Category: Historic Homes & More


The Shingle Style House

As an owner of a Shingle Style House, I have a great affection for the style.

http://neffarchitecture.com/house-architects.html

Photo: Neff Architecture

As an owner of a Shingle Style House, I obviously have a great affection for the style. While they never attained the popularity of their contemporary, the Queen Anne House, these shingle-clad and usually coastal (though sometimes suburban) homes occupy a pivotal place in the time line of American architecture.

Earlier styles in the United States tended to echo European idioms. They were variations of well known themes, adapted to American materials, sites, and tastes. The Shingle Style is a bit different: it, too, alludes to the past but to an American past.

In the two decades before 1900, several of America’s greatest architects, including H. H. Richardson, Frank Lloyd Wright, and the New York firm of McKim, Mead, and White designed buildings in the Shingle Style. They referred back to early American houses in their designs. They emphasized grace and simplicity; they used what seems like acres of plain, unpainted shingles to clad these large houses in a way that was a stark contrast to the ornate busyness of the prevailing Queen Anne Style. Men like Stanford White and Charles Follen McKim had visited the Colonial coastal towns of Salem, Massachusetts, and Portsmouth, New Hampshire. In their partner Mead’s words, “All of us had a great interest in Colonial architecture, and … we made sketches and measured drawings of many of the important Colonial houses.”

They produced a truly American style that came from here and, for that matter, never went anywhere else. It didn’t travel abroad, but it worked on the seascapes of the East Coast and even on the streetscapes of New England and, surprisingly, the Middle West.

These houses were typically two or three stories high with tall gabled roofs. Porches and dormers were usual. As in the Early House, the windows tended to be of modest size with numerous small lights but, unlike earlier precedents, multiple window units were grouped together into horizontal bands. Palladian and bay windows were also incorporated into some Shingle Style Houses. The shingle cladding of these houses allowed for rounded contours and for a continuous, flowing look. The Shingle Style house has a simple, graceful, organic feel.

Inside the Shingle Style house, another leap of the imagination took place. The open plan was being developed, in which interior spaces, previously neatly separated by doors and partitions, were open to one another. In the same way, the bands of windows and French doors tended to connect the wide verandas to the house, mingling the indoors and out. The result is a less compartmentalized feel to the living spaces of many of these gracious homes.

REMODELER’S NOTES. The average Shingle Style House was constructed with wooden shingles on the roof as well as on the walls. Over the years, the original roofs were often replaced with less expensive asphalt or other materials. If you’re restoring or renovating a Shingle Style, consider returning the roof surface to wood shingles. The texture and color of the wooden surface will add to the character of the house.

The Foursquare was truly a national house, found in Colorado and California, in Maryland and Missouri, and all the other states in the then forty-eight-state Union. Its boxy practicality was rarely the work of architects, but these sturdy houses worked as well as rural farms as on suburban streets.


The Stick Style House

Drawing from European Gothic, the Stick-Style House is best known for its decorative geometry.

http://www.bcausa.com/portfolio/project/114/84

Griswold House, Newport, Rhode Island.

The origins of the Stick Style are European Gothic, but an American architect named Richard Morris Hunt actually developed the style in America. Hunt had studied in France at a time when a revival of half-timbered architecture began, inspired by the restoration of Medieval German towns. The exterior walls of those houses consisted of an exposed frame of horizontal and vertical timbers, with an in-fill of stucco or masonry in between. The Stick Style House didn’t replicate the Medieval half-timbered house (the later Tudor Style came closer), but reinvented the decorative geometry and adapted it to commonplace American materials.

In three dimensions, the shape of the Stick Style House is relatively uncomplicated, with plain gable roofs, perhaps with a second cross gable, and occasionally with a tower. In keeping with Gothic precedents, the roof pitch tended to be steep. Yet it is the two-dimensional wall surface that truly distinguishes the Stick Style House.

The exterior walls of these houses were an opportunity for their builders to display both their skills and their excitement at the proliferation of building materials. A variety of economically priced factory-made materials was suddenly put on display all at once—the growing network of railroads, which delivered precut architectural details all across the country, deserves some of the credit for making this highly decorated style possible.

The inverted-V of the gable typically has a decorative truss. The walls are crisscrossed with patterns of wooden bands (the “sticks” from which the name of the style is derived) that divided the wall surfaces into separate areas. These are in-filled with clapboards and shingling, which were often painted in a range of colors to draw attention to the display of materials. When the materials changed, often the colors did, too. Porches had decorated galleries and posts; windows were tall; double doors at the entrance were the rule.

The Stick Style House is an exuberant expression of building energy. San Francisco’s “Painted Ladies” are perhaps the most famous examples of the Stick Style and of the related Queen Anne style that was to follow (see below).

REMODELER’S NOTES. These durable wood-frame houses look their best when polychrome paint jobs draw attention to the variety of elements. Painting in multiple colors can be prohibitively expensive when contractors do the work, but the energetic homeowner who brings a little painting skill and a lot of enthusiasm can greatly enhance the look of one of these houses.


The Second Empire House

The dual-pitched, hipped roof is the hallmark of Second Empire residential architecture.

Second Empire House

Photo: nau.edu

A single characteristic distinguishes the Second Empire house: its dual-pitched hipped roof. From the eaves, the roof rises steeply, then becomes almost flat (and invisible from below) as it extends to the center of the building. The steeper pitch of the roof typically has multiple dormers so that the attic of the house is essentially a third floor.

This configuration is known as a Mansard roof, getting its name from the seventeenth-century French designer Francois Mansard. Its nineteenth-century popularity, however, owes its occurrence to the Mansard-roofed wings added to the Louvre in the 1850s when Napoleon III was Emperor of France. That brings us back to where we started, as his reign was known as the Second Empire. In America, the design, although based on earlier prototypes, was regarded as a very contemporary echo of a modern Parisian style, rather than an allusion to an earlier one.

The Mansard roof is most often found on two-story houses. The footprint is usually square or rectangular, although some examples are L-shaped and others have a tower at center front. Brackets typically support the eave overhangs and other details resemble those of the Italianate House. The entrance usually features a double door and the windows are tall and narrow, typically two-over-twos.

The Second Empire house became particularly popular in towns and cities. The two main floors plus a tall attic floor produced a surprising amount of living space for the size of the footprint, an efficient design that made the style well suited to narrow in-town lots with limited light and space. These houses were popular in emerging manufacturing cities in the decades after the Civil War. In fact, for some years these houses were referred to as having been built in the “General Grant Style” because of their popularity during U. S. Grant’s presidency, when many administrative buildings in Washington, D.C., were built in the Second Empire style.

REMODELER’S NOTES: The typical Second Empire home is large and comfortable, reflecting the growing wealth of the American nation in the years after the Civil War. The roof of a Second Empire house distinguishes it, but that same roof is often an expensive challenge to its owner. Frequently, the roofs were originally covered with multicolored slates or tin plates, both of which are expensive to maintain or replace. Any roof work on a Second Empire House is likely to be expensive. Yet maintaining the original character is important—replacement of an original polychrome roof with asphalt shingles does not do justice to the building, especially if the steeper slope of the roof either flares or curves, as many Mansard roofs do.

At the height of the popularity of the Second Empire house in the 1860s and 1870s, Mansard roofs were also a popular choice for renovating earlier houses. The spaces beneath the tall roof line provided useful living space, so framing a new Mansard roof atop an existing home could add considerable living space to the home.


The Octagon House

The shape of the Octagon House makes it unmistakable.

http://www.libraryweb.org/rochimag/architecture/vocabulary.htm

Photo: The Octagon House, Genesee Country Village and Museum

Octagons are not the most common Victorian style, although following the publication of A House for All in 1848, as many as several thousand were built over the next ten years. These unique houses are a pleasant surprise when spotted on an older streetscape. Their appearance and the philosophy of the man who wrote the book distinguish them from other homes of the era.

For once, no European style figures into the inspiration for these homes. The author of A House for All, Orson Squire Fowler, believed that the circle was nature’s most perfect building form. He pointed out that the circle encloses the greatest amount of interior space with the least exterior wall. This apparent efficiency also presented a problem, however, because the building materials of the day tended to be straight rather than curved. But Fowler thought the problem through and devised a flat- sided shape that remained essentially circular but that could be built with rectilinear materials. The Octagon House, with its eight flat sides, was born.

The Victorians had a great confidence in progress and a belief in America’s Manifest Destiny. Fowler argued that his circular form of building was the most healthy and efficient, that it enhanced airflow and natural lighting. His thinking suited the optimism of the time and many communities that prospered at the middle of the last century have at least one octagonal house to attest to the persuasiveness of Fowler’s argument.

The shape of the house makes it unmistakable, with its eight equal sides. Typically two stories tall, many examples also have cupolas on top and one or more porches. Fowler was more interested in theory than in alluding to architectural history, so he did not dictate stylistic details. As a result, those found on octagonal houses vary greatly. Some octagons are decorated with the classical pilasters and frieze boards of the Greek Revival House, others with the brackets usually found on Italianate Houses. Still others have details more characteristic of the Gothic Revival House.

REMODELER’S NOTES. The Octagonal House had a brief vogue, and “Fowler’s Folly” (as his own house was also known) fell out of favor by the beginning of the Civil War. However, there was a second brief octagonal fad in the 1970s: If you live in an octagon, open-plan interiors with few partitions and modern methods of construction (two-by-four framing, plasterboard walls, and other contemporary materials) will immediately distinguish a twentieth-century octagon from those of Fowler’s era.

In the Octagon Houses, some rooms will have triangular shapes, with corners at acute or oblique angles. This can make furniture placement difficult, although most layouts tended to divide the floor plan into rectangular major spaces, leaving oddly shaped secondary rooms like pantries and closets built into the acute angles.

Putting an addition onto the Octagon House is usually difficult. From the start, Fowler envisioned his design as being regular in shape with eight equal sides. Adding a boxy wing that would jut out from one or more of those sides is in conflict with that conception. One solution to space limitations that was adopted on the seventies revival was pairing two octagons, but that in most cases is neither practical nor a visually satisfying solution. A low wing off the rear of the house, however, can be an effective answer, particularly if it shares the detailing of the main house.


The Italianate House

Sometimes referred to as an American Bracket house, the Italianate style is distinguished by brackets that decorate the eaves.

http://architecture.about.com/od/periodsstyles/ig/House-Styles/Italianate.htm

Photo: Cape May, N.J.

Alexander Jackson Davis and Andrew Jackson Downing, the men who helped launch the Gothic Revival, also did their bit in developing the Italianate House. Beginning in the 1850s and extending into the 1870s, this style was used in all sorts of buildings across America. The Gothic Revival never quite rivaled its contemporary, the Grecian Style, in popularity. But the Italianate House succeeded the Greek as the most popular style of its day

Houses described as Italianate are actually a diverse mix of shapes and sizes. Most were tall, typically two or three stories (one-story examples are rare). As with the Gothic Revival and later Victorian styles, there’s more of a sense of upward thrust about Italianate houses. Yet there’s also an attempt to emphasize a solid, massive quality consistent with the houses that inspired them, those being stone-and-stucco villas back in the Old World countryside, especially in the Italian province of Tuscany. In wood examples, the walls were sometimes painted or scored to resemble masonry; brownstone came to be commonplace on Italianate houses built on cityscapes. Stucco was also used to give the feel and character of stone.

An alternative and perhaps more immediately descriptive name for the several varieties of Italianate house is “American Bracket.” This designation derives from one of the key architectural elements typical of the American Italianate House, the brackets that decorate the eaves. Deep overhangs distinguish all Italianate houses, and the supports for those eaves are brackets that came in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. The brackets are consistently found in the Italianate house, though the overall shapes of different Italianate houses vary considerably.

The type usually called “Italianate Villas” have octagonal or square towers attached to them. Other Italianates, essentially cubes with cupolas protruding from the centers of their roofs, are usually referred to as simply “Italianate.” But American Bracket houses are found in other configurations, too, with their brackets applied to the familiar volumes of the Basic House and the Classic Colonial.

A gentle roof pitch is typical of the Italianate House. Tall, narrow windows with only two panes of glass per sash (2/2s) are usual. Arch-topped windows are also common, typically with molded crowns. The entrance ceased to be the dominant element and often was recessed slightly into the volume of the house. But it was still decorated with handsome trim and often featured a double door. For the first time, some of the doors had panes of glass in them. Many Italianate houses were asymmetrical, featuring towers, ells, bay windows, balconies with balustrades, and verandas. Virtually all Italianate houses were built with porches.

REMODELER’S NOTES. As Downing himself wrote, the Italian style “… has the very great merit of allowing additions to be made in almost any direction, without injuring the effect of the original structure; indeed such is the variety of sizes and forms, which the different parts of the Italian villa may take, in perfect accordance with architectural propriety, that the original edifice frequently gains in beauty by additions of this description.” That’s a good rule of thumb, though in the case of Italianates that are basic symmetrical boxes, a bow to symmetry is still in order.

The tall windows and high ceilings of Italianate houses make them gracious homes, though in northern areas they are more expensive to heat than their lower-slung predecessors. That’s one reason dropped ceilings were once commonly inserted into Italianates. But that was a bad idea, and is best undone. Added insulation, tightening up the windows, and other energy efficiencies can help compensate without sacrificing the style and grace of the taller room spaces.

These houses often have fine old woodwork: handsome staircases of imported woods like mahogany or native cherry and walnut. Moldings tend to be large and bold, and heavy plaster cornices are common. These are elements to be valued and preserved.


The Gothic Revival House

The Gothic Revival was primarily a rural house style.

http://www2.nau.edu/~twp/architecture/gothic/

Photo: The Bowen House

The Gothic Revival began in England and was the result of new investigations of antique buildings. The Gothic had been overshadowed for more than two centuries by Renaissance and classical styles, but in Britain countless spectacular Gothic buildings survived. Westminster Abbey was among them, yet even a national monument like the Abbey remained a mystery, with little hard knowledge about the evolution of the Gothic style or what portions of the building had been built when.

Decades were required for researchers to sort it all out and, in the meantime, a not-so-scholarly but highly popular variation on the Gothic theme came into vogue. A writer named Horace Walpole published one of the first Gothic romances and proceeded to Gothicize his country house, Strawberry Hill. The domestic style he and his advisers pioneered became an overnight sensation in England but, initially, it didn’t travel to the United States. When it did, it was thanks to an architect named Alexander Jackson Davis and a landscape designer named Andrew Jackson Downing.

When it comes to popular taste, timing is everything and the arrival of the Gothic is no exception. The Gothic was primarily a rural style, as is suggested by the titles of Davis’s 1837 book Rural Residences and Downing’s immensely popular Cottage Residences (1842) and The Architecture of Country Houses (1850). These books illustrated not only parts of houses, as Asher Benjamin’s had done, but added floor plans and even atmospheric perspective drawings of the houses set amid verdant settings. These books were popular among homeowners as well as builders, and led to the appearance of Gothic “cottages” from Maine to California.

Technology played an important role in the emergence of American Gothic, as the decade of the 1830s was a time when the steam-powered scroll saw was developed. Early versions of this saw look like a large sewing machine, though the device had a reciprocating blade rather than a needle. It was this tool that made the Gothic Revival possible in the United States and gave it a character different from its English forebear.

While most English Gothic homes had been built of stone, in America the material of choice, as usual, was wood. The scroll saw made it possible to cut elaborate wooden trim into curved patterns that echoed the tracery work on Medieval Gothic windows. The bargeboards or vergeboards that decorated the rooflines, along with the porch, window, and doorway trim, came to be known as gingerbread. Downing didn’t like the term because, as he put it, “gingerbread” made the decorations sound as if they were “flimsy and meager decorations which have a pasteboard effect.” Despite his objections, however, the name stuck and, though this and other Victorian decorations were for many years dismissed as grotesque and even ugly, more recently homeowners have come to admire the elaborate detailing that often decorates the roof line of the Gothic Revival House.

Earlier house designs tend to sit solidly on their sites, as if a low center of gravity was basic to their design. In contrast, the Gothic house seems to reach for the sky. Verticality is the word architecture critics like to use to describe the effect of buildings that direct the eye upward. The spires of Medieval Gothic cathedrals convey this sense very directly, but there is a similar effect in American Gothic houses. The steep inverted-V of the gable ends are frequently topped by finials. Window trim and even the windows themselves may have the characteristic pointed top of the Gothic arch. American Gothic buildings aren’t especially tall, however, usually one and a half or two stories in height.

Another innovation found in the American Gothic house is an asymmetrical floor plan. Like many of the Greek Revival houses built in the same era—these styles overlapped in the United States—the Gothic Revival house often had an L-shaped floor plan.

REMODELER’S NOTES. Gingerbread is back—more than a few new developments across the country have reintroduced Victorian styling and put elaborately sawn trim to effective use. Conserve the original gingerbread where possible, replicate it where necessary, and use its shape to unify new additions to older structures.

Symmetry is no longer a watchword: In fact, Downing himself characterized the ideal rural residence as having “… a style marked by irregularity of form and outlines, a variety of effect and boldness of composition.”

In earlier houses, clapboards were the rule, but the American Gothic house popularized board-and-batten siding. This siding method used vertical boards, nailed to the frame of the house, with narrow boards (called battens) applied over the joints between the boards. One good strategy is to use the detailing of the original house when remodeling.


The Greek Revival House

Uniquely America, the Greek Revival House is proudly linked to great historic tradition.

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James L. Kemper Residence, Madison, Virginia. Photo: Flickr

The Greek Revival captured the American spirit as no other style had done. To visit an unspoiled town that prospered in the years between 1820 and 1860 is to see democracy at work. There are grand Grecian houses with freestanding columns that frame gracious front porches (some people think of such places, in a small simplification of architectural history, as “Gone-with-the-Wind” houses). But there are also simpler dwellings for workers. Take one of these plain structures, strip it of its Greek Revival details, and what would emerge would be the Basic House, perhaps a Cape Cod in disguise, that highly adaptable eighteenth-century design. And these Greek-inspired buildings were found all over the nation, moving from the East Coast in the 1820s westward where, as late as the 1860s, Californians were still building Greek Revival houses.

The same writer-carpenter, Asher Benjamin, who helped get the word out about the Federal House, lived long enough to play a role with the Grecian style, too. His later pattern books reached builders who would never travel to American cultural centers like Boston, Philadelphia, or New York and see the major Greek Revival buildings in those cities, much less go abroad to visit the Parthenon. They didn’t have to, thanks to Benjamin’s careful prescription for Grecian proportions, window detailing, staircase construction, and much else. The Grecian mode had patriotism going for it, too. Just as the Greek Revival Style was gaining popularity in the United States in the 1820s, the Greeks themselves were fighting for independence. Perhaps that parallel to their own revolutionary history was part of the appeal to Americans of Greek architecture.

For a lot of reasons, the Grecian style appeared on streetscapes from Connecticut to California. The single most apparent characteristic of the Greek Revival House is its exterior trim work. A generation earlier, wide expanses of trim would have required much hand planing, but new planing machinery produced wide smooth boards at reasonable cost. Suddenly even people of modest means could afford homes that replicated the appearance of a Greek temple. There were pilasters or wide corner boards defining the corners of the structure. Above, a broad horizontal frieze board with molded trim separated the wall of the Grecian house from the overhanging cornice of the roof. Bold moldings added shadows and scale. The effect was to create a style that was at once uniquely American yet proudly linked to a great historical tradition.

The classic Greek Revival House has a main facade with a gable that faces the street. On top of a boxy base sits the triangular roof, supported either by columns or pilasters. The roof isn’t steeply sloped. Greek trimmings were also applied to houses of many different shapes and sizes, including the compact, single-story Basic House and the larger Classic Colonial with its two stories.

While its designer might have wanted to allude to the ancient Greek ideals of democracy, the Grecian style house had a distinctly practical bent. Symmetry was quickly abandoned—an ever-popular configuration of gable-front Greek has the entrance not in the central bay but on one side. Known by the rather misleading name of “side-hall colonial” (the colonies having long since won their independence and become a republic), this proved an enduring formula. Often Greek Revival houses had an ell that extended from one side, fronted by a porch.

Porches were new in this era, but the tradition of the front door being a bold statement remained, and doorways on Greek Revival homes generally have heavy pilasters or columns, as well as rectangular sidelights and transoms. The scale of the moldings in general may seem to a student of Federal design very heavy and even clumsy, but in a sense they were a celebration of the lumberman’s new ability to produce wide, machine-planed boards.

REMODELER’S NOTES. Where there were farms in the nineteenth century, you’ll probably find Grecian farmhouses. Most are sturdy, practical homes. The details aren’t fussy, and these houses are easily restored and repaired. Greek Revival houses often have been added on to over the years, and adding on again is easier than with earlier symmetrical houses. If you plan to add on, try to replicate the moldings, frieze, corner boards, and other trim to unify the whole. The Greek Revival House has less of the handmade charm of earlier homes, but these are practical, sturdy houses that speak honestly for their time.


The Victorian House

While named for the English Queen, the Victorian House is an eclectic blend of popular styles.

Victorian Houses

Photo: shutterstock.com

The name comes from the English queen who assumed the throne in 1837 and remained in power until 1901. Victoria wasn’t a designer. As with her four immediate predecessors, the kings named George, her name came to be applied to the houses of her time out of chronological convenience rather than any true aesthetic connection between the monarch and the buildings of her age.

In fact, her long reign saw more architectural styles rise to popularity than had developed during the years of all the other British monarchs put together. If it weren’t for the far-flung influence of the British Empire in all parts of the world and in all manner of trade, art, culture, and industry, another name might well have evolved to describe the diverse building styles of the nineteenth century. Perhaps “The Eclectic Age” would have conveyed more precisely the fluidity and variety of domestic architecture in her time, but the name that has come to be applied is “Victorian.”

If Victoria cannot be credited with instigating the fruitful architectural experiments of the time, the advent of the machine must be given some of the credit. Steam- and water-driven machinery made it possible for more people than ever before to afford well-made basic house parts like windows and doors, as well as decorative details like moldings and trim. Eventually stoves, plumbing fixtures, all kinds of millwork, and other goods were delivered via a growing network of canals and railroad tracks. Raw materials were also shipped inexpensively and new markets were opened up. In the forty years preceding the Civil War, America’s population tripled. All of which resulted in the greatest construction boom the world has ever seen.

The world was changing at an unprecedented pace. Not surprisingly, people’s tastes changed, too, and not once but again and again. The first great style of the Victorian age in America was the Greek Revival. In the eighteenth century, the new science of archeology had revealed that ancient Greek and Roman buildings were not indistinguishable but dated from different eras altogether. Archaeologists found that Greek architecture had come first and that Grecian building was a key source for all subsequent European architecture In America, the Greek Revival found fertile ground and grew into the dominant style for some three decades.

The Gothic Revival developed at about the same time. Its popularity and affordability was in part the result of advancing technology, as new power saws could shape the decorative woodwork (gingerbread) characteristic of the style. A wonderful Victorian eccentric named Orson Fowler dreamt up the octagonal house (he also was a practitioner of phrenology, a “science” that claimed to be able to assess character and mental abilities on the basis of the patterns of bumps on peoples’ skulls. The Italianate House was broadly popular before the Civil War; the French-inspired Second Empire Style reached its peak after the Civil War. Primarily German sources and the proliferation of inexpensive building materials produced the Stick Style, and students of early eighteenth-century English architecture developed the Queen Anne style. The Shingle Style was the last great style of the century. There were styles to suit almost any taste.


The Basic House

The Basic House is an elemental style whose simplicity and practicality are to be respected.

http://web.mac.com/resourcesforlife/journal/writings/Entries/2007/5/5_Herbert_Hoover_Tiny_House.html

Photo: Herbert Hoover

The generic, early American house is known by many names, among them the English Medieval House, the Cape Cod, the saltbox, and the double-pen log cabin. While each of these differs in detail from one another, they are simple, rather plain houses that collectively represent America’s most enduring house designs.

Seventeenth-century settlers arriving from England adapted the Medieval cottages they had known at home to conditions in America. The earliest houses consisted of one room with a hole in the ceiling to allow the smoke from the fire to escape. A chimney was soon added on an end wall; the addition of a second room came next. This new configuration was called the “hall-and-parlor house” because the two principal rooms were a “hall” for cooking, eating, and working and a more formal “parlor” used as a master bedroom. Later, larger versions often had a narrow kitchen to the rear of the two front rooms, a one-and-a-half room deep configuration we know as the Cape Cod house. Early log cabins typically followed a similar evolution, with a single unit or “pen” followed by chimney construction and the addition of a second pen.

Building the Basic House was (and is) quite simple, with a shoebox-shaped first floor and a plain gable roof rising from the front and back. As originally laid out, these houses consisted of living areas downstairs and unfinished sleeping or storage spaces above in the tall attic. While these boxy houses have never gone out of favor, the range of variations on the original theme multiplied with the passing decades.

Because of the harsh climate on this side of the Atlantic, the Basic House in New England typically had a central chimney stack that contained two or more fireplaces. This functional design provided a masonry mass that absorbed the heat from the open fireboxes and radiated warmth to the entire house. In Virginia and other southern states, a variation evolved with chimneys in the end walls, in order to dissipate unwanted heat in the warmer southern climate.

Over the centuries, the Basic House assumed still more guises. The earliest Basic House probably wasn’t symmetrical—that is, the entrance was not at the center of the front of the house and the number of windows flanking the door on either side often differed. By the early eighteenth century, however, symmetry had become standard. These houses were originally found in rural settings surrounded by farm buildings. In New England, the bam and the house over time came to be connected by shed buildings, producing a progression of linked structures off the back of the main house.

The roof pitch of the Basic House flattened and, by the late nineteenth century, dormers often poked through, adding light and space to what had become upstairs bedrooms. Another common variation was a shed addition to the rear. Second stories appeared as well. A Basic House with both a second story and a shed addition at the rear became another familiar form of the Basic House, the Saltbox.

REMODELER’S NOTES. In remodeling a Basic House, it’s important, first of all, to be sure that your house isn’t actually a Georgian House, a more refined and decorated style common in the eighteenth century. The configuration I like to refer to as the Classic Colonial, for example, is a two-story, two-room deep house with a center entrance and five sets of openings across the front. The Classic Colonial is, however, a descendent of the Georgian House rather than being a Basic House. Some Victorian styles, too, apply different detailing to the same volumes as the Basic House.

In thinking about your house, don’t forget whence the inspiration came: Primarily English settlers arrived in America in need of simple, economical shelter. I visited a house a few years ago on Cape Cod. Its owner told me it had started life as a ship captain’s house in the eighteenth century. I don’t know about the ship captain, but the handmade nails, the hewn frame, and other details told me the house had been built about the time of the American Revolution. The rooms in the original house were small but comfortable, which made the addition its owner had built all the more shocking. It was essentially one great room, with a handsome coffered ceiling, bold cornice moldings, and tall windows. It was a lovely room—but it didn’t relate in any way to the original house. It was as incongruous as a Wall Street investment banker would be if he wore sneakers with his gray flannel.

Basic Houses consist of four walls and a pitched roof to shed the rain and snow. Their builders may have added paneling, moldings, or other trim to decorate the house but the enduring appeal of these houses comes not from the way they echo other styles and cultures. These are elemental houses whose simplicity and practicality are to be respected.


The Queen Anne House

All pretense of symmetry has been abandoned in the Queen Anne House style.

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Milton Slater Brown House,. Photo: Flickr

Many Octagon, Second Empire, and Stick Style houses survive, but it was the Queen Anne House that inherited the mantle of Most Popular House Style from the Italianate House in the 1880s.

Again, we have to reach back in time for the origins of the style. Anne ruled England between 1703 and 1714, and there was a revival in England during the nineteenth century of the architecture popular in Queen Anne’s time. Following the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, at which half-timbered designs of Englishman Richard Norman Shaw were displayed, the American variant of the Queen Anne style began its run, which lasted until the turn of the century. Queen Anne and her contemporaries, however, probably wouldn’t have recognized the houses that bore her name.

All pretense of symmetry has been abandoned by the builder of the Queen Anne House. The steeply pitched roofs are irregular, typically a complex fusion of hipped and gable roofs, chimneys, dormers, and turrets. Seemingly at random, bay windows protrude from the side walls. Porches add to the asymmetrical effect but the main facade of the typical Queen Anne House usually features a gable that dominates the elevation, giving it a single center.

The details of the house are a complex mix of shapes, textures, and colors. Like the Stick Style House, there are miscellaneous walling textures, often including varied clapboard treatments, shingle patterns, and moldings. Combinations of spindles, brackets, finials, and columns are also common. Paint schemes add to the busy effect, as bold, rich, bright colors gave the Queen Anne visual impact.

In the same Queen Anne House, a number of different window designs are often found. Most would be double-hung sash windows (2/2s, sometimes 6/6s or 6/ls), but round-headed windows and round (oculus) windows are also common. Windows with colored panes of glass (“picture windows” they were called at the time) were also an element of many Queen Anne homes. The Palladian window also made a big comeback in the Queen Anne House, with its central arched window flanked by two shorter, flat-topped windows.

REMODELER’S NOTES. The Queen Anne House was widely popular—so popular, in fact, that many earlier houses were updated at the end of the nineteenth century, and had turrets, bay windows, or porches added to make them appear to be Queen Anne Style homes. In inspecting your house, be alert for inconsistencies in the house that suggest a Victorian renovation that might have transformed the place, such as a timber frame or the traditional geometric shape of a Basic House or Classic Colonial to which later Queen Anne elements have been added.

The Queen Anne House is typically large so additions may not be what you require; more often, interior renovations can address changing needs without affecting the exterior. On the other hand, these houses tend to have such a variety of features that thoughtful additions can actually add to the character of the house without calling attention to themselves.