Victorian Architecture

Sally Painter
San Francisco's Painted Ladies.

Victorian architecture covers the time of England's Queen Victoria's reign from 1837 to 1901.

Victorian Era

During Queen Victoria's reign, which spanned 64 years, England prospered in part due to the Industrial Revolution. The growing middle class had greater economic opportunities, including education and better homes.

There were few wars during this era, so society throughout the industrialized world thrived. Time, energy and money were focused on growing and improving the average person's quality of life. With newly created modern conveniences, many variations of Victorian architecture evolved.

Popular Victorian Architecture and Styles

Trying to wade through so many architectural styles of this era can be a daunting task. Below are most of the styles you probably know as Victorian period-style homes.

Classic Victorian: Painted Ladies

This is probably the most recognizable form of architecture you associate with Victorian architecture. The most unique collection can be found in San Francisco where the phrase "Painted Ladies" is used to describe the multi-colored Victorian row of houses.

Architectural Features:

  • Large bay windows
  • Wraparound Porch Anchored By Turrets
  • Turrets: Octagon or Round Shapes
  • Gables and Hip Roofs
  • Two-Storied Square Shape
  • Rear Wing - Separate Entrance
    • First floor - Kitchen, pantry and scullery (adjoining room for dish washing and food preparation)
    • Second floor - Servants quarters, narrow staircase from kitchen
  • Decorative exterior and interior trims and moldings

Arts and Crafts

The father of Arts and Crafts was British author, John Ruskin, whose writings romanticized craftsmen's work ethic and pride. Ruskin's musings inspired a romantic movement that showcased the skillful work of master craftsmen, later termed in America as the Craftsmen style of architecture.

Architectural Features:

  • Hand-Crafted Woodwork and Stonework
  • Lead Embedded Glass - criss-cross, rectangular, square patterns
  • Lower Ceiling Heights
  • Exterior: Deep Overhangs and Double Hung Windows
  • Decorative Eave Brackets
  • Cabinetry: Made of wood and glass
  • Kitchen Accessibility to Living Dining Room and Backyard
  • Built-ins: Dining Room, Bulter's Pantry, Living Rooms
  • Smaller Front Porch
  • Built-In Kitchen Breakfast Nook with Bay Window

Most Popular Style: Foursquare or Prairie Box:

  • 2.5 Stories, Boxlike Square Design
  • Four Square Rooms Each Floor
  • Half Floor Front Dormer Centered Above Full Front Porch
  • Craftsman Woodwork
  • Wide Porch Steps
  • Hipped Roof
  • Interior Arched Doorways
  • Built-In Cabinetry
  • Brick And Wood Frames

Neo-Gothic Revival

Borrowed elements found in Gothic Revival architecture to contrast between the modern popular styles and the medieval forms found in Gothic architecture.

Architectural Features:

  • Cathedral Spires
  • Pointed Arched Windows and Doorways
  • Clustered Columns
  • Steep Gables
  • Pointed Ribbed Vault
  • Lancet Window - Narrow Arched Window
  • Rose Window
  • Flying Buttresses
  • Vertical Board and Batten - Exterior siding and interior paneling created by alternating wide boards with narrow wooden strips, called battens.

Folk Victorian: Industrial Revolution's Influence

The Industrial Revolution burst into the Victorian era and eventually brought electricity and the ability for manufacturers to mass produce. This meant middle-class Americans could own homes or dress up square-styled homes to replicate the grander homes with customized woodwork.

Architectural Features:

  • Scrolled Brackets
  • Jigsaw Cut Trims, such as Gingerbread and other Classic Victorian Architecture Motifs

Neoclassical

Artists and architects created this style in a modernist opposition to the highly ornate and decorative Rococo style (Baroque era) used in extreme-styled Victorian architecture designs and furniture. Neoclassical relied on the clean simplistic lines of Classical Greek architecture.

Architectural Features:

  • Marble and Limestone
  • Columns
  • Tile Roofs
  • Bronze and Other Metals
  • Porches and Colonnades
  • Domed Roofs

Neo-Renaissance

Everything but the kitchen sink style of architecture, tried to include as many aspects as possible of the other revival styles, using Greek, Gothic, Baroque, and Renaissance. This hodge-podge of combinations made Neo-Renaissance difficult to classify since most buildings could fall into some part of the Neo-Renaissance descriptor.

Architectural Features:

  • Traditional Chateau Designs
  • Pediments
  • Arcades
  • Columns
  • Glazed Roofs
  • Picture Windows (Plate Glass)

Queen Anne

One of the most famous design features of this style is the Queen Anne Cabriole Leg used in furniture. The elegant style is readily recognizable because of the clean lines and curved form. Architecturally, this style is very elaborate with high ornamentation.

Architectural Features:

  • Turrets
  • Wraparound Porches
  • Gingerbread Trim
  • Carved Decorative Moldings
  • Irregular Floor Plans
  • Multiple Steep Roofs
  • Glass Panel Front Doors
  • Decorative, Often Stained-Glass, Windows
  • Vergeboard (Bargeboard) - Decorative Wooden Edging

Romanesque

Mimicked Roman architecture having a massive quality compromised of thick walls. Stone was the main material used for this type of architecture. These homes resembled castles, although on a smaller scale. Romanesque was a popular choice of architecture for very large buildings, such as museums or government buildings.

Architectural Features:

  • Sturdy Piers
  • Large Towers
  • Decorative Arcades
  • Round Arches
  • Columns
  • Groin, Barrel, Ribbed, Pointed-Arched Vault
  • Geometric Patterns
  • Sculptural Features
  • Mosaic
  • Stained-Glass
  • Fresco

Victorian Italianate Architecture

The opposite of classical forms of architecture, Italianate was quickly embraced by Victorians. This architectural style was a combination of Victorian architecture and Federal styles.

Architectural Features:

  • Wide Decorative Eaves
  • Windows: Paired and Arched
  • Cupola - Squarish
  • Flat Roof
  • Complex Porch Designs and decorations
  • Symmetrical façade
  • Ornate Brackets

Second Empire or Napoleon III Style

This style was most popular between 1865 - 1880 and was imported from France to the United States.

Architectural Features:

  • Quoins - External cornerstones often lighter colored than rest of house.
  • Rectangular tower - Either same height as top floor of home or extends above roof.
  • Mansard Roof - Two slopes per four sides. Lower slope with dormers is steeper than upper slope, which can't be seen from the ground.
  • Decorative Lightning Rods
  • Exterior - Wood, Brick or Stone
  • Paired Columns around windows, dormers and doors.
  • Asymmetrical or Symmetrical Floorplans

Victorian Architects

There were numerous architects whose creative visions designed and formed the varied styles of Victorian homes and buildings.

A Few Popular Victorian Architects:

  • Samuel and Joseph C. Newsom
  • Timothy Ludwig Pflueger
  • Henry Hobson (H.H.) Richardson
  • Andrea Palladio
  • William Morris
  • Frank Lloyd Wright
  • David Owen Dryden
  • Herberg J. Hapgood
  • Richard Norman Shaw
  • Frank Jones Mansion
  • Jeremy Bentham
  • Benjamin Henry Latrobe

Many Styles To Choose From

If you want to build a home in the style of Victorian architecture, you now realize how many various designs and styles are available to you.

Victorian Architecture