Find out what features to look for when your buyers want a Victorian.
August 1, 2004
First, it's important to remember that the term "Victorian' does not describe a single architectural style. Nearly any house built during and shortly after the reign of England's Queen Victoria can be called Victorian. In the United States, the Victorian era (about 1840 to about 1900) was a time of important advancements and innovations. New machines made it possible to mass-produce ornamental features such as moldings, columns, and brackets. The expansion of the railroad meant that building parts could be sent to far corners of the country so people in remote rural areas could build fancier homes.
For inspiration and construction advice, homebuilders turned to widely published pattern books. Written by architectural firms like Palliser, Palliser & Co., these books contained hundreds of drawings and floor plans. The variety was endless because builders often borrowed ideas from several different plans and added innovations of their own.
Victorian houses are like snowflakes, with no two exactly alike. There are, however, several important types, each with its own distinct features. As you review your listings, look for these popular Victorian styles:
For many buyers, this exuberant style represents the quintessential Victorian. Named after an 18th century English queen, the style is characterized by elaborate bric-a-brac, a complicated roofline, and expansive porches that wrap around the front and side of the house. A home with a round tower or enormous round bay windows is almost certainly a Queen Anne.
Gothic Revival homes are inspired by the cathedrals of medieval Europe. The exterior window moldings are arched, forming a point at the top. Some Gothic homes are imposing estates constructed of stone. Others are modest wooden cottages. The term "Carpenter Gothic' describes a wood frame home with brackets, spindles, jig-saw patterns, and other wooden decorations.
While most Victorian houses have steep roofs and irregular shapes, houses in the Victorian Italianate style tend to be rectangular and fairly symmetrical. Sometimes called the "bracketed style,' Italianate houses have low roofs and wide eaves with large ornamental brackets.
Inspired by the architecture in Paris during the reign of Napoleon III, Second Empire style houses have high, boxy mansard roofs. The unusual roof shape provided extra living space on the upper story and also gave American homes a dignified European flavor.
Sided mostly in wooden shingles, these houses are rambling and informal. They may be shaped like Queen Anne houses with wide wrap-around porches, but they have much less ornamentation. Shingle houses are most often found in affluent coastal resort areas.
A stick style home would be relatively plain if it were not for the fairly complex exterior cladding. Vertical, horizontal, diagonal, and crisscross boards are applied over the façade, creating interesting patterns that may resemble medieval half-timbering.
During the Victorian period, the English architect Charles L. Eastlake wrote about furniture and other interior design details. The Eastlake style in architecture uses the type of brackets, scrolls, spindles, and other elaborate woodwork he described. Hallmarks of the style are beaded spindles, jigsaw wooden forms, and massive lathe-formed columns and balustrades. You may also find some Eastlake details on other styles such as Queen Anne, Stick, and Carpenter Gothic.
Popularized by the American architect Henry Hobson Richardson , Romanesque houses are constructed of rough hewn stone. These castle-like houses feature round Roman arches at the entry or over the windows. Like Queen Anne houses, Romanesque homes often have round towers and large porches.
Modest farmhouses and cottages constructed during the mid-1800s and early 1900s do not fall easily into any distinct Victorian style. These simple homes were built according to the traditions handed down through generations. Ornamental trim and other surface details give these homes their Victorian flavor.
The Victorian era ended with the arrival of the 20th century, but some modern day builders use Victorian ideas and reproduction trim on brand new houses. With curved towers, patterned shingles, wide porches, and other 19th century details, these neo-Victorians (or, new Victorians) are especially appealing to buyers who want the flavor of the past with the convenience of contemporary floor plans.