By Ann Robinson and Annie Vernon
Queen Victoria reigned over England from 1837 to 1901. Besides political influences, Queen Victoria’s reign influenced literature, clothing, furniture and, yes, architecture. Even today, more than a hundred years later, you still see homes new and old that are most definitely Victorian.
The Victorian-style home began to appear in the later half of the 19th century. Contrasting the common colonial style homes so prevalent in the United States at the time, Victorian homes were more visually diverse and ornate and were 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.
With their towers, porches and decorative detailing, Victorian style homes are full of character and charm. Harkening back to Victorian England, this style of home was made possible by the industrial revolution and the railroad.
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 for homes.
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 sub-categories, 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 the tell-tale towers.
Victorian interiors also borrowed from earlier styles and cultures. Cluttered, closed-off rooms were typical. Early Victorians took an artificial, upholstered, multi-layered 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 common.
With their high ceilings and abundant detailing, Victorian homes are still charming and popular. Renovating and maintaining such an elaborate style can be a challenge, but one that thankfully some are willing to take on so we can all continue to enjoy this unique style that came from an important period in modern history. As always, we welcome your home architect design questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.