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Introduction to American Victorian House Styles

What is Victorian architecture?

The Victorian style of architecture encompasses several related architectural styles that were very popular during the second half of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century in different countries of the world, including the United States. It is called Victorian architecture because its rise and popularity coincided in time with the period in which Victoria of England reigned over the British Empire, between 1837 and 1901.

The Victorian style began in England thanks to the industrial revolution, which radically changed, among many other things, the civil construction industry. The development and expansion of railway systems and industrial production that took advantage of economies of scale reduced the costs of manufacturing and transporting different construction materials, as well as ornamental pieces that architects could now incorporate into their residential designs, much to the delight of consumers. future owners.

General characteristics of the Victorian style

Despite there being multiple Victorian styles, they all possess some or all of the following distinctive features:

exterior features

  • Steep roofs with multiple slopes, minimum two
  • Rounded corners
  • Multiple towers, turrets and dormers
  • Windows and bay windows with stained glass
  • decorative wood work
  • Paint in bright colors, often white or other colors in all light colors

interior features

  • They are houses with two or three floors.
  • Complex flat design with multiple corners of different shapes
  • High ceilings
  • Intricate ceiling with wood decorations
  • highly ornate stairs

As can be seen, the main characteristic of the Victorian style is the generous use of ornamental and decorative elements both on the facade and the interior of the houses. They usually have a complex plan layout, with multiple separate spaces, multi-pitched roofs, and sometimes the use of many mansards, turrets, balustrades, and pediments. The presence of a large number of windows is also characteristic.

The different styles of Victorian houses

Apart from the general features previously described, it is not possible to identify more characteristics generally spread among the houses of the Victorian era. In fact, no fewer than nine unique Victorian styles have been identified, some of which are quite different from the rest.

Some of these architectural styles use wood as the main construction material, while others use rock. On the other hand, some styles are more austere while others are excessively ornamental.

The main reason for these differences is that the architects of the time took inspiration from different previous architectural styles generally reserved for constructions commissioned by the State, by royalty or by very wealthy and powerful families. That is why we see some Victorian houses with the air of an Italian Renaissance palace, houses with Beaux Arts style balustrades or Gothic-style pointed windows.

It could be said, then, that in the Victorian period, architects sought to experiment by combining different elements from previous styles, while letting their creativity run wild to create new elements.

Victorian houses in the United States

The different Victorian architectural styles spread throughout the world, presenting examples of both public and private construction on all continents. Some particular Victorian styles were present everywhere, while others were limited to only certain countries or regions.

In the case of the United States, we can distinguish nine particular architectural styles of the 19th century, which are presented in order of emergence:

  • #1 Italianate Victorian Style (1840–1890)
  • #2 Victorian Neo-Gothic or Gothic Revival style (1840–1940)
  • #3 Second Empire Victorian Style or Napoleon III Style (1855–1885)
  • #4 Victorian Style of Sticks, Stick Style or Eastlake (1860–1890)
  • #5 Popular or Folk Victorian Victorian style (1870–1910)
  • #6 Victorian Richardsonian Romanesque style (1880–1900)
  • #7 Victorian Shingle Style (1880–1900)
  • #8 Victorian Queen Anne or Queen Anne style (1880–1910)
  • #9 Victorian Neocolonial or Colonial Revival style (1890–1900)
  • additional styles

Next, we will describe the most outstanding characteristics of each one.

#1 Italianate Victorian Style (1840–1890)

American Victorian house styles – Italianate Victorian (1840–1890)

That was one of the early Victorian styles. It emerged in the 1840s, but its heyday in the American East came in the 1860s and 1870s. The architects who designed Victorian Italianate-style homes drew their inspiration from the great villas of northern Italy. The main characteristic of this style is that of a relatively rectangular plan formed by the union, often asymmetrical, of rectangles of different sizes. Unlike most other Victorian styles, Italianate house roofs were not as steep and often included a square tower typical of Tuscan houses. The roof supports are heavy and often feature elaborate decorative carvings. The windows also have heavy frames that are also highly decorated.

#2 Victorian neo-Gothic or Gothic Revival style (1840–1940)

American Victorian house styles - Victorian Neo-Gothic or Gothic Revival style Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh.

During roughly the same period that the Italianate style emerged, the Neo-Gothic style also emerged, an attempt to adapt the decorative and architectural styles of Europe’s medieval castles and cathedrals. The main characteristic of these structures is their height and the steepness of their roofs, which end in highly worked edge boards with decorative carvings.

The windows of neo-Gothic style houses are characterized by ending in a point (pointed windows) and the façade frequently presents vertical elements, rather than horizontal ones, as can be seen in the previous building, which is also a worthy representative of the university neo-Gothic movement. This building is nicknamed “The Cathedral of Learning” and is the main structure of the University of Pittsburgh.

American Victorian house styles - Victorian Neo-Gothic or Gothic Revival style “American Gothic”, famous painting by American artist Grant Wood showing a Victorian Gothic revival style house.

Victorian Gothic Revival homes are not necessarily as grand structures as the one at the University of Pittsburgh, but they maintain their characteristics. A distinctive feature is the exterior siding with vertically oriented boards, instead of the horizontal orientation that is traditional in most American homes.

On the other hand, steeply pitched high ceilings and pointed windows are also present in this Victorian house style, as shown in the Victorian Gothic revival style house of the painting American Gothic by the famous American artist Grant Wood.

#3 Second Empire Victorian Style or Napoleon III Style (1855–1885)

American Victorian House Styles - Second Empire Victorian Style or Napoleon III Style Heck-Andrews House, Raleigh, North Carolina.

Houses like the Heck-Andrews in North Carolina pictured above represent a perfect example of the Second Empire style. This architectural movement was born in France during the mandate of Emperor Napoleon III. Second Empire-style buildings are characterized by being symmetrical and by having a small, often square, tower located in the center.

In most cases, the tower also includes a large clock and a convex mansard roof with a balustrade. The ceilings of the other floors are also usually sloping ceilings and are crowned, in this case, by highly inclined concave ceilings.

#4 Victorian Style of Sticks, Stick Style or Eastlake (1860–1890)

American Victorian house styles – Stick Victorian, Stick Style, or Eastlake Style (1860–1890) Innes House, Los Angeles, California. Its façade was used as an exterior in the “Charmed” series, also called “Charmed” or “Sorceresses”.

This style is an intermediate between the Gothic Revival and the Queen Anne style (below) that became popular during the second half of the 19th century in the United States. The most distinctive feature of this style, and the one that gives it its name, is the addition of wooden planks with vertical, horizontal or oblique orientations to the exterior façade as decoration. In addition, additional decorations used to be added to the highest parts of the façade. Stick Style houses are also characterized by having large balconies or hanging porches on the second floor. They are also often called Eastlake houses because of their resemblance to the decorated furniture of a famous English designer named Charles Eastlake.

American Victorian house styles - Popular Victorian or Folk Victorian Style (1870–1910)

As the name suggests, this is the style of Victorian houses built by lower-middle-class families who wanted to live in houses stylized like those of great lords, but obviously couldn’t afford the services of a professional architect or intricate decorative work. characteristic of the other Victorian styles. The result is the most common Victorian style in the United States, which has a mixture of elements of all other styles, but with a simpler appearance and smaller size. Houses in this style could combine neo-Gothic steep roofs with Eastlake facades and Queen Anne interiors, for example.

#6 Victorian Richardsonian Romanesque style (1880–1900)

American Victorian house styles - Richardsonian Romanesque Victorian style (1880–1900) The Richard Olmstead Complex in Buffalo, New York, originally the Buffalo State Psychiatric Hospital.

The renowned American architect Henry Hobson Richardson, the second American to study at the prestigious School of Fine Arts in Paris, was the main proponent of the Victorian Romanesque style. Richardson adopted as his architectural style the Romanesque architecture of southern France during the 11th and 12th centuries, characterized by the use of rock as a building material and giving way to tufted walls, heavy arches, and clean, strong construction. The presence of multiple mansard roofs and complex multi-pitched steep roofs is also noted.

Due to the costliness of the use of rock as a building material, this style was almost exclusively reserved for large works of state infrastructure. The first building of this style to be built in the United States was the Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane, commissioned and built in 1870.

#7 Victorian Tile or Shingle Style (1880–1900)

American Victorian House Styles - Shingle Victorian Style (1880–1900) Shingle-style home in the Silk Stocking district of Blue Island, Illinois, designed by architect August Fiedler.

In style, the use of decorations so characteristic of the rest of the Victorian styles is reduced. It represents a return to the use of plain walls covered with wooden tiles (the famous shingles that give the style its name) that were common during colonial times. They are also characterized by the use of large pediments both on the front façade and on the sides, and for having sloping ceilings.

#8 Victorian Queen Anne or Queen Anne style (1880–1910)

American Victorian house styles – Queen Anne or Queen Anne Victorian Style (1880–1910) John Steinbeck House in Salinas, California, once the home of the iconic author.

This style dominated North American residential architecture during the last two decades of the 19th century and the first of the 20th century. It is a more extravagant architectural style than the others and is considered by most to be the quintessential Victorian style. Queen Anne or Reina Ana style houses are very easy to recognize. They are the most richly decorated after those of neo-Gothic style, they usually have multiple porches and balconies with carved columns . In addition, it is very common to see cylindrical towers and turrets with large windows, often covered with decorative stained glass.

Apart from these elements, Queen Anne houses can also include all kinds of decorations on the lintels, exterior walls, arches, and even on the ceilings through the use of tiles of different shades to form patterns.

#9 Neocolonial or Colonial Revival Victorian style (1890–1900)

colonial revival Woodrow Wilson House, Washington, DC, today a museum dedicated to the 28th President of the United States.

This style marks the end of the Victorian era in American architecture. It is still considered Victorian because of the period during which it arose, but the style is markedly different from those that came before it, particularly compared to the Gothic Revival and Queen Anne styles. On the outside, the Colonial Revival style is characterized by a return to the architecture of the period colonial, with simpler structures, cleaner lines and, in general, more symmetrical constructions. It maintains some elements such as the high ceilings, the mansards and, in cases like the house in the photo, large balconies on the second floor. Inside, however, the neocolonial-style houses maintained the Victorian tradition typical of other late-19th-century houses.


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