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This Spooky-Sounding House Style Is Steeped in History

Gothic-style house

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Whether or not you've been on a trip to Paris, you can probably picture a historic Gothic-style French cathedral, outfitted with flying buttresses and ornate towers. After the initial construction of Gothic-style cathedrals in the Middle Ages, more and more Gothic-style homes inspired by these incredible buildings began to pop up throughout Europe—and, later, the United States.

While Gothic-style homes commonly feature some of the same traits as the cathedrals they emulate, they have some distinct features, too—and Gothic-style homes built more recently embrace the spirit of the original Gothic homes, with other, new features fit for modern living.

What Is a Gothic-Style House?

A Gothic-style house is a house that evokes the gothic style of cathedrals built during the Middle Ages in Europe. These typically two-story homes are known for their ornate style, characterized by stone facades, steep roof pitches, arch-style windows, and large chimneys.

Curious about everything Gothic-style homes have to offer? Here's everything you need to know about Gothic-style homes, from their common characteristics to their history.

What Makes a House Gothic-Style?

Gothic-style house

American Castles

According to Mark Lavender, a Chicago-area architect-turned-interior designer, Gothic-style homes (sometimes called Gothic-revival homes) are modeled after cathedrals built in Europe in the Middle Ages. While you likely won't see too many homes with flying buttresses, Gothic-style homes are typically constructed with stately stone facades and steep roof pitches (angles) that mimic their namesake architecture. Oftentimes, Lavender adds, Gothic-style homes include arch windows on the upper floors along with large chimneys or even actual towers to create a commanding, palatial look.

Meet the Expert

Mark Lavender is an architect-turned-interior designer based in the Chicago area.

Gothic homes built in the United States may not share all the characteristics of a French cathedral, Lavender says they do share certain traits. Some of the main features of Gothic-style houses include:

  • Stone facades
  • Steep, often gabled, roof pitches
  • Two-story structures
  • Modified arched windows that rise to a point at the top instead of a more rounded curve 
  • Decorative fretwork, or stonework, around the trim of the home
  • Large chimneys or actual towers
  • Archways over the driveway
  • Prominent bay windows
  • Stained or leaded glass features
  • Large window above the front porch 
  • Wood trim or latticework on the front porch, especially in homes constructed of wood or masonry

The History of Gothic-Style Homes

Lavender says Gothic-style architecture has its roots in the vast, ornate cathedrals built during the middle ages in Europe, most prominently Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and the cathedral in Reims, France. This style of architecture is most known for its flying buttresses that allowed stone walls to be constructed at great heights; the structural system also allowed for wide, open spaces for churchgoers to gather within the main cathedral. Commonly, Lavender adds, Gothic-style architecture of yore was characterized by steep roof pitches and modified arch windows that rise to a point instead of the typical, more rounded curve.

In Europe, Lavender says large, two-story stone Gothic-style homes gained popularity in the mid-1800s and were a very popular style for country estates. Since then, the home style has also become relatively common in the United States, particularly during the gilded age, from the late 1870s to 1900, in the Eastern United States. For example, Lavender says Newport, Rhode Island is home to many notable Gothic-style homes.

Since homebuilders have adapted features of Gothic style to fit modern life. While the main characteristics, such as steep roofs and modified windows, are commonly seen in more contemporary Gothic-style homes, Lavender says many Gothic-style homes in the United States are constructed of wood or masonry instead of stone.

The Different Types of Gothic-Style Homes

Wood or Brick Gothic-Style Homes

Compared to the original Gothic-style estates, Gothic homes built after 1900 may have different features. According to Lavender, wood or brick-constructed Gothic-style homes are typically smaller in scale than their stone counterparts, with two stories, a rectangular-style footprint, and a large gabled feature in the center of the home above the front porch. "This gabled feature typically includes a single, large window with a modified arch head and the front porch features wood trim that was a cousin of the Victorian style with the use of latticework," he adds.