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The Victorian House Styles Queen Anne, Italianate, Gothic & Eastlake

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Victorian house styles flourished after the Civil War in 19th century America. The trend throughout the period was toward more ornate homes showcasing the increasing wealth produced by the Industrial Revolution.

Mass production had made even very elaborate ornamentation relatively inexpensive, and the expansion of railroads made it possible to ship great quantities of mass-produced goods into every city and hamlet.

This abundance was increasingly reflected in American housing styles and decoration.

Gothic Revival (1840-1880)

The relatively simple Gothic Revival style was the first departure from the rectangular Colonial footprints of the 18th century.

Earlier houses, built primarily of local materials, were usually devoid of ornamentation except what could be laboriously produced by local craftsmen. Manufactured trim was expensive and thus sparingly used. Vic­tor­ian architecture changed all that.

The Gothic house was the first example of industrial abundance reflecting the increasing wealth of Americans.

Its irregular shape, arched windows, steeply pitched complex roof, elaborate vergeboard trim along roof edges, high dormers, and lancet windows, all heralded a break from the less elaborate architecture of earlier periods.

Elley Villa - 1851

Built by cotton planter Wm. R. Elley in 1850-51 as a summer house. The house plan was adapted by Lexington architect John McMurtry from Design XXIV ("A Cottage-Villa in the Rural Gothic Style") in Andrew Jackson Downing's very influential The Architecture of Country Houses published in 1850.

Simple Gothic houses were built for middle-class owners all over the Midwest, often by itinerant, mostly German, carpenters who stayed just long enough to build the house and any furnishings required, then moved on.

Many were also commonly built from kits sold by Sears, Roebuck & Co., and other "ready-cut" house-kit makers such as Aladdin. The house came as pre-cut lumber in one or two boxcars, complete with a detailed instruction book, ready to be assembled by the homeowner or a local builder.

As the industrial base of the United States grew, so did the nation's prosperity and wealth. The simple Gothic style fell out of favor with the very well-to-do who moved on to more elaborate designs for their mansions and estates.

In the latter years of the 19th century, only a few stone and brick versions of the Gothic house were built for the very prosperous.

The style remained a favorite of the rising middle class, however, and continued to be widely built in Folk Vic­tor­ian and Carpenter Gothic versions, usually out of wood, until the very end of the Vic­tor­ian Era.

Its enduring popularity owed much to the endorsement of period trend makers like An­drew Jack­son Down­ing, a noted architect of the pre-Civil War era who believed the Gothic style ideal for modest dwellings suitable for the middle class.

Italianate (1850-1890)

The Italianate style began in England in the 1840s.

For most of two centuries, English homes had tended to be a formal and classical style known as English Baroque, following the trend established in the 15th century by England's most famous architect, Christopher Wren.

With the Italianate style, however, builders began to move toward romantic, fanciful recreations of Italian Renaissance homes.

When the Italianate style migrated to the United States in the 1850s, it was almost immediately stamped with a purely American character — much less fanciful and much more practical.

The style was widely adopted almost immediately, due in large part to the support of And­rew Jack­son Down­ing, who featured the style in his two very influential pattern books published in 18942 and 1850.[1]

Downing's endorsement set off a wave of Italianate home-building around the country. By the late 1860s, Italianate had become the most popular house style in the United States, admired by such notables as Lt. Gen. and later President Ulysses S. Grant, who at various times owed at least two of them.

The homes were typically two to three stories high, with flat or hip roofs, corniced eaves, fanciful bay windows with inset wooden panels, corner boards, two over two double-hung windows, Corinthian-columned porches, and a square tower or cupola. The windows often had curved or molded window caps.

It could be built of just about any material — stone and brick for the affluent, wood siding for the middle class, and it could be scaled to fit even a fairly modest budget

The elaborate moldings and pressed metal fittings required for the style had become abundant and cheap due to growing mass production.

Its primacy was short-lived, however. Starting in the 1870s it was being overtaken by more ornate late Vic­tor­ian styles such as Queen Anne and Eastlake, and by the 1890s was largely retired.

During its 40-year reign, however, a great many were built. The prosperity through increased industrialization that followed the American Civil War made the 1870s something of a boom time, resulting in lots of building, primarily in the Northeast but also in the then rapidly expanding Midwest.

Stick-Eastlake (1860-1890)

When people think "Gingerbread Victorian" this is the style they most often have in mind.

Stick style is considered by some architectural historians to be a transition between simple Gothic Revival and, later, more ornate Queen Anne houses. Others believe the style to be a high Vic­tor­ian elaboration of the venerable gothic style without the defining Gothic elements.

Popular from about 1860 to 1890, there is little question that the style was built on Gothic foundations but was also greatly influenced by new construction technologies just becoming available.

"Baloon" Framing

The most notable was the lighter and more flexible "balloon" or "stick" framing, from which the Stick style gets its name. Stick framing using dimensioned lumber began replacing the more ponderous "post and beam" or "timber" framing in the 1830s.

The story is that stick framing was invented by a carpenter, Au­gus­tine Deo­dat Tay­lor, who together with lumberman George Wash­ing­ton Snow used the new framing method to build St. Ma­ry's of the As­sump­tion Cath­o­lic Church on Lake Street in Fort Dear­born, Il­li­nois, then a frontier settlement of about 350 souls.

The new system which used standard 2x4 dimensioned lumber nailed together to form a sturdy, light, framing skeleton was popularized by journalist Solon Robinson who published articles in the New York Tribune and the American Agriculturist.

At first, builders were reluctant to adopt this new technology. However, the much lower cost of stick framing, requiring fewer skilled carpenters, encouraged even the most hesitant to embrace the easier and faster system.

By the Post-American-Civil-War housing boom of the 1860s and '70s, stick framing had become the standard construction method in the Midwest and was making inroads even in the ultra-conservative New England states.

Not without resistance, however. Traditional post and beam framers ridiculed the construction as "balloon framing," — saying it was so light that buildings would "float away in a good stiff breeze."

They didn't, and by 1890, Fort Dearborn had become Chicago, home to a million people, with the vast majority of them living in houses constructed using baloon framing.

Elements of the Eastlake Style

The Eastlake style is recognizable by the relatively simple layout typical of Gothic designs, frequently accented with trusses or decorative shingles on the gable ends.

Large, wrap-around porches and bold paneled brick chimneys are design features the style carried over into the Queen Anne period.

Stick-Eastlake expanded the simple cross-gable rooflines of the Gothic house into complex, intersecting roof planes that were also bequeathed to Queen Anne houses as a defining design feature.

The houses often feature enormous, overhanging, second-story porches which led to the name "Swiss Chalet" houses.

The single most distinguishing design feature of the style, however, are the small vertical, horizontal, or diagonal planks placed on top of the exterior walls.

Elaborately decorated and very fanciful Stick houses are often referred to as the "Eastlake" style because of the lavish use of furniture designer Charles Eastlake's favorite ornamentation, the spindle.

Eastlake himself hated the style and even filed a lawsuit to have his name divorced from it. He was not successful.

Eastlake Houses Today

During its fairly short primacy, a great many Eastlake houses were built but relatively few survive when compared to more enduring styles of Vic­tor­ian architecture.

In part, this is due to the fact that most Stick houses were built of wood, and were more susceptible to destruction by fire.

In many cases, however, the cost of keeping the elaborately detailed houses in good repair simply proved too much for subsequent owners.

Spindles and elaborate exterior detailing broke and went missing or succumbed to storms and the elements, and were difficult, if not impossible, to reproduce. So, a great many of these houses just faded into decrepitude over the years and were eventually torn down to make way for newer structures in ever-expanding towns and cities.

The few that survive, such as the privately-owned Charles Yates House, pictured above, located in Lincoln's Near South Neighborhood are architectural treasures well worth the modest cost of preserving.

Second Empire (1865-1880)

After the American Civil War, French influence crept into American residential architecture in the form of the Second Empire style.

The style originated with the rebuilding of much of Paris during the reign of Emperor Napoleon III, called the Second Empire.

The house was typically 1-1/2 or two stories tall with a mansard roof. It sometimes featured a tower that was at least as tall as the rest of the house and often extended above the roof of the main part of the structure.

The characteristic French mansard roof, which gives the Paris skyline its unique character, migrated into American architecture as the defining element of the style.

Other design features include tall, narrow windows on the first floor with curved-crown dormer windows that project from the roof ("eyebrow" dormers) and round cornices at the top and base of the roof.

Brackets below the eaves, balconies, and bay windows were common, as were wrought-iron galleries or "crests" above the upper cornice. A small entry porch is also very common.

The mansard roof and narrower eaves distinguish the style from Italianate which often has the same rectangular form and similar detailing.

Second Empire was supplanted with the revival of the Queen Anne style and its many variations by 1880.

Queen Anne (1870-1910)

When most people think "Vic­tor­ian house", the image in their minds is often of a storybook Queen Anne with its gabled roofs, angled bay windows, and turret or tower.

Queen Anne houses were built of stone and brick for the well-to-do and stick framed with wood siding for the less middle class.

Wood siding was usually clapboard but combinations of siding styles: clapboard with shingles and board and batten are common.

Exterior decoration was more or less elaborate: more if the house was up-scale, less if not.

Towers, turrets, wrap-around porches, and other fanciful architectural details were typical. But many such homes, especially middle-class houses built without the aid of an architect, lacked elaborate ornamentation.

Essentially, any Vic­tor­ian Era home with a turret or tower is probably going to be classed as a Queen Anne no matter the amount of decoration.

The style at its most extreme is characterized by overwhelming excess.

Common features included large projecting bay windows, towers, turrets, porches (often on multiple stories), balconies, stained glass decoration, roof finials and crestings, curved walls, carvings and/or inset panels of stone or terra-cotta, cantilevered upper stories, acres of decorative trim, patterned shingles, belt courses, elaborate brackets, banisters, and spindles — even the chimneys on Queen Anne houses were often spectacularly crafted.

A large, open, spacious porch that often wrapped around the side of the house — frequently called a veranda — was one of its most striking and identifiable features.

Some houses featured cupolas and detached gazebos to anchor elaborate gardens.

Henry Hobson Richardson was the first American architect to break away from European traditions by designing structures that were truly original American styles.

The grandson of Joseph Priestly, generally acknowledged for his discovery of oxygen, Richardson studied at Harvard and Tulane in the U.S. and the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris.

Heavily influenced by designer William Morris and philosopher John Ruskin, both regarded as founding fathers of the Arts & Crafts movement that had begun to eclipse Vic­tor­ian styles by the 1890s, Richardson returned to simpler medieval forms in his architecture.

Most of the buildings designed by Richardson himself (as opposed to one of his students) were massive stone public works such as the Trinity Church in Boston and the Allegheny County Courthouse in Pittsburgh, for which his heavy Romanesque style was especially well suited.

But, the style also migrated to the private residences of the wealthy and fit nicely with the elaborate Queen Anne houses then in vogue.

The Architecture of Country Houses

Andrew Jackson Downing
“Among the first principles of utility in building or designing a cottage, we may state the following:
The principal entrance or front door should never open directly into an apartment of any kind but always into a porch, lobby, or entry of some kind. Such a passage not only protects the apartment against sudden draughts of air but also protects the privacy and dignity of the inmates.
The roof should always be steep enough to carry off the snow freely, and there should be [a] means of ventilation provided, in order to secure comfort in the upper sleeping apartments.
The level of the first floor should never be less than one foot above the level of the surrounding surface of the ground to secure dryness.
In all small cottages the kitchen should always be on the first floor, because, in such dwellings, the kitchen must be kept under the eye of the mistress…”
Andrew Jackson Downing, 1850

Richardson's use of rugged stone and natural materials with a minimum of applied ornamentation also influenced the features of the more free-form Shingle style, particularly in the work of Charles F. McKim and Stanford White, both of whom worked and studied under Richardson.

The R. O. Phillips house in Lincoln's Mt. Emerald Historic District, designed by J. H. W. Hawkins and completed in 1890, is an excellent example of the Richardson influence on late Vic­tor­ian residential design.

Phillips was a founding resident of Lincoln, a Town Trustee, and Clerk of the original Board of Trustees that chartered Lincoln (then called Lancaster) as a "city of the second class" in 1871. He later served in the Nebraska Legislature.

The heavy stone structure shows elements of Queen Anne styling but the rugged stone supporting the porches, and gothic roofline are all typical Richardsonian design elements.

The exterior of the house has been restored. The interior was divided into luxury apartments in the 1980s but the owners were careful to preserve its distinct Vic­tor­ian character, including the staircases, woodwork, fireplaces, and plaster walls.

Shingle Style (1875-1910)

Unlike most other Vic­tor­ian styles, the Shingle style is purely North American. It has no European antecedents.

Evolving from the vacation homes and hunting lodges of the well-to-do, it is a damping down of elaborate Vic­tor­ian fussiness and considered by many to be the bridge style between High Vic­tor­ian excess and the simple and earthy Craftsman and Prairie houses of the early 20th century.

Many shingle houses were indeed built as summer and vacation homes. But, as the style grew more popular, it began to appear in suburban developments as middle-class housing, primarily along the Atlantic coast but also in the mid-west where there remain many fine examples.

Its proponents included Charles F. Mc­Kim and Stan­ford White, both students of H. H. Rich­ard­son

Their upscale shingle-style houses often included Rich­ard­son's characteristic detailing in the stonework.

The style is distinguished by the use of natural or single-color shingles as an exterior covering. Corner boards are rare. Shingles are usually woven at the corners.

The house lacks elaborate ornamentation of other Vic­tor­ian styles — the stonework and shingles were considered all the ornamentation needed.

The shingle-style house was never built in abundance, so surviving examples are fairly rare.

One of the best examples in Nebraska is the Arthur C. Zeimer house in Lincoln's Near South neighborhood completed in 1910.

Arthur Corydon Ziemer, a railroad ticket agent, was a self-taught interior designer and architect and evidently designed the building himself. In any event, there is no professional architect known to be associated with the building of the structure.

The house is in the National Register of Historic Places and still privately owned although a portion of the original grounds is now one of the city's most popular public parks.

The foundation, circular tower, and arcaded porch were built of Col­o­ra­do Redstone, while the remainder of the house is covered in wood shingles originally stained moss green.

The interior is classical except for the library which is more in the style of H. H. Richardson with its high, vaulted ceiling and large arched windows featuring stained glass.

Zeimer was a Christ­ian Scien­tist and the library was used intermittently as a Christ­ian Science reading room open to the public.

The style heralded a coming sea change in Amer­ican architecture with the demise of Vic­tor­ian opulence and the start of a return to simplified forms that eventually culminated in the earthier architecture of the Arts & Crafts that blossomed in the first half of the 20th century.

Folk Vic­tor­ian & Car­pen­ter Goth­ic

While architects were building stately stone and brick Queen Anne and elaborate Eastlake homes for the one-percent, regular folks were also building houses and taking full advantage of the growing availability of consistently dimensioned lumber, inexpensive steel nails, fancy millwork and the national network of railroads to transport materials from where they were made to where they were needed.

Variously called "Folk Vic­tor­ian", "Frontier Vic­tor­ian", "Prairie Gothic" or "Carpenter Gothic" and derived largely from the Gothic Revival style, these houses became common from about 1850 as middle-class residences.

Gothic design elements such as pointed arches, steep gables, and towers were added to traditional frame construction

Andrew Jackson Downing

The style received considerable impetus from the publication of detailed plans, elevations, and descriptions in pattern journals and books that often included detailed construction guides.

Of the journals, perhaps the most widely read was Robert W. Shoppell's illustrated architectural quarterly first published in January 1886 which detailed and illustrated plans for contemporary Victorian homes.

A book compilation followed in 1887 entitled Shoppell's Modern Houses. It is still available as a digital download from Di­gi­tal Comm­on­wealth in partnership with the Bos­ton Pub­lic Li­brary.

However, the most influential voice of the late Victorian period in America was a landscape architect and long-time editor of the Horticulturist magazine, Andrew Jackson Downing.

Downing was not a trained architect, but had an abundance of common sense and an eye for design. His writings caught the attention of a growing middle class that was eager for housing that was more then the Colonial standard: two or three rooms and a fireplace.

He exerted an outsized influence on American residential architecture in the last half of the 19th century that is still felt today.

He is credited, for example, with the popularization of the large front porch or veranda as a necessary transition between the house and nature — which is the primary reason American houses up to about 1941 commonly featured generous front porches, while European housing did not, and still does not.

After 1945 and the advent of simplified suburban tract housing, the front porch shrank dramatically, It did not disappear, however, but just moved to the backyard for better privacy and transformed into patios and decks.

As the re-designer of the Mall in Washington D.C. in concert with the building of the Smith­son­ian In­sti­tute, and the landscape architect for the White House, Down­ing became something of a minor celebrity.

His pattern books, Cot­tage Re­si­den­ces, written In 1842, with Alex­an­der Jack­son Da­vis and Architecture of Country Houses (1850), did much to influence the architecture of modest homes that the middle-class could afford both during his lifetime and for the next half century.

More than carefully illustrated houseplans, they were dissertations on style, design, philosophy, the proper relationship of the house to the natural world surrounding it, and the various processes involved in building a house, including such arcana as how to make paint and stain from local materials, how to design effective ventilation, and how to build a fireplace that draws well.

The works featured numerous Car­pen­ter Goth­ic and Ital­ia­nate house styles at various levels of elaboration. Both he and Davis were proponents of the styles as sensible, comfortable, affordable housing for the growing middle-class.

Downing died at age 37 in a boiler explosion aboard the Hudson River paddle-wheel steamer Henry Clay on July 28, 1852 — an event that killed several notables and forced Con­gress, previously reluctant to pursue steamboat legislation, to pass extensive new boiler safety laws.

During his short 15-year professional career, however, Down­ing was a prodigious worker and prolific writer on nature, horticulture, landscaping, architecture, and social betterment. He profoundly believed that a "good home will encourage its inhabitants to pursue a moral existence," a view shared by many of his contemporaries.

Downing's influence on residential architecture far outlasted his too-brief lifetime.

Downing, his student and partner, Cal­vert Vaux, together with occasional associate, Fred­erick Law Olm­sted, are generally considered the founding fathers of Amer­i­can landscape architecture.

Vaux and Olmstead designed or redesigned many of the major public parks in America, including Pro­spect Park in Brooklyn, Cen­tral Park in New York City, Ni­a­ga­ra Falls State Park (the nation's first state park) in Ni­a­ga­ra Falls, and Elm Park (one of the nation's first municipal parks) in Wor­ces­ter, Mass.

The Decoration of Folk Houses

Downing's delight in nature spilled into his architecture. He was not a fan of elaborate applied ornamentation. His view was that houses should fit into their natural setting. Nature provided all the decoration needed for a properly sited and landscaped house. Any other decoration was just an unnecessary distraction.

His viewpoint largely prevailed in Folk Victorian designs.

Folk houses, especially rural houses, were relatively unadorned, retaining only the basic elements of Victorian designs: tall narrow windows and steep gables but lacking the towers, turrets, bay windows, and elaborate moldings of the grand Vic­tor­ian styles.

The invention of the steam-powered scroll saw and mass-produced wood moldings allowed builders to use factory-made detailing to mimic High Vic­tor­ian houses made of stone and brick but for the most part, they used applied decoration sparingly.

In part, this reticence was a matter of cost — even though readily available, factory-made moldings, with shipping added, could add significantly to the price of a house.

But, it was also a matter of taste. Rich decoration might be suitable for the bankers and robber barons but in most middle-class neighborhoods, modest decoration was the norm. Anything more was "putting on airs."

The most common siding was clapboard followed by board and batten, and the most common decoration, if any, was a little scrollwork on the gables and perhaps some dentil molding at the eaves.

This modesty did not extend, however, to paint.

Fanciful, multi-colored paint schemes using the nation's new factory-made ready-mixed paints were the rule, not the exception, often enhanced by extensive fairy-tale formal gardens featuring blooms of every hue and shade.

Before the 1960s, paints were homemade, using whatever pigment source was available locally. But, in 1867 D.R. Averill of Ohio patented the first factory-prepared paint.

Shortly thereafter Har­ry Sher­win, Alan­son Os­born, and Ed­ward Wil­liams formed Sher­win, Wil­liams & Co. in Cleve­land Ohio to manufacture and market prepared paint. By 1875, the company was selling Sherwin-Williams paint throughout the Mid­west.

Ready-mixed paints did not rely on local pigments but used commercial chemical colorants that not only provided a greater range of colors but also more consistency in color from batch to batch.

Hundreds of paint companies were operating by 1880. Paint in colors never before heard of – Delft Blue, Mauveine, Salmon, Sage Green, and Rose Madder, to name just a few was used with almost reckless abandon to decorate Victorian housing.

Overall, however, the Folk Vic­tor­ian stayed a simple, work-a-day, house: solid, practical, and long-lasting – very long-lasting – all through the Victorian century right up to today.

Folk Victorians were still being built in Nebraska into the 1930s, and many built in the late 19th century are still very much in use, many beautifully restored and richly decorated as befits these enduring memorials to America's dynamic Victorian Century.

Victorian Interiors: The Evolution of Opulence

A Victorian house was a showroom up front with family quarters and service areas at the rear.

The public areas of the home, the parlors and drawing rooms, were the show places, intended for display and designed to showcase prestige and social status, to awe and impress visitors with the wealth, refinement, and good taste of the homeowners… (Continues)

Rev. 04/29/24