The rumah gadang is built in one of two basic designs: koto piliang and bodi caniago. These forms reflect different two variations of Minangkabau social structure. The koto piliang design reflects an aristocratic and hierarchical social structure, with the house containing anjuang (raised floors) at each end to permit elevated seating of clan leaders during ceremonial events. The bodi caniago design reflects a democratic social structure, with the floors being flat and on one level.
Large communal homes are entered through a doorway in the centre of the structure which is usually surrounded by a perpendicular porch with a triangular gable and upsweeping peaked ridge end. The variation with no entry porch is named bapaserek or surambi papek (“without veranda”).