhaps less safe. We were allowed to do something similar in our old house and I can only say I’m glad it’s not our main staircase. I bang my Achille’s tendon area on every single step on the way down just to make sure my foot is securely on the tread. Just a thought.

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Hi, I’m Laurel, and Laurel Home is the website and blog for Laurel Bern Interiors.
I’ve been creating new-traditional interiors since 1988. The blog is where I share all.

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