Colonials are easily recognizable with their two to two-and-a-half-storied height, rectangular shape, gabled roofs, and central doorway that opens to a center hall and staircase. Early Colonials were not painted, but the ones built in the eighteenth century, what was becoming the Georgian style, were—usually by using natural pigments such as ocher, which is a shade of yellow. The front façade of the Colonial is almost always consistent with a strict spacing of windows. There are usually three or five windows on the second level with a central door on the main level, and a portico if the house is sufficiently ornate. The main door is prominently featured by means of design. For practical reasons in the seventeenth century, the doors were made out of batten-and-board with over-scaled wrought-iron hinges—namely to keep the animals out. By the early eighteenth century, the doors were more decorative, including small glazed transom panels above the door and glass sidelights on either side. Later in the same century, lintels, flat or scrolled appeared over the front door instead.
Buildings designed in the Colonial Revival-style are distinctive for the formal, often symmetrical arrangement of the facade and plan. The plan is typically rectangular, though it may have rear or side wings. The simple side-gable roof has a pitch between 8/12 and 12/12, and frequently has small dormers that are symmetrically placed. Dutch Colonial Revival-style houses have a gambrel roof with either gable dormers or shed dormers at the front and rear of the house. Colonial Revival buildings have boxed eaves, and they have a wide frieze board beneath the eave. More elaborate buildings will also have dentils at the frieze. Ornamentation is limited to simple, classical columns at the porch and shutters. The width of the two shutters at a window should equal the width of the window opening to give the appearance that they are operable.
Colonial Revival porches are small porticos. The façade is arranged symmetrically with the portico and entrance door at the center. However, large multi-family buildings may have a two-story porch. The porch roof is a simple gable supported by round classical columns. The columns should taper, and each column should have a capital and base. Some Colonial Revival buildings have no porches, but will at least have an ornamental door surrounded with pilasters at the entry. Single-family houses are one-and-a-half stories to two-and-a-half stories in height. Multi-family buildings may have up to three-and-a-half stories.