Victorian Architecture and Design - Explained

Architecture
Decoration and Design
By Contractors.com Team September 24, 2021

If you’re one for finery and ornamentation, it’s time to get in a Victorian state of mind. Named after one of the longest-reigning monarchs in history, the Victorian style has outlived its origins to become a truly international style. This design style remains quite popular and symbolizes wealth, abundance, and industrialization. With their intricate ornamentation and imposing style, Victorian structures have a lot of presence and are quite distinct. A home with traits like these was once the ultimate status symbol, declaring to neighbors and passersby that you had made it in the world. In this sense, Victorian design was a great ‘democratization’ of architecture and interior design as it made an ornate aesthetic that had once been the preserve of a very fortunate few quite commonplace. 

To be precise, the Victorian style is an amalgamation of several styles that were distilled over time into a distinct architectural movement. For this reason, it isn’t uncommon for a “Victorian house” to have Gothic motives, Italianate symmetry, Queen Anne ornamentation, or even Greek Revival-inspired features.    

Origins of Victorian Architecture and Design

Victorian architecture and design succeeded Georgian architecture, which had been the design trend named for the reigns of the first four King Georges. 

The Early Years

Once those reigns concluded in 1837, Victorian architecture began to take root throughout the United Kingdom in a trend that lasted sixty years until Queen Victoria’s death. From there, the style spread throughout the anglophone world, reaching such far-flung places as Australia, New Zealand, and North America. Victorian architecture also traveled beyond the bounds of the English-speaking world and had a lot of influence on the development of architecture globally.   

Victorian Asymmetry Combined With Regality

Victorian Asymmetry Combined With Regality

Industrial Revolution

As it gained popularity, the Victorian-style entered a construction boom, with millions of houses being built throughout the world. Victorian architecture was so popular that it remains a dominant feature in British towns and cities today. Its fast spread was also thanks to several technological innovations. The industrial revolution meant that ornamental architectural designs that previously required highly skilled artisans and lots of time to build could now be done faster with machines. An example of one such innovation was the creation of machine-made bricks and roof slates which could then be quickly transported via new railway lines. Likewise, ornate trim pieces which would have been time-consuming to build in large numbers could now be manufactured quickly and cheaply. 

The Roots of Victorian Design and Architecture

The Roots of Victorian Design and Architecture

Competing Motifs 

Victorian architecture evolved with the arrival of various influences as Egyptian motifs, French inspiration, and the Tudor aesthetic of the past trickled in. By its peak in the 1880s, Victorian design had transitioned into its Queen Anne stage, which featured elaborately decorated and brightly colored homes. This is the Victorian style that we are most familiar with, as most surviving structures were built around the time Queen Anne style came to fashion. 

Changing Tastes

The 1880s was also when the Victorian aesthetic began to experience pushback as advocates of the Craftsman style accused it of needless complexity and garishness. By the 1900s, Victorian houses had hit a low point in popularity and were even considered undesirable in some neighborhoods. Today, however, the tables have turned, and well-preserved Victorian homes have become highly sought-after, especially in the United States. Arguably the most famous examples of Victorian architecture in all of America are located in San Francisco and are known as the “painted ladies”. This row of brightly colored houses is heavily featured in postcards, movies, and television shows.

The American Victorian Architecture Symbol, The Painted Ladies of San Francisco

The American Victorian Architecture Symbol, The Painted Ladies of San Francisco

How to Recognize Victorian Architecture 

It’s fancy, it’s high-class, it’s imposing, and it stands out. Victorian architecture is hard to miss, especially if you know its trademark features. Once you do, it’s impossible not to know this iconic style when you see it. 

The Roof

The roof of a typical Victorian house incorporates a lot of Gothic features and Baroque motifs, making it quite distinctive. Victorian-style roofs are often steeply pitched, which makes them quite tall and imposing and are quite complex structures with many facets. They also tend to have rather ornate gables (the triangles on each side of the roof), and can also feature finials (ornate wooden spikes mounted on the gables).   

Influences that Have Made their Way Into Victorian Roof Design

Influences that Have Made their Way Into Victorian Roof Design

Asymmetry 

In sharp contrast to a French country house, a Victorian house is designed to be asymmetrical in all respects. The roof is seldom fully symmetrical, and various features such as towers, different sized windows, various ornaments, and protruding structures such as wings and bays add a lot of depth and intricacy to Victorian architecture.  

Lots of Ornamentation (Lots of It) 

In addition to all the trim listed so far, Victorian homes can come with a wide range of decorative elements. They almost always sport very elaborate wood or metal “gingerbread house” style trim. Wall surfaces, usually made of natural stone or wood, can sometimes be textured with a variety of materials such as masonry, timber, or shingles. Some Victorian homes will also have a tower, which is often a round structure that protrudes from the top of the building and finishes in a steep, pointy cupola. To top it off, many Victorian houses now feature lots of bright colors that make them look quite vibrant, especially on a sunny day. 

Decorative Roof Ornaments to Complete The Queen Anne Look

Decorative Roof Ornaments to Complete The Queen Anne Look

The classic Victorian home is made up of 2 to 3 stories, and usually features a prominent wraparound porch complete with ornamental spindles. If there are any balconies (another common feature), they will typically have painted iron railings. 

How to Recognize Victorian Interior Design

Victorian houses are just as eccentric on the inside as they are on the outside. Indeed, it’s no exaggeration to say that Victorian interior design is merely an extension of the exterior design, complete with the same eccentric ornamentation. 

Intricate Ornamentation

The walls of a Victorian interior are often adorned with very beautiful carved wood paneling, interspersed with an ornate decorative fireplace, and stained glass windows. Rooms in a Victorian home are often quite large, complemented with high ceilings and expansive tiled hallways. A grand staircase is not an uncommon sight in a Victorian house.   

How To Create A Victorian Interior Design

How To Create A Victorian Interior Design

Lots of Wood

Wood is a ubiquitous material both inside and outside a Victorian-style house. Hardwood flooring is everywhere, wood ornamentation can be found on the walls and ceilings. Victorian houses also have lots of sturdy wooden chairs and tables that are often painted in light colors. 

Complex Layouts 

Your average Victorian house will have a lot going on inside. Victorian interior layouts are designed to have many large rooms, including dining rooms, parlors, multiple bedrooms, studies, and libraries. The asymmetrical design also allows for tons of nooks and crannies that give Victorian interiors a lot of character. No one victorian-style home is the same on the inside as another (or on the outside). 

A Cozy Victorian Reading Room With Daring Colors

A Cozy Victorian Reading Room With Daring Colors

How to Bring Victorian Interior Design Into Your Home

If you yearn for something as fancy and luxurious as the Victorian style in your home, there are several guidelines to stick by to ensure success in that project.  

Bring In the Wood

This is one of the main steps to take on your journey to a Victorian interior for your home. Wood is a central part of the aesthetic you’re trying to achieve, and it means dark-colored hardwood for your floors and ornately carved wood layers for your walls. As part of your Victorian decor, you’ll also need some vintage heavy wooden furniture. The kind of stuff that shows up at garage sales, flea markets, and antique stores are perfect finds.

Vintage Furniture Combined With Dark Contrasts Creates A Chic Design

Vintage Furniture Combined With Dark Contrasts Creates A Chic Design

Intense Layering

If you thought an eclectic style interior is heavy on layering, hold on to your velvet seats. To achieve the Victorian aesthetic in your house, feel free to take layering to its extreme. Most surfaces in a Victorian-style room are covered with a lot of depth achieved through both different materials and decors. 

Never a Dull Surface In A Classic Victorian Interior

Never a Dull Surface In A Classic Victorian Interior

Let’s assume that you’re pining for a modern Victorian living room. Then dark hardwood floors can be adorned with luxuriant oriental rugs, which in turn are covered with a range of sturdy furniture with high-quality upholstery. Neutral-colored walls and ceilings, in turn, are covered with “gingerbread house” style trim pieces, and the stained windows are treated with heavy dark-colored drapes. It’s up to you just how much of this layering you want to emulate. Classic Victorian interiors will have so many accessories that it almost feels cluttered, but of course, you can tone things down and inject the vibe without creating disorder.     

A Victorian Kitchen

This is another major part of any Victorian interior design, as the kitchen was historically the nucleus of family activity. Your Victorian kitchen should maintain the heavily layered aesthetic of the rest of the house, only now there are more materials to play with. For example, L-shaped countertops go quite well in Victorian kitchens and are a perfect canvas for natural stone such as quartz or granite. Add brass fixtures for some extra old-world flair, along with some custom-made wood cabinets with plenty of decorative embellishments. 

How to Get a Modern Chic Kitchen with Victorian Touches

How to Get a Modern Chic Kitchen with Victorian Touches

Written by
Contractors.com Team

Written by Contractors.com Team