The Victorian design era, named after the reign of Queen Victoria between 1837 – 1901, was characterized by many types of decorative and over-decorative ornamentation1.
A popular style that is sought after even today when planning and designing a home. But unbeknownst to most, there are several different sub-species or categories referred to by historians you may want to consider for you next Victorian design project.
Carpenter Gothic, as defined in John Pile’s A History of Interior Design, is “the term applied to the vernacular adaptation of the Gothic Revival style in America.” In short, this style incorporated wood on base boards, trim, and pointed-arch forms. Stain glass or leaded glass was used often along with parquet floors and decorative word work which lead to Gingerbread patterns. A good example of this style is the Kingscote mansion in Newport, Rhode Island designed by Richard UpJohn in 1839 with later additions by McKim, Mead and White in 18812.
Italianate style architecture is known for low-pitched or low-slopping hipped roofs and porches. They normally have bracketed roofs, cornices, and often a tower. The windows and doors are normally topped with a hood or semicircular arches.
The interiors sometimes took on a concoction of Italian and Moorish influence. One example is the Olana Mansion in New York designed by Calvert Vaux and the owner Frederick E. Church in 1874-89, which he designed in the “Persian” style3.
Mansardic style is named from the mansard roofs which are steep, visible front surface, made of slate and seen from the street. The Mansardic style homes, also known as General Grant style, had detailed cast-iron trim, carved to as much as the owner could afford. Gingerbread ornamentation was also used in this type of architecture.
The interiors would have as much detail as the exterior in the trim, crown molding, and base-boards. Flowery wall coverings were integrated and patterned and/or Persian carpets covered the floors. Furniture was crowded every where and unused spaces would be filled with newly developed furniture such as what-nots, which was a cabinet to display trinkets and knick-knacks. An example of this style is seen at the Vaile Mansion in Independence MO, which the Vaile Victorian Society refurbished successfully within this style4.
Queen Anne or Queen Anne Revival
Queen Anne style, also referred to as the Shingle Style, is the term used for late-Victorian design. The Queen Anne style practiced more of a sophisticated element of design. Distinctive characteristics of the Queen Anne style are the asymmetrical placement of elements, bay windows, mixture of brick, terracotta, shingles, and ornamental inserts.
The interior of a Queen Anne design will have paneling, small-paned windows, fireplaces, and nooks with built-in settees creating a simple mix of cozy charm and intricacy. One example of this style is the Watts Sherman House, Newport, Rhode Island designed by architect Henry Hobson Richardson with the interior designed by Stanford White5. Another beautiful example of this style is The Queen Anne Mansion in Eureka Springs, AR built in 1891 by owner Curtis Wright to entice his wife to move from their hometown6.
The Adirondack style, named after the mountain region in New York, is a minor style of the Victorian era. Since the railroad offered convenient and comfortable travel, those who could afford it travel to the mountain regions in New York for vacations. The cabins or vacation homes that were built reflecting the Adirondack style was a combination of Victorian ornamentation and a log cabin feel. Tree branches and twigs were used to create benches, beds, and decorations in these elaborate cabins. A good example is the Camp Cedar, Forked Lake, in Adirondack, New York7.
Hopefully, this brief history of Victorian design and styles will give you the inspiration needed to design your own Victorian style in your home.
1 Pile , John. A History of Interior Design. 2nd ed. (New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2005) 247.
2Kingscote Newport Mansions. The Preservation Society of Newport County via newportmansion.org.
3Olana House Video of Great Hall. Olana.org.
4The Vaile Victorian Society. Vailmansion.org.
5″William Watts Sherman House”. Wikipedia.
6″Our Story”. thequeenannemansion.com.
7Camp Cedar on Forked Lake. sthubertsisle.com.