Oh, those amazing Victorian builders! Born during the Industrial Revolution, they embraced new materials and technologies to create houses like no one had ever seen before. Mass-production and mass-transit made ornamental parts affordable. Victorian architects and builders applied decoration liberally, combining features borrowed from many different eras with flourishes from their own imaginations.
When you look at a house built during the Victorian era, you might see Greek Revival pediments, Federalist Style balustrades, and other Colonial Revival details. You may also see medieval ideas such as Gothic windows and exposed trusses. And, of course, you'll find lots of brackets, spindles, scrollwork and other machine-made building parts.
So it happens that there's not just one Victorian style, but many, each with its own unique array of features. Here are a few of the most popular.
During the 1840s when the Victorian era was just gearing up, Italianate style houses became the hot new trend. The style spread quickly across the USA via widely-published pattern books. With low roofs, wide eaves, and ornamental brackets, Victorian Italianate houses suggest an Italian Renaissance villa. Some even sport a romantic cupola on the roof.
- Related Video: Victorian Architecture: Is Your House an Italian?
Medieval architecture and the great cathedrals of the Gothic age inspired all sorts of flourishes during the Victorian era. Builders gave houses arches, pointed windows, and other elements borrowed from the middle ages. Some Victorian Gothic Revival homes are grand stone buildings like miniature castles. Others are rendered in wood. Small wooden cottages with Gothic Revival features are called Carpenter Gothic.
Towers, turrets, and rounded porches give Queen Anne architecture regal airs. But the style has nothing to do with British royalty, and Queen Anne houses do not resemble buildings from the medieval times of the English Queen Anne. Instead, Queen Anne architecture expresses the exuberance and inventiveness of industrial-age builders. Study the style and you'll discover several different subtypes, proving that there's no end to the variety of the Queen Anne style.
- Related Video: Is Your House a Queen?
Folk Victorian is a generic, vernacular Victorian style. Builders added spindles or Gothic windows to simple square and L-shaped buildings. A creative carpenter with a newly-invented jigsaw may have created complicated trim, but look beyond the fancy dressing and you'll see a no-nonsense farmhouse.
- Related Video: Characteristics of a Folk Victorian Home
Often built in coastal areas, Shingle Style homes are rambling and austere. But, the simplicity of the style is deceptive. These large, informal homes were adopted by the wealthy for lavish summer homes. Amazingly, a Shingle Style house isn't always sided with shingles!
Stick style houses are, as the name implies, decorated with intricate stickwork and half-timbering. Vertical, horizontal, and diagonal boards create elaborate patterns on the facade. But if you look past these surface details, a stick style house is relatively plain. Stick Style houses don't have big bay windows or fancy ornaments.
On first glance, you might mistake a Second Empire house for an Italianate. Both have a somewhat boxy shape. But a Second Empire house will always have a high mansard roof. Inspired by the architecture in Paris during the reign of Napoleon III, Second Empire is also known as the Mansard Style.
- Related Video: Characteristics of a Second Empire Home
Architect Henry Hobson Richardson is often credited with popularizing these romantic buildings. Constructed of stone, they resemble small castles. Romanesque was used more often for large public buildings, but some private homes were also built in the imposing Romanesque style. Because of Richardson's great influence on architecture in the US, his 1877 Trinity Church in Boston has been called one of the Ten Buildings That Changed America.
The ornate spindles and knobs found on so many Queen Anne houses were inspired by the decorative furniture by English designer, Charles Eastlake. When we call a house Eastlake, we're usually describing any number of Victorian styles with Eastlake decorations.
10. Octagon Style
In the mid-1800s, innovative builders experimented with 8-sided houses which they believed would provide more light and ventilation. Octagon houses are rare. The few that remain are wonderful reminders of Victorian ingenuity.