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Victorian Period: Home Styles of 19th Century Americans

Ancient art and architecture are not only for historians but for people like us who’ve always been interested in periodic art and crafts.

Architectural design of homes of the Victorian Period in America

Architectural design of homes of the Victorian Period in America

Victorian-Era Architecture in 19th Century America

Home styles of the Victorian era first evolved during the reign of Queen Victoria of Great Britain. It became a favoured style of 19th century America, at a time when people began to lose interest in the large and imposing styles of the Greek revival period. Victorian-style architecture soon became a source of inspiration for American architects

There were really no great art leaders in 19th century America, and the voices of the creative few that tried to cultivate their own artistic expressions were more or less ignored. Though uniqueness was still desirable by the elite, connoisseurship in the arts was absent and home designs and their interiors became more of borrowed foreign ideas than conceived inventions.

Architectural Styles of the Victorian Era

In the period between 1830 and 1910, the architectural styles of Victorian homes produced several popular designs. They include:

  • Queen Anne
  • Stick Style
  • Italianate
  • Second Empire
  • Shingle Style
  • Richardsonian Romanesque
  • Gothic Revival Style

Some of the styles were absurd in a sense and consisted of wooden arches, vaults, and windows with pointed tips. They had clusters of columns, stained glass panes, and jigsaw ornamentation. The building façades had no proportionate classical forms and had large unbalanced bay windows and cupolas. And outdoors, the vast manicured lawns had hydrangeas, with cast iron menacing figures of dogs and stags.

On the downside, the Victorian cities were crowded with homes characterized by brownstone fronts and high stoops that were devoid of any aesthetic appeal.

Characteristic Features of Historic Victorian Homes

  • Steep mansard roofs with dormer window openings breaking through the surfaces of the sloping roofs.
  • Asymmetrical exteriors.
  • Steeply pitched roofs with irregular shapes.
  • A cluster of columns.
  • Textured shingles.
  • Dormer windows.
  • Irregularly shaped windows.
  • Dominant front gable.
  • High gabled roofs with shingles installed in distinctive patterns.
  • Corner towers.
  • Asymmetrical porches extended along one or two exterior walls.
  • Balconies.

Victorian Period Interiors

The Victorian era is famous for its interpretation and eclectic revival of varying historic designs mixed with some Middle East and Asian features. These varied influences were apparent in furniture styles, interior fittings, furnishings, and interior design layouts. And unlike the architectural designs, the interior design was opulent in many ways.

The interior layouts of Victorian house interiors consisted of irregularly shaped rooms that were generally planned without much thought. They included a plethora of lathe-turned balusters, wooden grilles, table legs, and spindles. The important rooms had painted wainscots, parquet flooring, ceilings with false beams, heavy trims and huge mouldings usually made from golden oak wood.

Furniture and interior décor objects were designed with "naïve" Gothic features showing religious, sentimental, and even depressing themes. These styles are typical of the Gothic art period and logically suited church designs and religious forms more than they did residential buildings.

Interiors are noted for their heavy ornamentation with excessive use of unrelated textures and patterns. The rooms were separated according to their functions (public and private spaces were separated), and the parlour was the most important room while the dining room was the second-most important room in historic Victorian homes.

Features of Victorian Home Interiors

  • Wallpaper with garish patterns.
  • Oriental rugs covered in animal skin (bear, lion or tiger).
  • Fireplaces with marble slab mantels and arched openings.
  • Mantle facings with brightly coloured tiles or bricks.
  • Ornately decorated furniture and a hybrid of furnishings.
  • Window coverings made of layers of thick heavy textiles, valances, swags and tails, and heavily fringed jabots.
  • Colours—rich, dark jewel tones like deep reds, blues, emerald greens, purple, and gold hues.
  • Rugs and tapestries.
  • Damask and velvet fabrics.
  • Ornate mouldings and carvings.
  • Wall panelling and wood flooring.
  • Stained glass.
  • Excessive use of dark woods like mahogany and walnut.
  • Arched lancet windows.
  • Wrought-iron chandeliers, sconces, and candlelight lamps.
  • Oversized and overstuffed sofas and large cosy chairs.

Further Reading

What Early American Homes of the First Colonial Settlers Were Like

Georgian Period Interiors: 18th Century Furniture and Interior Design

Victorian Period Home Styles vs Modern Era Homes

Victorian period home designs are the complete opposite of modern era homes. At the time, lightly furnished unadorned rooms were considered to be in poor taste. Every surface was filled with objects that reflected the homeowner's lifestyle and aspirations and unlike the 21st century, theirs was a time of heavy and ornate oversized interior furniture and furnishings, with a penchant for oddments. The heavier, darker, more lavish, and richer a Victorian home is, the better, and that is a central element of the historical style.

Comparatively, modern homes are minimalist in style with clean lines, and, at most times, furniture and furnishings that are ‘lighter’ in both form and size. While Victorian homes were warm, overcrowded, complex, and dramatic, with a large dose of excessive opulence and oversized features. modern era homes have open-plan bright airy rooms, with less-stated décor and finishes. the Victorian home did not.

With its immense scale and fanatical devotion to exterior and interior ornamentation, a Victorian-style home was generally built with brick, wood, and mortar. The roof was typically made of multiple layers of coal and tar spread over tongue and groove planks, but the homes of the elite and wealthy had slate roofing, more expensive and durable roofing for high-class structures.

Architecturally, many modern homes feature flat or low-sloped roofs and clean straight lines, with little to no exterior textures. Additionally, modern building construction practices require more technologically advanced materials like concrete, steel, and PVC-based products.

© 2011 artsofthetimes


Helen Murphy Howell from Fife, Scotland on November 05, 2011:

A fascinating hub about this period. voted up!

annmackiemiller on November 05, 2011:

very interesting. voted up and stuff

Sharilee Swaity from Canada on November 04, 2011:

Wow, this is interesting. I did not realize that the Victorian times were so garish and showy. Thanks for a great hub. Very informative!