British vs. American design - what are the differences?

Emmeline Westin
6 years ago
Hi everyone!

I'm the Community Manager for Houzz UK - nice to meet you all! Now that Houzz has reached the UK we're of course very curious to hear your thoughts on British vs. American design.

Do you think there are any differences? Is British design more edgy? What characterises a true American look?

Share your thoughts and please feel free to upload photos to illustrate your examples!

Comments (29)

  • Vivienne Sung
    I know that our love of hyper-modern extensions on period properties here in the UK has sometimes surprised my US friends! This example from Found Associates springs to mind...
    Private Home in Chiswick, London · More Info

    Personally I LOVE the contrast between the old and the new :)
  • Emmeline Westin
    Bath is lovely, isn't it? I think you're right, there's definitely a focus on smaller spaces and making the most of what you've got. What would you say is a typical American look then?
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  • Nicola Bearman
    One thing I've noticed is there seems to be a big difference between kitchens in the US and kitchens in the UK. I think that kitchens in the UK are generally more simplistic and have cleaner lines, with everything hidden and tucked away where possible. US kitchens I've come across often seem to consist of a lot of detail and big fridge/freezers or cookers taking a prominent part in the design, for example:

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    It's interesting to see how different they are although maybe these are just at two different ends of the spectrum!
  • PRO
    Us Brits like integrated appliances ! maybe because in general our homes are smaller - although not all homes are small ! we have some whoppers over here too !! ( think Downton!!)
  • Vivienne Sung
    haha Downton abbey is definitely something else. I actually looked at it (Highclere Castle) for a wedding venue. I don't think too many of us having dining rooms like this though :)
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  • Bill Yockey
    To me, the British design is to use the things you already have, don't have matching set of furniture, it is alright to clash a little because it will work itself out, and new is not always better. When you do buy--buy things that are going to last,not the lastest trend. Also, use floral somewhere; wall, pillow, sheets, blinds, or pictures.
  • Emily H
    I would imagine that one big difference would be the age of homes in general? Not sure how it is outside of London, but when visiting it felt like you are much less likely to find new construction. As a fan of older homes, I LOVE that. Do you find that to be the case?
  • KD
    I'm very curious about this, because I lived in England for ten years and I still can't figure out what the difference is, but I can see that there often IS a difference. I would like to pin some elements of it down so I could maybe include some more British style touches in my little sitting room to remind me of the time I spent in the UK.
  • Vivienne Sung
    I think we tend to do a lot less "matching" - for me an iconicly British style is all about lots of layers with different personalities and having lots of complementary design, but very rarely perfectly matching stuff...
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    I guess the right word be eclectic :)
  • Emmeline Westin
    Age is definitely a big difference! Victorian and Georgian houses with their detailing can look amazing, but an old house also means that they're a bit draughty and not really adapted to the 21st century!

    I agree with Vivienne, more clashing than matching!

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  • poollover
    Age of property is a factor but there is also an obsession, mostly amongst builders and estate agents with the number of rooms in a house. Unfortunately houses are not usually advertised with square footage meterage or whatever quoted, therefore number of rooms has unfortunate prominence. Of course there are many buyers who like to say they have so many rooms but forget to mention that you couldn't swing a mouse (forget a cat) in any of them!
    When I bought my bungalow I immediately removed all the walls at the living end and combined the entrance hall living room dining area and kitchen into an open plan room. It's not to everybody's taste but we love open plan living. I love cooking and hate being exiled in a separate room. Anybody that visits treats my cooking as part of the entertainment
    We do have a seperate study as my other half works from home several days a week.
    I always enjoy opening the front door to new visitors, most say "wow", as it is different especially when we first did it 15 years ago, looking at the front of the house doesnt give any clues as to whats behind the front door, i love that too. A couple of people have said "how unusual" I think they are the ones who don't like open plan! Each to their own.

    One other difference, many builders/developers in the uk seem stuck in the late 19c and insist in re-creating what I call cutey cottage style even in areas that cry out for contemporary buildings. Very modern tends to be only available if you can afford millions in trendy areas. This is probably the fault of planning authorities as well, total lack of imagination.
    I would love to build from scratch but don't think we could get permission for what we want in the area we would like.
  • Jessica Kerry Mack
    I personally love reading "The English Home" magazine, and also get "The English Garden" magazine. I love English design, which I get naturally from my Mother who attended college in England right after the war. She told about how they were still cleaning up the craters from the bombings in London. I think there is a bigger sense of history and thrift in England. They tend to repair and reuse furniture and there seems to be less of a "disposable" mentality. There isn't the attitude my ex-husband had where you have to buy a whole suite of furniture so everything in the room matches. He thought that having pieces that didn't match was a sign you were either poor or a college student and totally did not understand buying antiques until I was able to show him the difference in quality between a true dovetailed drawer and a modern stapled one. A lot of Americans talk big about recycling, but in reality they would never consider repairing an appliance or piece of furniture instead of replacing it.
  • PRO
    Working for US and UK clients in Switzerland I follow design trends globally quite assiduously.I don't wish to generalize but these are common threads that do turn up regularly when visiting UK homes (apologies to those of you UK based people who don't do this) but I do love the eccentricity of it all: Tend to cosiness and a more comfortable lifestyle once put together - but elegant in most cases or country in othersUse of AGAs in kitchens - aaaah only warm place. Tend to be more daring with colour and pattern - much deeper colours and greater pattern mixesTend to use wallpaper far more extensively than USEmbrace quirky ideas and the offbeatExternal plumbing baffles me as does the wiring system with fuses in the plugs.Use of conservatoriesLittle regard to heating (as in warming)Finally the thing that amuses me the most is the more grandiose a place the more run down and used it seems to be. I was lucky to be invited to a reception at an important house in London and I was astonished by how run down it actually was. :-)
  • Jessica Kerry Mack
    ASVInteriors, I think that the whole lack of regard to heating comes from a slightly different perspective on whether to heat the person or heat the entire house. Some cultures, believe in adding sweaters, and using systems to heat small spaces to warm the individual and see it as wasteful of energy and expense to heat the whole room. This is why in Japan they bring out Kotatsu tables in the winter, and why wool sweaters are so popular (as well as multiple layers of clothing - vests under jackets etc) in the UK.
  • PRO
    Hi Jessica - I do agree with you. I do enjoy different cultural differences (and being prepared for them). But it also does have to do with bad insulation. I can never forget school days with ice cold winds blowing through draughty windows!!
  • joanhall
    I am so excited there will be a UK houzz and will be spending hours looking at it now. We moved to the US from UK a few years ago and just bought a house here which I am desperately trying to decorate the way I see houses when I go back. I have tons of magazines and on line sites from UK and I am getting there but it is hard. I would say the main thing is that in the US there is a lot of matching, formal decorating and following rules. Also it is soooooo hard to find light wood furniture in the US. There seems to be an everlasting love of dark wood. I agree also that in the UK people just use what they have, don't have to buy new.
    Emmeline Westin thanked joanhall
  • Jeannie
    Washing machines in the kitchen, and small fridges too. The average house and garden is smaller than in the U.S. and Oz. Stairs and bathrooms are carpeted. Much of the interior design I think is to promote a feeling of warmth. I spent my childhood in a draughty Victorian with small fireplaces we huddled around - and still couldn't get warm. If more land was available I think the English would be as adventurous with their architecture as anywhere else. Two big constraints are lack of freehold land and money. Housing is very expensive per square foot/metre, so choices are limited. My Mom had an Aga in her new house. We loved that, and I know they're still popular in England. Don't often see those across the pond.
    Emmeline Westin thanked Jeannie
  • Vonn
    I so loved this article. What balanced views. We are lucky to own a very small home here in the UK and by US standards, a very small home on the Gulf Coast. They are entirely different on all aspects. It has been fun, challenging and if I had to choose, it would have to be my overseas home. Think the weather sort of nudges me that way though. I would love to self build, but neither finances nor a willing hubby are conducive to this bucket list item. Hey Ho! I still count myself incredible lucky, so spend hours just browsing and dreaming and doing the lottery.
  • Bel McKenna
    I love American houses and I think they have a better selection of home furnishings. I feel here in the UK we have limited choice. I hate all the big bold brash patterns on soft furnishings I want more choice rather then what the buyers for our stores think is trending!
    I wish they would build houses here with the option of window shutters. And more family friendly sized houses not tiny 3 beds with no gardens :/
  • Vonn

    I agree Bel. We are lucky enough to own a vacation home on the Gulf Coast, Florida and furnishing it, has been a joy. Price wise was unbelievably lower than here, the choice is far more ranging and to say that I had the time of my life is an understatement. Although I do love and appreciate our heritage, architecture (new and old), it is just different.

  • lisa77226
    I am not American but am a Canadian living in the UK. My preference is UK decorating. I like the layering of textiles and use of one off items. I prefer the mismatched but thought out design in the UK that utilises wonky spaces, treasured items and lots of fabric. Personally, I don't like it when spaces feel too polished, I prefer the soul that comes through in most UK design. I do however have and prefer an American sized fridge, I can't do small fridges!
  • Sandra Marshall

    I have just come back from a holiday in Canda. I think sitting rooms are more comfortable, and better arranged.there. I love separate laundries, and I love the solidity of shower and bath fittings, but I like the eccentricity in England, and I like hedges and English gardens, and brick houses seem more permanent

  • Sandra Young
    UK: New builds are all cookie cutter homes unless you are very wealthy or lucky. No option to add your own design so homes all end up pretty similar
    America: Buy a plot of land and then find your builder. Build to your needs (while following a few set rules for the particular neighbourhood). More interesting things happening in new standard built homes.
  • Sandra Young
    UK: Obsessed with oak and light wood and the OLD (tradition)
    America: prefer darker woods and NEW (modern and inventive)
    Uk: low ceilings
    America: vaulted ceilings used more often in new builds
    UK: laundry rooms in kitchen?
    America: separate laundry room and use of dryer (starting to put laundry rooms upstairs)
  • Sandra Young
    Uk: So many teeny tiny windows

    America: large windows and use of window screens (to keep bugs out) in many places

    UK: limited space, no front garden

    America: endless space, front yard in addition to back yard
  • Sandra Young
    UK: Lots of doors (makes homes feel smaller than they actually are)
    America: open plan (makes spaces feel bigger than they actually are)

    UK: conservatories
    America: no conservatories

    UK: Loft and garage used for storage
    America: storage room (usually in basement) used for storage.
  • celerygirl

    UK: curtains on the entrance door.

    America: it looks weird.

  • Sven

    I was thinking about UK vs US style the other day after reading an article on Trump's decorating of the White House:


    There are points where it is difficult to say US or UK, especially in high end apartments in Manhattan, Georgetown in DC and perhaps some part of San Fran which could easily be in London, Bath or Edinburgh.

    But overall you could put a slide deck up on interiors and most can easily say if they are in the UK or US. Various UK TV shows have changed what used to be dark small spaces into light homes with many people knocking through rooms to add light, removing curtains and painting with light colours. The US is moving that way but still use a lot of darker woods.

    The US do tend to go for details - window and ceiling mouldings, solid wood doors and outdoor landscaping.

United Kingdom
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