English architectural styles took the names of the reigning monarchs of the period–Elizabethan, Jacobean, Georgian, Regency (After George III was determined unfit to manage the burgeoning Empire, his son took over as Regent until he became George IV in 1820), Queen Anne, and so on.
The Victorian era is obviously named for the longest-reigning (until Elizabeth II) monarch in British history, and is fascinating because the architecture of the period is informed by the expansion of the Empire and the Industrial Revolution. Colonial Britain, for better or worse, set design standards the world over during the 19th century–the Red House in Taipei bears a remarkable resemblance to the Royal Albert Hall in London. Then there’s the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus in Mumbai–a monument to the most exuberant elements of quintessential Victorian confectionery that would be a home next to Buckingham Palace.
The Industrial Revolution–with mass production and the beginnings of technology, steam-powered travel, and the telegraph–all combined to make the world a smaller place in the Victorian era, and in turn fashionable London set the tone for the Empire, sending forth to the world the materials to build monuments to the monarch. In the US, a booming merchant and rising industrial class in the 1800s made these new design concepts popular across the country, as Americans shook off the boring four-square Colonial house in favor of the riotous, borderline rococo aspects of Victorian style.
So there is no singular Victorian style, although some of the details make it easily identifiable. In many period homes in the US, these are some of the iconic features.
The times they were a-changing, and in light of that, the asymmetrical facade of the Victorian was a strong rebuke to the absolute balance of earlier styles. There’ s a gable that hangs over a porch, a turret or cupola on one side, and windows–with at least one stained glass–place at random with no real discernable rhyme or reason.
Advances in chemistry–the invention of synthetics– brought lighter, brighter color options to houses. Fashion-forward homeowners could choose blues, yellows, greens, pinks–a veritable rainbow that freed them from iron oxide-based reds and browns. These colors were influenced by the Italianate take on the Victorian style–again, a global moment.
When you think of quintessential Victorian style, it’s probably Queen Anne that comes to mind. That’s the “gingerbread” house with a lot of everything going on–gables, cupolas, ornate balustrades, layers of mouldings, porches, and balconies. This late 19th century fashion is more accurately a Revival style, adding the Victorian elements to a traditional Tudor house with large chimneys, leaded windows, patterned designs in wood shingles, and banded brick. The North Carolina Executive Mansion is a wonderful example of a Queen Anne/Victorian mashup.
How can you incorporate these design elements into your house? Chances are it’s not grand and ornate and it’s hard to see how all these frills will enhance your house without it looking a little ridiculous, but it’s really quite simple–here are some easy projects that you can do if you’re handy, or your carpenter can give you a hand.
Fabulous trim is what ultimately defines this style, and you can easily install a couple of layers along your roof–a series of brackets and dentil moulding under the eaves will make your roofline pop.
Dress up your front steps and porch with a turned spindle balustrade and balusters, and if you’ve got any windows with a faux balcony (or a real one) replace it with something a little more custom.
If you’ve got a porch, add some columns for a huge architectural punch–they should complement the balustrade, but not be a match–it’s all about being different. If you don’t have a porch, they’re reasonable to build, and when you add a gable roof with some “gingerbread” moulding you’ve got a great Victorian look.
Replace your window frames with fanciful pilasters and pediments that are the same style as your porch columns.
Now that you’re properly inspired, give us a call at Worthington Millwork so you can make that dream a reality!