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Victorian Homes: Style Features and What to Know Before Buying

Linda is a seasoned writer and bedroom authority. She loves sharing design trends, decor ideas, and useful tips with her readers.

If you see gingerbread detail, you've spotted a Victorian house.

If you see gingerbread detail, you've spotted a Victorian house.

Victorian-Style Homes

If you are toying with the idea of purchasing a Victorian home, you should be aware of the history and characteristics of this beloved architectural style. Committing to a Victorian means you will be part of the romance and history of a bygone era. So, it’s best to have as much knowledge as possible before you embark on this magical lifestyle change.

First of all, when you think of a Victorian-style home, what comes to mind? Lots of gingerbread woodwork and bright colors might be the images you associate with this early-to-late 19th century home style. You’re partially right—however, there are a number of other architectural elements that represent this iconic style. Let’s take a look back in time to see just what influenced Victorian-style homes.

Origin of the Victorian Style

Victorian style is a reference to architectural trends that were born during the reign of England’s Queen Victoria. This era between 1830 and 1910 witnessed the popularity of a number of elaborate home styles that included Gothic Revival, Italianate, Romanesque, Queen Anne, Second Empire, and Eastlake.

Victorian homes combined features of each of these styles, and then some. That is why we see so many variations within this genre. The combination of styles and unbridled imagination of architects of the time ensured that very few Victorian homes looked alike.

This intricate and romantic architecture can be directly attributed to the burgeoning Industrial Revolution, which brought with it a love for using the latest materials and technologies to build homes unique to that time period. Mass production, steam-driven sawmills, and new transportation methods gave architects and builders a sense of design freedom they had never experienced.

This Victorian home has all the bells and whistles!

This Victorian home has all the bells and whistles!

Style Characteristics

Queen Anne style homes became popular during the 1880s, taking full advantage of the mechanization of the time. These elaborately decked out homes reveled in their bright colors and flourishes of ornamental trim. In fact, this is the style most of us associate with being truly Victorian. But remember, when you look at any Victorian, you are actually witnessing a convergence of many 19th-century architectural styles.

Unfortunately, this over-the-top style quickly fell from favor with the emergence of the Arts and Crafts movement of the early 20th century. Arts and Crafts stalwarts preached simplicity in design and hand craftsmanship. However, you can still find fine examples of Victorian architecture in every corner of the country.

Victorian Home Characteristics


Bright Colors

By the latter part of the 19th century, vibrant colors were all the rage for home exteriors.

Multiple Stories

You will see no evidence of single-story Victorian homes. They are imposing and are always at least two to three stories in height.

Castle-Like Detail

Upscale Victorians take it up a notch with regal towers and turrets, complete with a cone-shaped roof.

Wood or Stone Facade

Most Victorians feature wood siding, but those rooted in Second Empire or Romanesque architecture will have stone exteriors.

Expansive Porch

Many Victorian homes have a large, wraparound porch. Some feature the familiar fancy wooden brackets and spindles that we attribute to the style.

Unconventional Shapes

Victorian homes abandoned the standard box shape by incorporating bays and wings at every turn.

Textured Siding

Exterior details included ornamental touches like half-timbering, scalloped shingles and decorative masonry siding.

Ornamental Trim

This decorative trim is what we lovingly refer to as “gingerbread”. In most cases it is crafted from wood and features intricate scrolls and turned balusters.

Steep Roofs

A Victorian will most likely have steep, multi-gabled roofline. One exception are those that mimic Second Empire style. Those homes have a flat Mansard roof with side windows.

A Victorian with a castle-like tower and exterior stone accents.

A Victorian with a castle-like tower and exterior stone accents.

Important Considerations Before Buying a Victorian

When thinking about investing in a Victorian home, you must first determine how much time and work you want to devote to a structure of this age. Many have been restored and modernized, but you will pay a premium for that luxury. Others are available in an as-is state, which will require a great deal of DIY work, commitment or the expense of outside contractors.

Also remember that historic homes in their original state have choppy, small rooms and a very limited amount of closet and storage space. Interior walls are typically lath and plaster, which will require maintenance to repair cracks due to settling. Plumbing and electrical wiring can also pose problems unless they are brought up to modern code requirements.

This once grand dame now needs some TLC. Are you up to the task?

This once grand dame now needs some TLC. Are you up to the task?

Exterior maintenance can prove a drain on your patience and pocketbook as well. Repairs to intricate trim pieces and siding may not be easy to source. This may mean hiring a craftsman to create replacement ornamentation. And don’t forget the paint. Heritage neighborhoods often require strict adherence to original exterior color schemes.

Your best bet is to hire a home inspector familiar with the idiosyncrasies and construction issues associated with Victorian homes.

The Painted Ladies adjacent to Alamo Square are just a small sampling among thousands of Victorians in San Francisco.

The Painted Ladies adjacent to Alamo Square are just a small sampling among thousands of Victorians in San Francisco.

Finding a Victorian

Check with public and private organizations when searching for a Victorian style home. Some municipalities have information on historic home organizations in the area. Real estate brokerage firms in major cities often specialize in heritage properties. Do online research on websites, like historic home magazines, for listings.

Since this style was extremely popular for several decades, there are many Victorian homes available in cities and towns throughout the country. If you are in love with this grand and quirky style, you should have no problem finding the Victorian of your dreams!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

Question: What are the little porches called in front of the 3rd story window?

Answer: They are either called porches, Juliet balconies, sleeping porches or small verandas.

© 2013 Linda Chechar

Start a Conversation!

Alexander James Guckenberger from Maryland, United States of America on June 25, 2018:

I love this style of house.

Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on September 29, 2015:

sujaya, Victorian is by no means my favorite, but I do appreciate the grandeur and architectural details of the style. Thanks for reading and commenting!

sujaya venkatesh on September 29, 2015:

i like everything in that period

Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on January 06, 2014:

Sorry to hear of your loss, vespawoolf. I can only imagine the pride and love she felt for her home. Glad you stopped by to look at the photos again! :)

Vespa Woolf from Peru, South America on January 06, 2014:

I came back by to browse your selection of beautiful Victorian home photos. A dear friend who recently passed away had a Victoria home built and lived in it most of her life. It was elaborate and required a lot of maintenance, but she loved it!

Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on June 09, 2013:

Too bad you don't have many examples of Victorians where you live. It's a beautiful style. Neither do I -- Las Vegas certainly isn't the place for Victorian architecture! Thanks for reading and commenting on this Hub. :)

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on June 09, 2013:

I love your hub on Victorian homes. I miss seeing them as there are few where I live. Your details were very interesting and the pictures are awesome!

Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on May 26, 2013:

vespawoolf, it does require a certain passion to take on a Victorian. I'm glad there are those who are committed to preserving that part of our architectural past. However, I will just continue to admire them from afar! Thanks for visiting and commenting. :)

Vespa Woolf from Peru, South America on May 26, 2013:

We have friends who built a modern Victorian-style home 10 years ago and now are trying to sell it. Although they loved the look, they found the maintenance to be overwhelming. Still, I'm sure it's the perfect home for a couple with more energy and time. Thanks for all these interesting details.

Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on May 20, 2013:

Thanks, Om! Glad you enjoyed it. I haven't been to Sacramento and didn't realize the abundance of Victorians there. I'm sure if they could talk, they'd have some stories to tell. That's what I love about historic homes -- you can just feel their energy!

Om Paramapoonya on May 20, 2013:

There are a lot of old Victorian houses in Sacramento. When I first moved here, I used to spend hours wandering around midtown just to see those gorgeous houses. So glad I got to learn more about this style of architecture today. It was a fun and interesting read! Thanks :)

Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on May 14, 2013:

Thelma, thanks for reading and commenting! The stone house is a beauty. I'm not a big fan of all the fussiness of Victorian architecture, but I do respect the style and love to see that people are restoring these old homes to their former glory rather than tearing them down.

Thelma Raker Coffone from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA on May 13, 2013:

Interesting article. I love the Victorian architecture style but sometimes the bright colors are a little much for my taste. I really like the picture you show of the one with the nice stone work. The colors on that house are perfect.

Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on May 13, 2013:

Thanks Carol! I do love historic homes, but have never quite warmed up to the Victorian aesthetic. However, I am fascinated with different residential architectural styles, which made this such a fun Hub to write! :)

carol stanley from Arizona on May 13, 2013:

For some reason I just love these Victorian style homes along with furniture and clothing..Maybe I am reincarnated..who knows. Anyway it is informative and iinteresting. Thanks for writing a great hub.