Guide to Victorian Architectural Styles
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“Architecture, like government, is about as good as a community deserves. The shell which we create for ourselves marks our spiritual development as plainly as that of a snail denotes its species.” -John Maass The Gingerbread Age
There were several different styles of Victorian architecture from 1840-1910. Sub-styles are listed below their major styles. It is very common to see two or more styles used together in harmony on the same house. Some rural areas were even building Victorians into the 1920s. (The dates are estimated dates of these styles.)
1840-1880 Gothic Revival: This style was characterized by its influence from medieval cathedrals. The houses very very romantic, had a vertical feel to them and were very embellished for homes of the day. Gothic Revival was the first Victorian style. It was also the first time that houses were being built with specific European influences. While using these influences designers and architects also incorporated American flavor – giving every Victorian architectural style a distinct look. John Ruskin helped make this style popular when he wrote a book praising the architecture in The Stones of Venicein 1851. The example house is one of the most famous of the period: Lyndhurst in Tarrytown, New York, circa 1838.
Stone & brick construction
Decorative stone tracery
Battlements & parapets
Quatrefoil & trefoil windows
sub-style Carpenter Gothic: A sub-style of Gothic Revival that uses wood embellishments instead of brick or stone. The result is a strange menagerie of gingerbread and siding. One of the first people to promote this style was Alexander Jackson Downing who wrote Victorian Cottage Residences and The Architecture of Country Houses, praising Gothic Cottage Architecture. He directly influenced the way the new, rising middle-class built, painted and decorated their homes. The example house is “Sunnyside” in Ithaca, New York, circa 1851.
Symmetrical floor plan
Steep cross gables
Bay & oriel windows
sub-style Steamboat Gothic: Another sub-style of Gothic Revival with a strange twist. Steamboat and ship-inspired decorations and a tendency to over-do-it with gingerbread trim differentiate these homes from other styles. This style is the extreme of Carpenter Gothic and its explosion of details was popular at the same time as the heavily decorated Queen Annes. The example house is the “Rosalie” house in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, circa 1883.
The same components of the carpenter gothic sub-style
Large gingerbread-covered porches
840-1885 Italianate Style: These buildings were made in the style of Italian villas. They looked like rectangular, massive, symmetrical blocks. This style was very popular for public buildings. Alexander Jackson Downing was also a fan of the Italianate. In his book The Architecture of Country Houses, written in 1850, he praises this style: “The gay and sunny temperament of the South of Europe is well expressed in the light balconies, the grouped windows, the open arcades and the statue and vase bordered terraces of the Venetian and Italian villas…” The example house is the Chalfonte Hotel in Cape May, New Jersey, circa 1876.
Supporting eave brackets
Decorative paired brackets & cornices
Symmetrical floor plans
Arcade porch with baulstraded balconies
Either 2 or 4 stories
Heavy double doors
1850-1885 Second Empire: The characteristic features of these buildings were brought over from Europe from Napoleonic Paris to be incorporated into the new Victorian Architecture. They are massive, generally symmetrical, block-like structures. They are specifically characterized by their mansard roofs. The example house is the Goyer-Lee House in Memphis, Tennessee, circa 1843.
Huge dormer windows
Lancet or dome-top windows
Supporting eave brackets
Decorative stone or brick masonry
Colored roof patterns with slate tile
Tall first-story windows
Rounded cornices above upper cornice
sub-style French Revival: A sub-style of French Revival characterized by a mansard roof on a simple house. The example house is the Tenney House in Providence, Rhode Island, circa 1877
Same as those above except simpler, less European
May not have a mansard or may have a mansard and other roof types together
1850-1900 Exotic: These were eccentric homes, rarely built, which go to the extreme in design. Some were styled after Asian or Muslim palaces or Egyptian temples. Most were made in the shape of an octagon, so this style is also known as “Octagonal.” The octagon house was the invention of the brilliant, yet eccentric Orson S. Fowler who wrote The Octagon House: A Home for All in 1853. He advocated new inventions of the age (even if they were not accepted by the mainstream public) such as dumbwaiters, speaking tubes, the indoor bathroom, hot running water and forced-air furnaces. The example house is the Armour House in Irvington-On-Hudson, New York, circa 1860.
Any components taken from other styles plus-
Sometimes had 8 sides
1860-1890 Stick Style: This style was a transitional style from Gothic to Queen Anne. It was very decorative and often called Swiss Chalet. The most important feature is outside wall textures and surfaces in patterns and lines. The Stick Style is often combined with Eastlake and Queen Anne. Its key is the fact that it “shows” the inner-frame construction. Because of this it has “structural honesty.” Some elements of this style such as exposed rafters and porch beams would later be carried over to the Craftsman and Prairie-Style homes built at the beginning of the century. The example house is the Emlen Physick House in Cape May, New Jersey, circa 1879.
Diagonal plank trim
Horizontal plank trim
Vertical plank trim
Huge overhanging porches
Some Tudor influence
Ornamental trusses under gable eaves
Beam-ends exposed (similar to craftsman)
1860-1890 Eastlake: Eastlake style architecture came from the movement for a better, more beautiful home environment named for Charles Lock Eastlake who was the architect who wrote Hints on Household Taste in Furniture, Upholstery and Other Details. Eastlake, Queen Anne and Stick Style are commonly found merged together. Eastlake is one of the few Victorian styles with its own matching furniture and the only style whose furniture was mass-produced. Charles Lock Eastlake was dead-set against cheap, mass-produced furniture made in factories, but ironically, his furniture style became just that after the public clamored for it. The example house is 3020 Observatory Avenue in Cincinnati, Ohio, circa 1893.
Pierced woodwork decoration
Long rectangular windows, usually in pairs
Ornamental gable trusses
Pierced instead of turned porch woodwork
1870-1910 Folk Victorian: These homes were basically vernacular farmhouse skeletons with gingerbread added to the owners fancy. They do not fall into any specific category. These homes were usually square or L-shaped and before the gingerbread details they were called Folk or National Style. This style came about from the mass-production of gingerbread and the urge of people to keep-up and make their homes look modern. Most of these homes are mistaken for Queen Annes, but are missing the tower which is the main component of that style. The example house is the Acers (pronounced Acres) house in Norman, Oklahoma, circa, 1892.
Anything from any of the Victorian styles as long as it is basically mixed and matched
Queen Anne influences
Symmetrical and asymmetrical floor plans
Porches with spindlework
Carpenter gothic trim
Pyramid-shaped roof or gabled roof
Gables and side-wings
Possible Mansard roof
1874-1910 Shingle Style: These homes are characterized by having no external decoration except layers of shingles covering all of the exterior. This style is uniquely American with no known European ties. It is considered by many to be the last Victorian style that was built. The buildings were completely suited to the saltwater environments from which they were born, where paint and decorative gingerbread would soon rot away. Some people consider these houses as “stripped-down” Queen Annes. The example house is the Stacy House in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, circa 1891.
Gambrel roof lines
Very rustic and informal
Cedar shingles covering entire exterior
Evolved from the Queen Anne style
1880-1900 Romanesque Revival: This style was rustic, massive, and stonework was prevalent. It was used mostly for public buildings. The example house is the Kalteryer House in San Antonio, Texas, circa 1892.
Hardly any detail
Complex floor plan
1880-1900 Queen Anne: This architecture took the Tudor Style (below) and went so far to the extreme it became a major style of architecture and its predecessor, English Queen Anne or Tudor Style, became a sub-style. These can be very wild and asymmetrical buildings. “The ideal Queen Anne should have the conical corner tower, it should be built of at least three incongruous materials, or better, imitations thereofs, it should have its window openings completely haphazard; it should represent parts of every known and unknown order of architecture; it should be so plastered with ornament as to conceal the theory of its construction; it should be a restless, uncertain, frightful collection of details, giving the effect of a nightmare about to explode.” -George Burgess
The example house is the Haas-Lilienthal House in San Francisco, California, circa 1886.
Windows of all sizes
Gables, towers and turrets
Porches and balconies
Finials, cast-iron and metal roof trim
Cantilevered upper stories
Elaborate and exotic color schemes
Irregular, steeply-pitched roofs
sub-style English Queen Anne: The Queen Anne style was named for the Queen of England from 1665-1712 during the Tudor dynasty. It used the Tudor Style as a primary influence. It is sometimes called Tudor Revival. The example house is the Hill-Smith House in Boston, Massachusetts, circa 1840-1887.
Pink shingles to simulate clay tiles
Castle-like relief decorations (lions, shields)
|Short-lived or Rare Styles:|
|1830-1850 Egyptian Revival:This small niche in Victorian Architecture is characterized by a “monumental” effect throughout the building. It was used primarily in cemetery design; fitting, it seemed, to the Victorians, since Egyptian life revolved around death. The example structure is the Grove Street Cemetery Entrance in New Haven, Connecticut, circa 1845.|
Lotus-flower capitals on columns
Bottom distinctly larger than top of building
Egyptian relief decorations
|1860-1880 Moorish: This extremely rare style of architecture is often found on the east cost. With its Islamic and Persian influences it ties the look of an Arabian palace in with the Romanesque Revival making a delightful surprise for the viewer. The example house is “Olana” in Hudson, New York, circa 1870.|
Very colorful brickwork
Pointed Arabian arched windows
Colored slate roof tiles in patterns
Decorative wall textures and mouldings
Decorative Islamic tile-work
|1860-1890 Chateauesque Style:This is the style of the Vanderbuilts, Carnegies, Rockefellers, and all those who wanted to be like them. These homes, with their massive elaborate architecture, could only be afforded by those at the top of the class system. They are the mansions of the modern Victorian feudal lords. The example house is the Kimball House in Chicago, Illinois, circa 1872.|
French influence, but no mansard roofs
Steeply pitched roofs
Stone or brick
|1850-1910 Railroad Style: The railroad style is the style of the train stations on the new Victorian railways. It spanned just about the entire era and was distinctly marked by the buildings having a platform with a very tall porch roof.|
Overhanging roof of platform
Large supporting brackets for roof
Any style of Victorian architecture could be and was converted into a station
|It is long since you built a great cathedral; and how you would laugh at me if I proposed building a cathedral on top of one of those hills of yours, to make it an Acropolis! But your railroad mounds, vaster than the walls of Babylon, and innumerable; your chimneys, how much more mighty and costly than cathdedral spires! your harbour-piers; your warehouses; your exchanges! —all these are built to your great Goddess of “Getting-on;” and she has formed, and will continue to form, your architecture, as long as you worship her; and it is quite vain to ask me to tell you how to build her; you know far better than I. –John Ruskin, “Traffic”|
| Resources The information found on this page is from the following resources:|
Blumenson, John J.-G. Identifying American Architecture: A Pictorial Guide to Styles and Terms, 1600-1945.
Nashville: American Association for Sate and Local History, 1979.
Ferriday, Peter, ed. Victorian Architecture. London: Jonathan Cape Ltd., 1963.
Foy, Jessica H., and Schlereth, eds. American Home Life, 1880-1930: A Social History of Spaces and Services. The University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville.
Gillon, Edmond V., Jr. and Lancaster, Clay. Victorian Houses: A Treasury of Lesser-Known Examples. New York: Dover Publications, 1973.
Larsen, Michael and Pomada, Elizabeth. Daughters of Painted Ladies: America’s Resplendent Victorians. New York: E.P. Duton, 1987.
Larsen, Michael and Pomada, Elizabeth. America’s Painted Ladies: The Ultimate Celebration of Our Victorians. New York: EP Dutton, 1992.
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