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Ann Architect, Renovation Design GroupAnnie Architect, Renovation Design Group

Renovation Solutions is weekly column on architectural home design by Ann Robinson and Annie Schwemmer, Principal Architects of Renovation Design Group, a Utah architectural firm focusing on home renovation design.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Victorian homes are a charming challenge

By Ann Robinson and Annie Schwemmer


Queen Victoria reigned over England from 1837 to 1901, influencing more than just politics. Her reign also influenced literature, clothing, furniture and, yes, architecture.

Even today, more than 100 years later, you still see homes new and old that are most definitely Victorian.

This small Victorian-style home rediscovered its charm with a full exterior face-lift restoring the look and materials. The house was designed with in 1902.

The Victorian-style home began to appear in the later half of the 19th century. Contrasting with the common colonial style homes so prevalent in the United States at the time, Victorian homes were more visually diverse and ornate. This style was made possible as a result of industrialization and the railroads.

New manufacturing processes gave Americans access to mass-produced items such as windows, doors, roofing, siding and decorative detailing.

The ever-expanding railway system provided a way to distribute these materials throughout the country.

Houses began to be framed with light boards held together with wire nails, freeing builders from the box-like restrictions of heavy timber framing. This allowed the use of elaborate shapes combined with complex details to create a new architectural look.

Building on medieval prototypes, Victorians borrowed freely from earlier styles and cultures, including Greek, Gothic and Tudor, as well as French and Italian Renaissance styles.

There was little effort to be historically precise with these styles; rather, details were added with exuberance and flair to earlier forms.

Typical features of Victorian homes include strongly asymmetrical facades and steeply pitched roofs. Ornamentation was generously applied from the roof down to the porch railings.

Within the broad category of Victorian style homes, there are several subcategories, each with their own distinctive highlights.

For instance, the Second Empire style includes mansard roofs, molded cornices, and decorative brackets.

The Queen Anne style is characterized by a steeply pitched roof of irregular shape, patterned shingles, bay windows, and a full or partial front porch.

The shingle style includes wall cladding of continuous shingles, sometimes only on the second story, with extensive porches.

And the Richardsonian Romanesque style has its tell-tale towers.

Victorian interiors also borrowed from earlier styles and cultures. Cluttered, closed-off rooms were typical. Early Victorians took an artificial, upholstered, multilayered approach to interior design.

Elaborate ceiling cornices and chandeliers showed a strong French influence. Later interior styles moved to a more natural look with stained wood. Dramatic colors and flamboyant wallpapers were also common.

We see Victorian homes dotting Salt Lake City's historic districts. One home in particular had lost its Victorian charm when previous owners replaced the circular column style porch with wrought iron and covered the original shakes with aluminum siding.

The owners hardly recognized their house when they found a photo of the home in its original condition. That is when they started to consider a renovation to restore the Victorian style and to add a small bathroom to create a guest suite.

The aluminum wrapping was stripped from the beams, and the iron columns and railings removed.

New wood columns that matched the original photo replaced the iron ones. A new railing was also added. The original wood siding in the front gables, previously covered with aluminum siding, was uncovered and restored.

The porch roof was replaced by a hip roof to match the original home. The decaying aluminum siding and windows were replaced with fiber-cement siding and wood windows. And finally, the aluminum awning was replaced with a custom-designed wood awning.

Renovating and maintaining Victorian-style homes can be a challenge. But thankfully some are willing to do it right so we can all continue to enjoy this unique style from an important part in modern history. As always, we welcome your home architect design questions at ask@renovationdesigngroup.com.

© 2009 Renovation Design Group. All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of Renovation Design Group.

If you are considering a remodel project, please Request a Free Consultation with Ann or Annie.


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