They’re known as “painted ladies”—San Francisco’s famed Victorian residences. Beginning in the mid-1800s, European architecture became something of a craze in the city, with offshoots including Italianate, Gothic and Tudor revival, and Queen Anne styles. Fortunately, you don’t have to be a history buff to appreciate the delicacy, quirkiness, and undeniable charm of the Bay City’s grand old dames.
San Francisco is known for its Victorian revival homes, including this Italianate-style townhouse. The distinguishing features? Look for telltale roof brackets, bay windows, and brightly decorated exteriors—like a bright red door paired with blue stairs. Inside, serenity reigns, with watery colors (perfect for Bayside living), tons of natural light (thanks to those bay windows), and velvety furnishings.
Gothic architecture, with its ornate windows, pointed arches, and peaked rooflines, was reborn during the Victorian era of the mid-1800s. You can still see Gothic done on an intimate scale in some of San Francisco’s most desirable homes, like this olive-hued residence. While the facade is dark, the interior is not. Floor-to-ceiling timber-paned windows create a dazzling play of light across the sunroom, where modern furniture blends seamlessly with antiques.
With its gingerbread trim, peaked roof, and multiple arches, this elegant home is the epitome of San Francisco’s Queen Anne revival. Named for an eighteenth century English monarch, this delicate style often features turrets and balconies. Walk inside, and you’ll be forgiven for dropping your jaw. The ceilings are adorned with detailed scrollwork, offset with warm, wooden doors and window trim. Modern art makes the whole look sing.
Related: The Queen Anne House
Embrace the Curves
Bowed windows have a charm all their own. A popular feature of Victorian homes, gently curving windows and walls create a billowy, organic feel. This San Francisco home is the perfect example of bowed windows done to best effect, both outside and in. Framed by neutral curtains, the windows themselves form the centerpiece of the living room, replacing the need for any other adornment.
Even if the facade is Victorian, the interior may be surprisingly modern. Case in point: this single-family home, built aslant on one of San Francisco’s famously steep hills. Traditional outside, the stark white interior is the picture of contemporary elegance, with a built-in fireplace, recessed lighting, and modern Art Deco furniture. For an extra striking look, the windows are bare, without blinds or curtains.
Don’t ask how much this three-story Victorian unit costs. It’s likely to be a pretty penny given San Francisco’s high real estate prices. With three stories, this renovated historic home boasts black-paned windows, which gives the exterior a sharp, contemporary profile. But it’s the interior features that provide a beautiful backdrop to simple, bold furnishings—like a monochromatic fireplace paired with red chairs.
One feature of Victorian homes is their penchant for pastels. Rather than fighting the soft hues, this massive townhouse amps up their dreamy quality to good effect. The exterior is painted bold lavender—even the trim. A refreshing palate cleanser comes within, in the form of pale lemon walls, teal armchairs, and original (unpainted) hardwood floors.
Ghosts Not Included
No, it’s not a haunted house. But this purpley-gray home could be mistaken for something out of The Addams Family. Which is why it’s being totally refurbished, lightening the interiors to draw attention to the arched windows, statement molding, and original hardwood floors. Because of their long, narrow rooms, homes like this are sometimes called “shotgun Victorians.”
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