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What Makes a Victorian Style House?


on June 9, 2023


There is a nostalgic, old-world charm to the Victorian style home, one that allows it to remain a timeless classic more than a century later. The Victorian house style functions as an umbrella category, spanning a wider range of distinct architectural styles born during the 1837 to 1901 reign of Queen Victoria over the growing British Empire. The striking, elegant and sophisticated upper and middle class homes of this era coincided with the rise of the British Empire across the globe and an increased desire for the ornate.

Since its inception, the Victorian style house has continued to be synonymous with the spirit of that imperial age, one of limitless progress, grandeur and elegance. If you enjoy the soaring spires, intricate detail, lofty porches, and unique window dressings of this type of architecture, or are simply curious about what makes a Victorian style home unique, then read on.

Why Did Victorian Homes Become so Popular?

The emerging middle class during the 19th century helped popularize the Victorian style home. Homes were a way to demonstrate one’s wealth and prosperousness in a highly visible (and often ostentatious) way that garnered respect and aided in the advancement of newly wealthy families up the social ladder. 

Technological advances also made it easier to mass-produce the sort of ornate decorative elements that could previously only  be obtained by wealthy nobility. The new affordability of such touches made it possible for even middle class families to wrap themselves in the trappings of the upper classes.  

Features of a Victorian Style House

Victorian style homes are known for their ornate, carefully crafted designs, with unique elements such as steeply pitched roofs, elaborate trim, conical towers, bay windows, wrap-around porches with intricate woodworking, and decorative gables. Homes were painted in a variety of bright colors, usually three or more, and included a number of textures and patterns on both exterior siding and interior spaces. 

The interiors of Victorian style homes are characterized by tall ceilings, large bay windows, elaborate woodwork and textural pattern work. Ornate plaster, wainscoting, wallpapers, and crown molding were commonly used to create a luxurious, tactile space with great depth. Rooms were often decorated with rich fabrics, including silk and velvet. The furniture chosen for these spaces included lushly appointed chaises and lounge chairs with petite, curved feet and stylish woodwork. 

Different Types of Victorian Style Homes

There were many different types of architectural trends popular in the Victorian era that we have subsequently come to call “Victorian style” houses. Some of these are based on older styles, such as the Queen Anne and Italianate, but what they all have in common is their soaring spires, peaked roofs, and meticulous attention to pattern and detail. All were designed to display the wealth and sophistication of their owners to onlookers and visitors alike. 

 The most popular styles include:

  • Queen Anne. The Queen Anne house is the quintessential Victorian style home, popular in the U.S. until the early 1920s. These homes are at least two stories, with steeply pitched roofs and large, elegant porches made of wood. They often include the characteristic octagonal tower near the front of the home that offers a commanding view of the street below. Similar to its predecessor, the Queen Anne revival house plays into the design styles of Queen Anne with the addition of slightly more eccentric features.  
  • Italianate. The first style on the scene during this period was the Italianate, a boxy home with a flat roof, broad front porch, and patterned window detailing. Homes frequently include a brick or stucco facade. 
  • Gothic Revival. Pointed arches and gables give Gothic Revival their distinctive triangular shape. Arches are often emphasized with delicate scrollwork and gable toppers that grant an airy, ethereal quality to the home.
  • Second Empire. This style of home combines aspects of the boxy Italianate with the intricate detail work and elegant spires of the Gothic Revival. 
  • Folk Victorian. Those looking to pinch a few extra pennies often selected a Folk Victorian home, which is categorized as a more cost-conscious and less ornate version of the traditional Victorian style. The gabled roofs and ornate trim are here, but more subdued. 

How to Decorate Your Victorian Style House 

As touched on above, Victorian homes are characterized by their elaborate design features and commitment to opulence. One of the most distinctive features of Victorian homes is their asymmetrical shape, which is achieved via complex rooflines, multiple gables and dormers, and the addition of towers or turrets.

Another key design element is the use of decorative details such as ornate spires, porch railings, brackets, and gingerbread trim. Porches and towers are always front-facing, making them the focal point of the home. These are homes meant to awe and inspire all passersby. Like an expensively manufactured gown painstakingly sewn by hand, the patterns, details, and materials used in the homes were chosen for their ability to signal the higher social class of inhabitants.

Inside, Victorian homes typically feature high ceilings, dark woodwork, and custom stained glass windows. Interior rooms are divided by pocket doors or decorative archways, and include crown molding, ceiling medallions, decorative plaster, or metalwork. 

Both the interior and exterior color palette for Victorian homes is bold and vibrant, meant to be eye-catching. Deep shades of red, blue, and green are popular choices. Choose complementary colors on opposite sides of the color wheel, and look for patterned or textured wallpaper that can give your home an added layer of depth. Looking to create a modern style Victorian house? Merge contemporary interior design elements with those above for an ultra-unique final look. 

Design Elements of a Victorian Style Window

Windows were an important element of Victorian style homes, as they are a distinctive, often custom feature that both provide natural light and give homes the desired exterior vibe. Windows for these homes are ornate and may feature stained glass, intricate woodwork, and decorative hardware.

One of the most popularVictorian style windows is the bay window, which is a large window that extends away from the house. These windows give the best views from the home, which is why they were generally used in living rooms or dining rooms where people could gather and enjoy the scenery.  

Stained glass windows are often used in the entryway or stairwells of Victorian homes as well. The stained glass adds a brilliant, colorful character to the home. Often designed in floral or geometric patterns, their design was meant to complement the other intricate features of the home. These types of windows are still custom-made today. 

Get Your Ideal Victorian Style Home with Pella

Victorian style houses are an enduring architectural style with luxurious finishes that continue to inspire awe and appreciation in those who encounter them. Choosing the right windows and doors is critical to building, renovating, or restoring a home in the classic Victorian style. Not sure where to start? The pros at Pella can help. Request a consultation today to learn more.

Schedule a free consultation to find windows and doors for your home.