Victorian homeowners were very social; dinner parties took place several times a week and consisted of pre- and post meal activities. For these socialites, having a home that was impressive and built in the latest style was key. (The ornate look was soon spurned, however, by the development of new construction technology, particularly the availability of affordable wood and the ability to incorporate steel into buildings.)
Although Victorian architecture is rooted in England, it quickly spread worldwide as British architects started to emigrate to Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States. Eventually, improved communications in the 19th century began to inform international architects of the latest and greatest styles and trends, and the Victorian influence grew.
Still, the exact Victorian time period and names of architectural styles differ from country to country. In the United States, Victorian style was generally popular from 1860 to 1900. San Francisco in particular is well known for its Victorian architecture. In Australia, the Victorian period was recognized from 1840 to 1890. Melbourne's world-heritage Royal Exhibition Building and Rialto Building are both good examples of classic Victorian architecture in Australia.
Many Victorian-era homes combine several different styles and features, but the following is a basic guideline for the most common Victorian architectural styles.
This style developed as American cities began to expand in both style and size. The Second Empire reflected a new kind of urban architecture, inspired in great part by the apartment buildings in Paris and other western European cities. Often, these were highly ornamented buildings with a tall and flat facade, topped with a mansard-style curved roof. Long dormer windows often sat at the top of the building, and bay windows were common as well. These homes usually had a rectangular floor plan with a central hall and double entry doors.
These early Victorian homes reinvented the classic structures of medieval churches and castles in a more approachable way. They often have the stereotypical Victorian characteristics: multiple colors, textured walls, steeply pitched roofs and elaborate vergeboard (also called gingerbread) below the gables. Board-and-batten siding was a popular feature, but it was usually used vertically rather than in the more traditional horizontal style.
The Queen Anne style is considered the most recognizable of the Victorian-era homes. These homes were popular from the 1870s through the 1900s and were greatly influenced by British architect Richard Norman Shaw. The style is often characterized by ornamentation and excess — steep roof lines and porches with decorative gables, circular towers, decorative windows and entry doors, bay windows and a wide variety of colors and textures.
As materials became more affordable and accessible, craftspeople became more creative with the uses of wood and framing, which can be seen in Stick Eastlake homes. These houses have more decorative trusswork with a mix of vertical and horizontal planes. The roofs usually have a steep pitch and simple gables. Shingle style is very similar, due to the unusual use of affordable wood products. In these homes, the entire exterior is often covered in shingles.
As materials became even more affordable, working-class families were able to build and design their own homes. Victorian romanticism was combined with classic English cottage and American homestead style to create the Folk Victorian. These homes, usually found in more rural settings, blend functionality with ornamentation, including gingerbread-accented wraparound porches and the colorful use of local materials. However, these houses are often more simply designed than urban homes of the same period.
Italianate Victorian homes were considered a blend of formal and classical styles, and were often inspired by country villas from the Old World. These homes were built in rectangular sections to imitate the look of Italian-style villas. The arches of traditional Roman architecture were often combined with the detail that became possible with new construction technology of the time. Other common features include large porches with decorative eaves, paired arched windows, Corinthian columns, flat or low-pitched roofs and a central square tower or cupola.