New England Historic Homes-Part 3: Victorian Sophistication
Victorian is a broad term, misused in the past to describe an older, over decorated, fussy, complicated, and often, dark home. Today the Victorian style is on its way back into the public’s good graces. The renewed appreciation of this style centers on its variety, craftsmanship, and reflection of a rich and vibrant age. Technically, the Victorian era ran from Queen Victoria’s ascension to the throne in 1837, until her death in 1901. Although the Greek, Gothic, Italianate, and Second Empire styles were all popular during this timeframe, their styles are not considered Victorian in nature. Below, we highlight what most consider some of the most beautiful sub-styles of Victorian architecture.
The Stick Style, unlike others, is not tied to an historical event or famous person, but takes its name from its visual representation. The exterior walls, gable ends, and porch pediments feature exposed beams and diagonal braces or “stick work” with the bracing that spans the triangular-shaped gable ends one of its most distinctive characteristics. During this period, Americans especially favored homes made of wood and this style became a favorite. Thanks to a combination of new milling techniques, improved woodworking tools, and mass production, stick style homes became relatively easy to create and own.
The Queen Anne style features picturesque silhouettes, steep slopes, turrets, complex vertical structures, and entryways often marked by elaborate individual porches. Like the Stick Style, the Queen Anne style owes much of its roots to the Arts and Crafts movement that developed as a result of the dawn of the industrial revolution. New materials and technology allowed for the elaborate details that made this style so popular. The Queen Anne style in America is a reminder that no matter how independent our fore-fathers, we still owe much of our architectural culture to England.
This particular style was named for American architect Henry Hobson Richardson, a man little known outside the world of architecture. Heavily articulated round arches, massive walls, and love of rock-faced masonry became his hallmarks. Richardson borrowed the towers and corner porches from his Queen Anne predecessor, but added the features coveted by the public at the time. These features included round arches, vigorous stonework and simplified massing. Richardson designed this style from the inside out; the beauty of the exterior blossomed from his stylistic underlying structural logic.
The Shingle Style reflects an almost exclusive American sensibility. The design found it’s inspiration in the cottages, barns, and other outbuildings utilized by farmers and fishermen throughout New England. The front façade is often covered in clapboard, with more modest shingles on the remaining sides. Although generally unassertive, the success and appeal of this style was considered an artistic and aesthetic triumph. The style often features asymmetrical roofs, dormers, small porches and decidedly unassuming front entrances. The most important feature, and namesake, is the beautiful and economical shingling of the exterior. Not only were shingles less costly than clapboard, easier to install, and simple to maintain and repair, but when made of cedar or similar wood, they required no paint and dried to a beautiful silver gray patina.
View a representation of a number of historical styles we have discussed: The Lockwood-Mathews Mansion.