The Victorian Style Trend

September 17, 2017

Originally, the Victorian Era was named after Queen Victoria of England who reigned 1837-1901.  There were really at least five design styles of homes and buildings that were used to describe the Victorian Era:

  • The Second Empire Mansard
  • Gothic Revival (sometimes called Carpenter Gothic in the U.S.)
  • Italianate
  • Queen Anne
  • Stick Style

We're going to share a bit about each of these styles below, and share loads of pictures so you'll understand what makes each unique.

The Industrial Revolution

This period of time allowed people to manufacture ornate goods cheaper and faster.  Because of this, the craftsmanship often was not as good as it had been in previous eras. People from this period were all about the facade (how it looked) rather than the quality of the components, however.  They painted slate to look like marble, they used pressed paper and linseed oil to make a faux Moroccan leather from molds for their walls.  Patterns were used everywhere: the walls, ceilings, etc. in the form of wallpaper, intricately carved wood, and detailed fretwork. Doors and ceilings were often extremely tall to make the rooms seem even more expansive and formal.  Staircases were built to impress.  The most amazing part of any Victorian home was often the stained glass and art glass used in its windows.

Exterior Colors

In the mid 1800s, home colors were muted and earthy hues, but by the 1880s, synthetic pigments allowed for much brighter colors to be used on the exterior, which gave way to the name “Painted Ladies,” a title most notably used in San Francisco, but also seen in Martha’s Vineyard (Massachusetts) and other locations throughout the country.  It was also common to use multi-hued themes, so as to feature their unique characteristics.  Many of these homes mixed a lot of varying characteristics, with many embellishments on both the exteriors and interiors.  The prevailing trend of the time was “More is better.”

Second Empire

The Second Empire is distinctively French in its history, because it refers to the 2nd Empire of France.  (The first Empire refers to the period where Napolean Bonaparte became the first Emperor of France in 1805.) The Second Empire refers to the reign of Napolean’s nephew, Napoleon III, 1852-1870.  It was during his reign that he declared that this look would be THE official look of the Second Empire.  Some of the characteristics included are a Mansard roof, rounded top windows, eyebrow molding around the top of the windows, massive wooden cornices, quoining at the corners of the building, and decorative iron work. 

A Mansard roof allowed French home owners to get another floor worth of space without being taxed on it, as it was considered a roof, and not a floor.

The drawing above shows quoining, a French term for adding a decorative element to the corners on a building.  This was a common attribute of Second Empire.

One interesting yet odd piece of information is that many old horror movies and TV shows are set in Second Empire homes.  Check out Alfred Hitchcock pointing out the house used in "Pyscho," and the "Addams Family" home below.






Gothic Revival

The Gothic Revival style is part of the mid-19th century picturesque and romantic movement in architecture, reflecting the public's taste for buildings inspired by medieval design. This was a real departure from the previously popular styles that drew inspiration from the classical forms of ancient Greece and Rome.  Houses in the country, row houses in the city, schools and churches all would be built in this style.  Pointed arches as a window shape, front facing gables with decorative incised trim, porches with turned posts or columns, steeply pitched roofs, decorative crowns over windows and doors, gables often topped with finials or cross-bracing, castle-like towers with parapets on some high style buildings, and distinctive board and batten vertical siding are all characteristics of this style.









Italianate style became popular in the 1830s in the U.S.  The style derived from Italy's rambling farmhouses, usually built of masonry, with their characteristic square towers and informal detailing. Our architects began to transform it into something truly American with only hints of its Italian origin.  The most common characteristics of an Italianate style home are low sloping hip roofs decorated with brackets called corbules holding up the “shelf” between the roofline and the exterior walls.  The home always has two stories, and sometimes three.  Other attributes that are somewhat less common include covered porches, towers, angled bay windows, arched windows, and loggias (a room open to a garden area.) 

Above is an example of a hip roof line, as opposed to the more common gable.

The quoining on the corners of this home is not typical, but the rest is definitely showing off its Italianate style.

Queen Anne- built in the 1890s

The Queen Anne style in Britain refers to either the English Baroque architectural style popular during the reign of Queen Anne (reigned 1702–1714), or a revived form that was popular in the last part of the 19th century and the early decades of the 20th century (when it is also known as Queen Anne revival.)  Towers, turrets, porches, varying rooflines helped give the Queen Anne style its distinguished appearance, as well as lots of gingerbread.  The largest of the Victorian Era, there was never too much of anything. There is often triangular roof gable with a window, and a turret tower with a “witch cap” roof. 









Stick Style

The Stick style was a late-19th-century American architectual style, transitional between the Carpenter Gothic of the mid-19th century, and the Queen Anne style of the 1890s. It is named after its use of linear "stickwork" (overlay board strips) on the outside walls to mimic an exposed half-timbered frame.  The shape of the window is rectangular, creating a Box Bay window.  Each Stick victorian has a different roofline, extending well past the rooftop. There can be an extraordinary amount of gingerbread on facade. The stickwork decoration is not structurally significant, being just narrow planks or thin projections applied over the wall's clapboards. The planks intersect mostly at right angles, and sometimes diagonally as well, resembling the half-timbering of medieval (especially Tudor) buildings.



In conclusion

We hope that the photos, combined with sharing characteristics of each style within the Victorian trend has helped you be able to identify homes and buildings in your community as well as learn more about their attributes. 

Are you considering building or buying a home in one of these styles?  We can help, as we know the styles and what will work well within the home, in terms of decor.  Contact us via this website and we’ll set up a meeting so that you can share and fulfill your dream of owning one of these beauties in your future, .


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