So what exactly falls under the Victorian category?
The two architecture styles Grant noted 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.
Italianate 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.
Italianate homes are seen in 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, 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 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.