Victorian Home Styles
Some people have a passion for old houses. There is something magnificent about the smell of the old wood, a stair rail worn smooth by hundreds of hands over the years, the architectural details that were hand crafted so long ago.
As the houses have aged many have not fared well. Some have been split up into apartments, some have been torn down for parking lots, and some have just fallen into disrepair. Some have been brutally torn apart and poorly renovated by an overzealous neophyte.
How can you tell which type of house you are looking at? What is the difference between a Foursquare and a Colonial Revival? If the previous owners lower the ceilings four feet and covered the shingles with vinyl how do you figure out what you are looking at?
Carpenter Gothic/ Gothic Revival
The style of Victorian architecture known as Gothic Revival began in England in about 1840. Victorians had begun to have a fascination with Medieval things and sought to create homes that resembled the castles and cathedrals of the Middle Ages.
It will have steeply pitched roof-lines and arched windows. The lines will remind you of a church or a cathedral. The scroll-work that may be on the house will be ornate and arched, in keeping with the rest of the home. Intricate details abound. This is the style of house where you will often find the quatrefoil windows, as well as other unusual shapes.
Board and batten siding is sometimes run vertically rather than horizontally. The architects of the time worked hard to give their designs a strong and unmistakable vertical element. The houses bring the eye up to the topmost point of the roof.
Gables will be steeply pitched. Decorative trusses abound. These are truly homes that are works of art.
Carpenter Gothic describes the Gothic style home that s made from wood, and finely crafted and detailed scroll-work coupled with a vertical look and arched windows will testify to the beautiful style of this home. It is hard to miss.
Gothic Revival refers to the homes in this style that were made from masonry; stone and brick.
The Italianate was inspired by the old world Italian villas. While the Gothic style gives the impression of vertical space the Italianate gives the impression of horizontal space that has been randomly added to over a period of years.
The roof-lines are low pitched and many times they are flat on top. There are often square towers or cupolas. There is normally a wide porch and sometimes even a second-story porch.There are often crowns over the windows, deep eaves,balconies and round tops on windows and doors.
These homes were popular from the 1860s to about the 1880s.
The Second Empire Style of architecture was also inspired by the Italian villas and built in about the same time period. The major differences between the Italianate and the Second Empire were in the roof line and cornices.
Where the Italianate had wide eaves, the Second Empire style had narrow eaves, a more complex design and a mansard roof. Many of the public buildings were very ornate, however private homes maintained the simple lines of the Italianate.
The Second Empire home also was known for it's rounded dormers, brackets and classic pediments.
Greek Revival architecture became very popular in the United States in the early part of the 1800s. Archeological discoveries led to a Victorian fascination with ancient design.
Greek Revival style is made obvious by the large columns on the exterior, giving the house the look of a Greek Temple. Moldings were simple, pediments were narrow and the design was clean and classic.
A Melange of Design
Remember, few houses are a pure style. Many local architects and builders copied the well known architects but added their own special touches as they went along. Sometimes there will be several styles juxtaposed together.
This can happen for several reasons. Perhaps the original owner liked a variety of styles, perhaps the house was added to over the years or perhaps the builder just added on each time he ha a whim. Learn to look at the structure, the lines, the small details so that you can pick out what belongs and what does not for the most accurate, and beautiful restoration.