By Ann Robinson and Annie Vernon
In our continuing discussion of residential architectural styles, today we will look at the Eclectic movement. Spanning from the late 19th century through about 1940, this was the phase that followed the Victorian period. While the Victorians took inspiration from former classical architectural styles, they did so with great exuberance and light regard for historical accuracy. The Eclectic movement was much more concerned with faithful representation of earlier styles, such as classical Greek, Roman and European architecture.
Several developments contributed to the ability to achieve greater historic accuracy. One was that more Americans were able to travel abroad — either for pleasure or as guests of the government during World War I — and see this building construction history for themselves. The other was the advance in the art of photography that documented historical structures and allowed Americans to see these forms of architecture up close and personal. In addition, some Americans were now wealthy enough to commission European architects to design fashionable homes and country retreats. Finally, the Chicago Columbian Exposition in 1893 was another source of exposure of the general populace to accurate examples of historic architecture.
As in Victorian times, an advancement of technology facilitated the popular adoption of eclectic design. Many of the classic styles were built almost completely of solid masonry with decorative stonework or brickwork — construction that was too expensive for the common man. In the early 20th century, a much less-expensive technique was developed that allowed homes to be built with wood studs with a thin veneer of brick or stone added to the exterior of the traditional balloon-framed house.
Architectural references to the past seem to evoke a sense of substance and permanence that result in feelings of stability and comfort. The Eclectic movement proceeded to adopt and adapt historic architectural examples as the 19th century came to a close. The movement faded in popularity as the Prairie and Craftsman styles came along at the beginning of the 20th century but then had resurgence from about 1920 through 1940. Modernism began to take over the design world at about this time, which dampened the popularity of eclecticism, though we still see it used today.
Greek and Roman architecture were strong influences in commercial and institutional architecture, examples of which you can readily see in banks and university buildings. While this influence can be seen in residential architecture, today we will look briefly at how European styles affected homes in America.
The French Eclectic period ranged from 1885—1930. These homes have steeply pitched roofs with eaves that may flare upward where they meet the walls. Common building materials are brick, stone and classic stucco. The facades can be symmetrical or asymmetrical and may include towers. Dormers are common on these steep roofs that enclose the second story of the home.
The Italian Renaissance influenced American residential architecture from 1920—40. These homes also have low-pitched roofs with broad overhanging eaves, with decorative brackets at the top of the exterior walls. These roofs are typically covered with ceramic tiles. Windows in the upper story are smaller and plainer than those of the ground floor. Arches above doors and windows are common. The entrance may be accented with small classical columns or pilasters (half columns attached to the wall). These facades are often symmetrical in design.
Next week we will look at Spanish eclecticism, Mission design and the currently popular Tuscan influence in residential architecture. As always, we welcome your home architect design questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.