Looking for an elegant southern mansion with stately columns, dramatic porches, and balconies? These classic design elements of plantation homes are all found in historic versions of this style. Still, there are also contemporary designs that capture past majesty with all the modern amenities.
Antebellum homes (“before the war” in Latin) are homes built in the south 30 years before the Civil War. They do not represent one particular architectural style but describe opulent mansions and plantation homes built during this time. Most antebellum homes are Greek Revival or Classical Revival, featuring Greek pillars and columns, covered porches, grand staircases in the entry, gabled roofs, and a ballroom.
Located just outside Charlotte, the Rosedale Plantation is a living museum, sited on nine acres that includes a restored historic Federal-style house and recreated blacksmith shop. The grounds include gardens representing the work of five generations of families that lived here and a collection of exotic and rare trees. The Rosedale Plantation foundation also places an emphasis on the enslaved and freed African Americans who lived and worked on the property.
The Historic Hope Plantation was the home of David Stone, North Carolina’s governor from 1770 to 1811. Located in Windsor, NC, the main house combines Georgian and Federal architecture, open to the public since 1972. Hope Plantation was self-sufficient in its day, with its own dairy, meat house, sawmill, and gristmill.
A peanut and sweet potato plantation dating back to the 1700s, Wilmington NC's Poplar Grove Plantation remained in one family for six generations. The Manor House, a Greek Revival-style home with some Federalist touches, was originally built from mail order plans by the enslaved men who lived here. It was fully restored and opened to the public as a museum in 1980. At the time of this writing the plantation is currently adding to their exhibits and tours with history and the role of the Gullah Geechee people in the area.
Manor House Back Parlor - Photo credit: poplargrove.org
Although most historic plantation homes are not for sale, buyers can still find the majesty and grandeur of the past in today’s updated versions. The exterior columns, large entryways, high ceilings, and sweeping staircases in plantation estate homes capture this historical style in a contemporary take.
The exteriors of most historic southern plantations were designed in the Greek Revival style, with French Colonial and Federalist influences. The signature columns are still hallmarks of this style and are found in modern designs. The columns often support a long balcony in the front of the house. Roofs may feature either hip or gables, and dormers are also found on the topmost floors.
Symmetry is a feature in the exterior facades, so you’ll find an equal number of full-length windows on each side of the main entrance. The exteriors are either white or another natural color meant to evoke stone.
Shaded wraparound porches welcome visitors to “set a spell” and provide families with an outdoor place to gather. The sheer size of these homes means there are usually multiple chimneys.
Most plantation-style houses feature elaborate landscaping that mimics the symmetry and straight-line geometry of the house design. Carefully manicured boxwoods, bright azaleas, and well-defined pathways made of gravel, sand, or brick are all commonly found in this style.
Historic plantation homeowners imported many new plants from China and Japan as a status symbol. Many of them - azaleas, camellias, crepe myrtles - remain favorites in today’s southern landscapes. Magnolia and hydrangeas are also frequently found gracing plantation-style homes.
Behind the homes, land that used to be dedicated to functional gardens that grew food for the household has transformed into expansive outdoor kitchens, fireplaces, and pools. Outside spaces may also include manicured gardens and multi-car garages.
The majestic open entryways of historic plantation houses served a purpose beyond suggesting luxury and wealth; they served as a ventilation mechanism to cool the upper floors before widespread air conditioning.
Today, the sweeping staircases, large entrance halls, and high ceilings offer an entryway into a home with spacious interiors and multiple bedrooms. Great rooms and media rooms have replaced the formal ballrooms of the past. Libraries and home office spaces are also familiar elements in plantation-style homes.
The interior design in modern plantation-style homes might include marble tiles in the entryway and the grand staircase, rich wood floors, expensive wool rugs, and decorative crown molding. Although there is no set design style, you will find high-end finishes, luxury fabrics, and materials.
The sheer square footage of these homes means great flexibility in making the space work for your family. Want to incorporate a music room, arts & crafts room, or formal library? All possible. Sunrooms help to bring the outdoors in and often look out to lovely gardens.
And while fireplaces are no longer needed in each room to generate heat, multiple fireplaces still bring charm and coziness to the interior spaces.
A plantation-style home is ideal for a large family due to the sheer amount of space on the inside. Those with large acreage or a massive lot are also prime candidates for these homes.
Now that we’ve answered your question, “what is a plantation house,” are you ready to start your search? Browse our listings below or contact us with additional questions or requests for more information.
Listings provided courtesy of Triangle MLS, Inc. of NC, Internet Data Exchange Database. Information deemed reliable but not guaranteed. © 2023 Triangle MLS, Inc. of North Carolina. Data last updated .