San Francisco has its painted ladies. Other communities boast collections of Gothic Revival or Italianate homes. Whatever they’re called, Victorian-style houses, generally built from the 1840s to 1940s, add a distinctive housing element to many communities. Here are some of the features that set Victorian homes apart.
Origins of Victorian-Style Homes
Popular across the U.S. in the mid- to late-19th century, the quintessential house style we recognize as Victorian is a revival of earlier architecture styles. These homes originally drew inspiration from Italian and British architecture of centuries before, but the Victorian style soon evolved into its own signature aesthetic. Most Victorian-style houses you see today feature steeply pitched roofs, two to three stories, and elaborate decorative elements.
Victorian House Details
Although Victorian homes come in a variety of styles, most are defined by elaborate ornamental details. Italianate Victorian houses, such as this brick home, were modeled after Italian Renaissance villas. This style is typically limited to two stories and a boxier shape but often features the decorative brackets, lace-like detailing, and intricate trimwork of other Victorian styles.
Victorian House Porches
Some large Victorian homes feature outdoor living spaces extending from the main level to the upper level. It’s not uncommon to see dual porches stacked on top of each other. This Victorian-style house accentuates its features with a colorful exterior paint combination and curved woodwork of all shapes and sizes.
Narrow Victorian Homes
Many Victorian homes were built in cities during times that experienced explosive population growth. That often meant small lot sizes, so homeowners looked up instead of out to gain square footage. A common setup for Victorian homes: The main level is halfway below ground with at least two more levels stacked on top. In some cases, homes were only a room or two wide.
The asymmetrical facades of many Victorian-style houses feature a variety of window types. Common window styles found on these homes include bay, stained glass, and leaded glass. Inside the home, many of the windows have additional features, such as ornate trim or built-in window benches.
Victorian Wraparound Porches
Extending living space outside isn’t a 21st-century idea. Victorian homes made use of practical exterior “rooms,” often in the form of wraparound porches. These features offer a chance to extend decorative details from the rest of the facade. This Victorian-style house carries intricate railings and columns onto the porch.
Victorian-Style Turrets and Towers
Many Victorian homes were built on a grand scale, with sweeping interior spaces that translated into special exterior features. Turrets and towers, for example, add an asymmetrical flourish to the curbside view. Often these spaces were used as parlors, studies, or bedrooms, and some extended up multiple floors. Crow’s nests and diminutive balconies are also classic features ornate Victorian-style houses.
Italianate or Mansard Victorian Homes
More geometric than many of the very whimsical Victorian homes, Italianate- or Mansard-influenced Victorian homes tend toward flat roofs, a boxier shape, and simplified details. A four-sided roof punctuated by dormer windows is signature to the Mansard style. Tall, narrow windows and elaborate trim are classic Italianate features.
Victorian House Design
Victorian homes are often notable for complex paintwork as well as stickwork. These intricate collections of vertical, horizontal, and diagonal wood elements create complex patterns that offer one-of-a-kind facades on many Victorian homes. Vibrant siding and trim colors, such as blue, green, pink, and yellow, make these historic houses stand out even more.
Victorian-Style Decorative Elements
Standout decorative extras are hallmarks of Victorian homes. Common ornamental features include carved columns, intricate gables and gable posts, scrollwork, porch railings and spindles, brackets, ornate molding, and gingerbread trim. One interesting fact: Although many of the pieces look hand-carved, they were often mass-produced, as were many of the home styles and other fabrications of the era.
Victorian Style Mix-and-Match
Victorian is a term that covers lots of different styles, and it’s not uncommon to see bits and pieces of many styles all in one house. Types of Victorian houses include Queen Anne, Gothic, Greek Revival, and Italianate. Combining elements from each of these styles, as demonstrated by this large red-and-white Victorian, creates a home that’s truly one of a kind.
Victorian House Paint Colors
A distinguishing characteristic of many Victorian-style homes is their interesting color combinations. Typically, Victorian house paint colors rely on no fewer than three shades of paint. Some Victorian color schemes resemble an amalgam of cotton candy colors, while others are more muted but no less distinctive.
Asymmetrical Victorian House Design
Unlike other styles, including foursquare and neoclassic, Victorian houses are often disproportionate. Their unique design often includes an entry that’s not centered and two halves that don’t match each other. That asymmetry enables designers to create varied rooflines for even more visual interest.
Victorian elements can also add interest to other house styles. Many homeowners blended the simpler elements of farmhouse-inspired spaces with a touch of Victorian style. These homes typically include fewer decorative details, such as simplified spindles on a wraparound porch, as well as the asymmetry apparent in more elaborate homes.
Queen Anne Victorian
A byproduct of the Machine Age, Queen Anne Victorian houses stood out for their impressive collection of extravagant details. Those often included steeply pitched and varying rooflines, gables and dormers, turned porch posts, spindles, towers, and dentil molding. The highly elaborate designs typically showcase a variety of exterior colors and materials.
Grand Victorian-Style Entryways
Turrets were sometimes used as more than interior spaces. Some Victorian homes used these design elements as ways to carve out unique entryways, too. Here, a circular space creates a small seating area and a charming roofline to delineate the front door.
Gothic Revival Victorian Design
Sometimes used on Victorian exterior facades, stone was often an indicator of Gothic Revival influences originating from European cathedrals. This type of home often had wooden trimwork with plain carvings and scrolls. This house also includes an expansive front entry, pointed porch roofline, decorative columns, and an asymmetrical footprint.