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The era of European royal highnesses and residing in castles may be behind us, for the most part, but there's still a type of architecture that emulates the old-world style.
Victorian-style homes may sound old-fashioned, but despite the features that mark them as such, these homes can be styled in a multitude of ways that make them feel unique and personalized. We spoke with home design experts Thomas Jepsen, CEO of Passion Plans, and Jaye Anna Mize, VP of the home and interior design space for Fashion Snoops. Phillip Ash, founder of Pro Paint Corner, and Sarabeth Asaff South, former interior designer and home design expert at Fixr also weighed in on the home's signature characteristics.
Even if you're partial to a Craftsman-style home or love the idea of a modern abode, Victorian homes can be designed to your liking and maintain that character. Here's everything you need to know about Victorian-style homes, their history, and the architecture that has made them a coveted home design style for more than two centuries.
Victorian-style homes became popular during the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901) and are characterized by Gothic influences and intricately designed woodwork. These homes often have pitched roofs, wraparound front porches, cylindrical turrets, and roof towers.
What Makes a House Victorian-Style?
"A Victorian-style house is something between a colorful dollhouse and a great English remnant," says Thomas Jepsen of the design firm Passion Plans. "While the style refers to a period of time in history, it is generally associated with certain characteristics."
As the name suggests, Victorians became popular among upper-class White people during the mid-to-late 1800s, during Queen Victoria's reign in the United Kingdom. Original Victorian houses have a list of indicators that make them fall into this category. "A typical Victorian home is large and imposing, two or three stories, and constructed of stone and wood with an ornate exterior consisting of steep, gabled roofs, towers, turrets, and highly decorative woodwork," says Phillip Ash of Pro Paint Corner.
The exterior paint colors on their castle-like silhouettes range from bold, vibrant hues to darker shades. Ash also adds that the original occupants of these homes weren't shy with color: "The exterior of many Victorian homes were brightly painted, as the Victorians were experimenting with paint color and looking to be the height of fashion."
While you may be blown away by their brilliant exteriors, these homes also have insides to boot. "The house plans are as ornate as the exterior," says Sarabeth Asaff South, former home expert at Fixr. "They often have verandas, turrets, and multiple rooms that can be used for various purposes. You will likely have a living room, a den, and a library in a Victorian."
If you need a lot of horizontal space, Victorians may not suit your lifestyle. Because of their tendency to be more vertical leaning, these houses offer high ceilings, but often have rooms that are long and narrow.
These nooks, crannies, and living areas are part of the signature Victorian style. Doorways and window molding are often intricate, and the ceilings are high and sometimes feature unique designs or framing. They contribute to sun-soaked rooms that feel larger than life. Those dreaming of statement chandeliers or ornate molding will deeply appreciate Victorians' thoughtful architecture.
But if you have an affinity for open floor plans, you probably won't be looking at Victorians that aren't updated. You may feel overwhelmed by the outdated infrastructures in original homes, but for the right person, these residences can create an array of opportunities for design.
Here are a few common characteristics of Victorian-style homes:
- Two to three stories
- Steep, gabled roofs
- Intricate woodwork
- Towers and turrets
- Rich colors
- Tall ceilings and windows
- Closed-off rooms
- Detailed trim
- Ornamental architecture
The History of Victorian-Style Homes
The Victorian look became increasingly popular during the mid-to-late 1800s with influence from the Industrial Revolution. Today, this type of home can be found on several continents from Europe to North America and Australia. Their decorative style is reflective of the era, as British architects took their designs abroad to colonized countries.
"Many features of the home—such as its somber color palette—are [inspired by] Queen Victoria," says South. "All colors have some amount of black added in a nod to the mourning of the Queen for her late husband," Ash adds.
Inside, the layout was historically designed to suit the lifestyle of the times for middle or upper-class Victorian families. "Open-concept would have been an appalling suggestion," Ash continues. "Homes were built to create public and private areas, as most Victorian families would entertain multiple times a week. Houses had elaborate floor plans with each room sectioned off for a specific function."
Because of the time period during which they were constructed, many Victorian homes also still include outdated building materials. For current residents, Ash notes that it's important to know the history behind your home: "Victorian homes can contain hazardous materials and need significant wiring and plumbing upgrades," he says. "If the home has been designated historic, you may also have rules about what you can and cannot change."
"If you're looking at purchasing an original Victorian, you'll be steeped in the history of the building and the many people and families that made it their home," he continues. "If it's already been renovated, you may not have to deal with any issues."
Different Types of Victorian Homes
There are a handful of subcategories of original Victorian houses. Ash explains that this style can include "Gothic Revival, Second Empire, Stick-Eastlake, Folk Victorian, Romanesque Revival, and Shingle Style." A few of the most popular variations in America are the Queen Anne Victorian, Italianate, Gothic Revival, Folk Victorian, and Romanesque Revival.
Queen Anne Victorian
Two of the most common types of Victorian homes are Queen Anne and Italianate. "Queen Annes, with their asymmetrical feel, often showcase wrap-around porches, steeply pitched roofs, a turret, and two to three stories," says Mize. This style was usually built between 1880 and 1910, and it was especially popular in the United States, specifically with middle and upper-class white people in California and in the northeast.
"[Both Queen Anne and Italianate] have the ornate dressings, such as wall textures and grandeur trim, that make them feel like gingerbread houses," Mize says. While this style originated in the early 1800s, it became common in the United States during the second half of the century. Mize adds that Italianate versions more closely resemble villas from their namesake country. They have more of a rectangular structure, and they feature narrower windows and columns that are "all ornately adorned with trim, complementing the design scheme throughout."
This style originated during the late 1740s in England, but it remained popular in the United States between the mid-1800s and mid-1900s. You may already be familiar with Gothic architecture from seeing medieval-inspired churches or public buildings—and its influence carried over to residential homes. Gothic Revival Victorians are characterized by their pointed arches, along with classic Victorian elements like steeply pitched roofs and ornate wood details.
Folk Victorian homes take on much less of the signature extravagance that many Victorians feature, but they still incorporate a few key elements. While Folk Victorians are typically constructed with a more simplistic, common look, they still have the classic detailed trim. These homes were usually built in rural areas and tend to take on the farmhouse feel.
The Romanesque Revival style came to United States architecture during the mid-1800s, and like Gothic Victorians, its details are comparable to those of many historic churches constructed in the era. It's particularly known for its use on the Smithsonian Institution Building located near Washington, D.C.'s National Mall. Romanesque Revival homes were typically constructed of brick or stone, and they included large arches, turrets, and carved stone detailing on their exteriors. They stand out from other Victorian styles thanks to their building materials, which tend to have an earthy red color and lack of wood trim.