ARCHITECTURE OF VICTORIAN HOMES

Interior The most popular style of architecture
prior to the Victorian era was the Greek Revival. This style was used almost exclusively for public buildings where simplicity and dignity were considered the most important attributes. By the 1840s
the Greek style was no longer fashionable for a private residence. Its popularity had waned about the time Victoria became Queen. Many early cottages were built as summer residences only, with no insulation, yet the underlying surfaces were of solid construction. Architects and builders often submitted alternate designs for a house where the floor plans were identical, and only the facades varied. But when frame construction came along, houses were built quickly and ornate details were added later. Many early homes had neither kitchens or bathrooms. As is typical of these early homes, additions often house the kitchens and baths.


Most of the early homes, especially those built in England, were built of stone, and enhanced with decorative "stone tracery". The number of full-blown Gothic stone mansions was never large. Only the wealthy could afford such homes which required the labors of highly skilled stone carvers. The costly Gothic style was eventually translated into wood, and thousands of "Carpenter Gothic" houses still stand.


The Charastic American Carpenter Gothic style is characterized by steep gables and pointed windows. Often the construction was vertical "Board and Batton" which was considered particularly fitting for a Gothic cottage because of its upward tendency. In a wider sense we now apply the term "American Gothic" to all homes of typically Victorian design. These homes mark the real beginning of modern architecture. The homes are planned from the inside out - the layout of the rooms and the traffic pattern determines the outward look. Inside they have a happy hide-and-seek quality of surprise.


Interior When Gothic came to America
and was translated to "Carpenter Gothic", the stone tracery was replaced by wooden Gingerbread. The ornate wooden detail is considered a folk art. Each carpenter had his own ideas and employed his own fanciful designs.


The Victorian architectural period mostly spans the period of roughly 1825-1900. The Victorians drew deeply from history, nature, geometry, theory, and personal inspiration to create their designs. Prior to 1890, designers, though properly trained in the academics of standard architectural systems, still managed to employ their own creative ideas.


Early Victorian structures were relatively simple in style, while those built after the Civil War became more complicated. They combined styles as they saw fit. The end result was often a stunning visual effect. The building styles of post-Civil War America were elaborate and flamboyant, very much fueled by new industrial society. Now collectively called "Victorian" the architecture was made up of several main styles. These include Italianate, Second Empire, Stick-Eastlake, and Queen Anne. Generally, Italianate style structures have flat roof lines, corniced eaves, angled bay windows and Corinthian-columned porches. Stick-Eastlake structures often include square bays, flat roof lines and free-style decorations. Queen Annes have a gabled roof, shingled insets, angled bay windows under the gable and on occasion a tower.


Contemporary critics accuse the Victorians of needless complexity and clutter. Victorian architecture up to 1870 was thought by some, especially Europeans, to be a failure. This near revulsion by critics was expressed at first only by a few, but as the decade went on, criticism increased. However, this view was obviously not shared by all then or now. A charmed critic writing for the San Francisco Morning Call on April 21, 1887 described San Francisco's Victorian architecture as follows:


"The architecture of San Francisco in our residence streets has no counterpart in the world, and we have no reason to be ashamed of it. It is light, airy and pleasing in style, and is to the architecture of Europe and the Eastern States as Spanish music is to the grand and heavier compositions of Wagner."


Interior The latter part of the nineteenth century brought a new attitude toward color.
Before then, the houses of the tract builders tended to be painted all one color, usually white, beige or gray. By 1887, many people were painting their houses in lighter, brighter colors. The vibrant colors are one of the more easily identifiable features of Victorian architecture today.


The years from 1870 to 1906 produced the bulk of San Francisco's Victorian buildings in which there was much overlapping in style trends. One cause of the seemingly infinite variety of Victorian architecture in Northern California is the abundant coastal redwood. Both the structural members and much of the decoration on San Francisco Victorian homes are redwood, a local material that had many advantages. It was cheap and plentiful; it resisted rot, termites and fire; and it was easily worked into different shapes.


Many interiors were done in the grand manner reflecting their owners and builders. As with the exteriors, two general styles prevailed during the period: the Italian or Renaissance style and the medieval or Queen Anne. Interiors of the Renaissance mode included smooth plastered walls often in light colors, marble fireplaces usually with heavy gold mirrors above, elaborate ceiling cornices, elaborate pediments over doors, frescoed ceilings, and chandeliers. French influence was very strong during the 1870's and early 80's. Italianate interior design had heavily molded , yet graceful door frames and wainscoting that complemented contemporary furniture styles. Door frames of this type disappeared with the dominance of the Queen Anne interior. The shift to the brooding medieval style resulted in dark colorful interiors. Californians at this period closely followed national trends.


Interior From about 1895 to 1915, middle-class tastes turned away from the clutter and closed off rooms of the Victorian home to more simple, open, flexible spaces: the living room replaced the parlor. Natural wood furniture and interiors displaced the artificial, upholstered and multi-layered look typical of the Victorian home. At the turn of the nineteenth and into the twentieth century, working-class and middle-class homes reflected contrasting material standards.


Today, all over the United States, many homes from the Victorian architectural period still stand and are considered among the most beautifully rustic in almost any neighborhood. Many have been turned into bed and breakfast inns, hotels and some just opened to the public as historic sites.

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