A Definitive Guide to Victorian-Style Homes (2024)

It’s form over function when it comes to these ornately decorated homes.

By Maggie Burch and Kelly Allen
A Definitive Guide to Victorian-Style Homes (1)

When you picture a Victorian house, you might envision a colorful dollhouse, or maybe an imposing haunted or abandoned house comes to mind (like the Creel House from Stranger Things). Both are quintessential Victorian-style homes, but Victorian architecture technically refers to the era and not a specific style. That era was, of course, the time when Queen Victoria reigned in Great Britain, from 1837 to 1901. As Grant Marani, a partner at New York’s Robert A.M. Stern Architects, explains it: “Victorian means different things to different people.” But generally, the styles that are most strongly associated with this time period “emphasize verticality, decoration, and a mix of materials and colors,” Grant says.

So what exactly falls under the Victorian category?

Many architectural styles came out of the Victorian era, but the two Grant notes to be the most famous of the Victorian period—Italianate and Queen Anne—are both technically revivals of earlier architecture styles, though both took on lives of their own and were “often exuberantly decorative without much concern for historical accuracy,” Grant says. Each has distinct characteristics (noted below), but what they have in common is an emphasis on vertical elements—homes often stood at two or three stories with tall windows and porches—and detailed ornamentation that almost bordered on over-the-top. After all, a running theme throughout the Victorian era was a prioritization of form over function. Here are the differences and some of the other most notable style variations:

  • Italianate: These homes were popularized first, beginning in the 1840s and lasting until after the Civil War, drawing inspiration from 16th-century Italian villas. The main structures were fairly simple, rectangular-shaped houses with low sloping or sometimes flat roofs that protrude quite far out from the exterior walls. The windows are tall and skinny, often rounded at the top, and there is trim, trim, and more trim. Some Italianate homes even feature a square tower or cupola that rises out of the center of the house, adding to the Tuscan villa feel.
  • Queen Anne: These homes, which were popular in the U.S. from the 1880s until around 1920, are theoretically a revival of the style du jour during the actual reign of Queen Anne (1702 to 1714), but there is very little resemblance in practice. Queen Anne homes are the quintessential Victorian home: They are asymmetrical, two or three (or more) stories tall, have steeply pitched roofs, and feature large wrap-around porches. They are often adorned with differing wall textures and ornate trim—which gives them the “gingerbread” effect commonly associated with Victorian homes—that is typically painted in a variety of accent colors. Some Queen Anne homes also have octagonal towers (topped with a round pointed roof) and ornate bay windows—in short, nothing about these homes is subtle.
  • Stick style: A precursor to Shingle style, Stick style includes steeply pitched roofs, half-timber framing, open stickwork verandas, and flat ornamentation.
  • Shingle style: With shingles covering the entire building, this style also features open porches and an irregular roofline.
  • Second Empire: Also called Napoleon III, this style features a mansard roof (with two slopes on all sides and the lower slope steeper than the upper one), dormer windows, molded cornices, and some pavilions.
  • Folk Victorian: This style is a more basic version of Victorian architecture that's symmetrical and includes ornate trim, porches with spindlework, and a gable roof.

A Definitive Guide to Victorian-Style Homes (2)

Why did Victorian homes surge in popularity?

Queen Anne and Italianate homes surged in popularity in the United States in the mid-to late-19th century, spurred on by the 1876 Centennial International Exposition (the first official World’s Fair). The advancement of building techniques, the increased accessibility of diverse materials and ideas via new railroad systems, and more widespread house pattern books also further popularized these home styles as well.

Where can you find Victorian homes today?

Italianate homes are seen in the greatest number in the American cities that experienced exponential growth during the mid-19th century: Cincinnati, Ohio; New Orleans’ Garden District, and parts of San Francisco, and Brooklyn, New York.

Queen Anne homes, along with Italianate homes, are widely seen in San Francisco—a result of it being a “boom town” during this time period. The city’s most famous are undoubtedly the “Painted Ladies,” a block of Queen Anne-style townhouses painted three or more colors (you know them from the opening credits of Full House).

A Definitive Guide to Victorian-Style Homes (3)

They’ve had good—and bad—reputations over the years.

While the Victorian era officially ended in 1901, its accompanying architecture styles stuck around for another decade or so until the Colonial Revival movement surpassed them in popularity in the 1920s. But instead of just falling out of style, Victorian homes actually became disliked in the following decades. “There was a time when the Victorian house was considered an unwelcome presence in many neighborhoods,” Grant says. “Indeed, it became the stereotype for the ‘haunted house.’” But as Grant also notes, “Victorians' quirky charm has endeared them to new generations more recently.”

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A Definitive Guide to Victorian-Style Homes (2024)


A Definitive Guide to Victorian-Style Homes? ›

Features of a Victorian House

The houses usually have two to three stories with steep, gabled roofs and round towers. On the exterior, there are towers, turrets, and dormers, forming complex roof lines as architects sought to create designs that would pull the eye to the top of the house.

What defines a Victorian style home? ›

Features of a Victorian House

The houses usually have two to three stories with steep, gabled roofs and round towers. On the exterior, there are towers, turrets, and dormers, forming complex roof lines as architects sought to create designs that would pull the eye to the top of the house.

What were key features of a Victorian home? ›

Key Elements
  • Two to three stories. Victorian homes are usually large and imposing.
  • Wood or stone exterior. ...
  • Complicated, asymmetrical shape. ...
  • Decorative trim. ...
  • Textured wall surfaces. ...
  • Steep, multi-faceted roof or Mansard roof. ...
  • One-story porch. ...
  • Towers.

What is the typical layout in a Victorian house? ›

Typical Victorian layouts feature a living room, dining room and hallway on the ground floor. The kitchen is often located at the back of the house, with a small bathroom and utility room.

How much would it cost to build a Victorian style house? ›

In the U.S., it costs, on average, $350,000 to build a Victorian-style house. Typically, most homeowners spend between $250,000 and $600,000. The average cost per square foot to build a Victorian-style home is $100 to $200.

Does anyone build Victorian homes anymore? ›

Victorian homes are very much still prominent in the architectural community, adapting to a new way of doing things, thus creating the Modern-Victorian style of home.

What are three characteristics of the Victorian era? ›

The Victorian era also marks a time of great economic growth, technological discovery, and industrialization. Many writers reacted to both the wonders of this Industrial Revolution as well as to the troubles of an industrialized society.

What is the difference between Edwardian and Victorian homes? ›

So, unlike the smaller, darker Victorian homes, Edwardian houses were more squat, wider and roomy, with bigger hallways and more windows. It's common for an Edwardian property to have a front garden and be set back from the pavement, as there was an ever-increasing desire for privacy at that time.

What state has Victorian houses? ›

Old Louisville in Kentucky has the highest concentration of restored Victorian homes in the US. Originally called the Southern Extension, Old Louisville was built in the 1870s as a suburb, which was 48 city blocks long and filled with Victorian mansions.

What does a Victorian bedroom look like? ›

Victorian bedrooms often had very rich, stately colors such as royal purple or deep green. Don't be afraid to play with color in your Victorian bedroom. We love the rich green walls that pair beautifully with the baroque floral pillows in this space.

What is the top floor of a Victorian house? ›

The top floor would typically house the servants quarters and the children's rooms with a nursery. The second floor would include the master bedroom and the second bathroom.

Why do Victorian houses have high ceilings? ›

Victorian houses were designed with high ceilings to give the illusion of generous space, even in smaller terraced properties, while the quality of wall and ceiling mouldings was directly related to the status of the house. The more ornate, the grander the home.

What color were most Victorian houses? ›

The traditional Victorian colour palette was dark and consisted of dark, rich and deep shades of maroon, red, burgundy, chestnut, dark green, brown and blues.

How many colors should a Victorian house have? ›

Speaking of color, the quintessential Victorian home's exterior is comprised of at least three colors; some have as many as nine different hues and shades. Darker colors are meant to enhance unique architectural details, and outlining windows lends character to the home.

What are traditional Victorian house colors? ›

During the Victorian era, traditional palettes were made up of darker colours. A typical Victorian interior might include deep red shades like maroon and burgundy, while chestnut brown and moody dark grey were also common. Dark green, deep chocolate browns and dark blue were also design staples of the Victorian era.

What is the difference between modern and Victorian houses? ›

Victorian houses often offered more floor space than new builds as they were built at a time when cities were not so densely populated. Because of this, they tend to be bigger than new builds in the first place, as well as having ample opportunity to extend (for example, with a loft conversion or kitchen extension).

What does Victorian style look like? ›

Victorian style is recognizable by its rich color palette, bold patterns, ornate furnishings, layered textiles and intricate accents. Used correctly, Victorian-style decor can create a cozy and sophisticated atmosphere, but it's easy to go wrong.

Is my house Edwardian or Victorian? ›

So, unlike the smaller, darker Victorian homes, Edwardian houses were more squat, wider and roomy, with bigger hallways and more windows. It's common for an Edwardian property to have a front garden and be set back from the pavement, as there was an ever-increasing desire for privacy at that time.

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