Victorian Exteriors

by Erika Woelfel

The Victorian period of architecture spanned from the 1830s to the early 1900s. The first Victorian homes were built in England, and later migrated to America. As the Industrial Revolution took hold, new building techniques and materials became available to create elaborately decorative homes that no one had ever seen before. Mass production made ornamental details like gingerbread more affordable, and houses went up quickly. As a result, a mash-up of different architectural styles might end up on the same house. Federal balustrades and Greek revival pediments, pointed Gothic windows, trusses, brackets, spindles and scrollwork might all end up on the same house.

Gingerbread and bric-a-brac ornaments were easily machine-made; showy colors in pink, yellow, lavender and blue contributed to what many people call “wedding cake” houses.

When over-adornment and bold color fell out of vogue in the early 20th century, many Victorians lost their color. Middle class sensibilities favored less clutter, streamlined looks and lighter, neutral color schemes. The bright plumage of the flamboyant Victorian was covered with gray or white paint, and many remained that way until they were torn down or someone came along who could appreciate what they were.

Today neighborhoods all around the country are lifted by the colorful ornamentation of restored Victorian homes. It is like taking a refreshing peek back at a time of grandness and breath taking beauty.

The craze to restore the original Victorians from the wrecking ball reached its height in the 1970s and 80s, when it was easier to acquire a deteriorating old grand dame for a relatively small amount of money. Preservation societies, architects, builders, historians and colorists formed organizations to help save these homes and guide owners as they began a restoration project. Those who finished were rewarded with a unique and wondrous home that was often the pride of a community or neighborhood. Many of the old residences have been turned into museums, historic sites, or even wonderful bed and breakfasts. San Francisco is famous for its restoration of Painted Ladies.

Several Victorian styles stand out:

Italianate villas with the low roofs and wide eaves suggested a home built during the Italian Renaissance.

The Gothic Revival homes were often made out of stone and with their tracery and pinnacles, often looked like a Medieval churches.

The Queen Anne house has the most variation, but commonly supported towers, turrets and porches in a lofty styled architecture that almost seemed to put on royal airs.

Folk Victorians were common – they may appear as an overly decorated farmhouse with fancy trim and lacework details.

Stick Victorians had little ornamentation. They were often decorated with half-timbering to create vertical, horizontal, and diagonal designs on the facades which made them look more interesting.

Second Empire homes had Mansard rooflines, while others were built out of stone to resemble small castles. Coastal Victorians were often sided with shingles and had a very austere outlook.

The Italianate styled home in the 1840s was one of the first Victorian styles to become popular in America.

The turret is the most notable feature on many Queen Anne Victorian homes. Green, cream and burgundy red is a favorite exterior scheme.

In recent years, builders have been constructing in a neo-Victorian style to satisfy the demand for charming country homes. Though it has a conservative color scheme, this modern variation has a turret, columns and delightful gingerbread details.

Strong red is used on the lower half of the house, and blue and yellow on the upper stories.



Colorfully Yours,


2 responses to “Victorian Exteriors”

  1. SR says:

    I’m going to sell my house. It needs repainting. Though it has many hallmarks of a Craftsman, it was built in 1991 and stuccoed pink with lots of wide trim painted white. Ithe has no wide porch, so I intend to create a pergola over the path leading to the front door, which is on the side of the house, and possibly add cobblestone to the foundation area in front. The house close to it is a 20’s-30’s bungalow painted dark brown and green. My house sits back from the street, where old Italian Stone Pines dominate both sides of the street and sidewalks. The Central California coastal town it is located in, is often overcast and chilly. So, though I was hoping to find a perfect match to the pink and only have to paint the trim, I’ve become frustrated with that and saw a nice yellow color on a house that I liked and realized a Craftsman could be a muted yellow, to stand forward in the view from the street, and a trim that would match and also compliment the native flowering plants and succulents I plan to landscape with. Can you suggest any combo for this house? I’m not afraid of a little whimsy, but also want it to sell. Can’t find any reference online as to what are the most popular colors on houses sold. Thanks

    • Deanna Torrez says:

      Thank you for your interest in BEHR Paint!
      Here are some combinations for your home exterior/trim based on the great information you have provided us with.
      Pale Honey PPU6-08/Coconut Shell PPU5-05
      Spanish Lace YL-W02/Meditation Time S360-4
      Bay Water S380-4/Writing Paper S310-1
      Practical Tan S280-3/Coastal Beige PPU7-13

      Colorfully Yours,

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