Victorian architecture is a collection of architectural revival styles from the mid-to-late nineteenth century. Victorian refers to Queen Victoria’s reign (1837–1901), also known as the Victorian era, during which these styles were used in construction. However, many elements of what is commonly called “Victorian” architecture did not become popular until later in Victoria’s reign, around 1850 or later. Historic styles were frequently interpreted and revived in eclectic ways. The name refers to the British and French custom of naming architectural styles after a reigning monarch. Within this naming and classification scheme, it followed Georgian architecture, then Regency architecture, and was succeeded by Edwardian architecture.

Victorian architecture originated in England and continues to define the architecture of its cities and towns. However, several styles of Victorian-era architecture spread internationally to places such as North America, Australia, and New Zealand, where various countries and regions adapted them to fit local tastes, lifestyles, and building materials.

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Victorian Houses _ © LimeWave

Antecedents of Victorian Architecture

The Georgian (1714–1830) and late Georgian (1830–1837) architectural styles, which were distinguished by well-proportioned rooms in usually three-story homes with families residing on the first two floors and servants occupying the smaller third story, were followed in the design of Victorian architecture. Victorian home developers were born during the Industrial Revolution. These designers used new materials and technologies to create houses that had never been seen before. Ornamental architectural details and metal parts became more affordable thanks to mass production and mass transit (the railway system). Victorian architects and builders used decoration liberally, combining features borrowed from various eras with flourishes from their imaginations. 

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Victorian Houses in the 19th Century _ © Jeff Greenberg

The Victorian era saw rising wealth, an expanding middle class, and a surge in mass production aided by the Industrial Revolution. Victorian-era housing was designed to accommodate people from all walks of life and incomes. This included everything from close rows of terraced houses built for factory workers on crowded narrow streets that lacked gardens and sanitation to semi-detached and detached houses that, by the end of the Victorian era, had modern amenities such as running hot and cold water, sanitation, and gas.

Innovations in building techniques and mass-produced building materials that could be transported by rail, such as newly machine-made bricks, gray roofing slate from Wales, or the arrival of plate glass in the 1930s, which increased window size from previous periods, saved builders time and contributed to a housing boom in the 1850s and 1870s when millions of Victorians were built.

Exquisite Features of Victorian Architecture 

Victorian architecture is distinguished by its unapologetic emphasis on ornamentation and flourish, as well as its ornate maximalist interior design. Victorian-era architecture is characterized by steeply pitched roofs, painted bricks, ornate gables, painted iron railings, churchlike rooftop finials, sliding sash and canted bay windows, octagonal or round towers and turrets to draw the eye upwards, two to three stories, generous wraparound porches, small gardens, and sometimes asymmetries.

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Details of the Victorian Houses _ © Mad River Woodworks

One of San Francisco’s most iconic backdrops is a row of “painted ladies,” a term used in the United States to describe Victorian and Edwardian houses that were repainted in three or more colors in the 1960s to spruce up ornate architectural details. These San Francisco Victorian row houses, viewed from Alamo Square Park, are among the most well-known in the country. This stretch of 710-720 Steiner Street is aptly nicknamed “Postcard Row” and is a popular establishing shot used in countless film and television productions, including the ’90s sitcom “Full House.”

The Edwardian style of architecture is like Victorian architecture in that it began with Queen Victoria’s death and the subsequent reign of King Edward VII (1901-1910), though everything up to 1914 is considered part of the period. Edwardian style was less ornate than Victorian, with simpler decor and less clutter. It corresponds with the Arts and Crafts movement, which began in 1880 as artists and architects reacted to the technological advances and mass production brought about by the Victorian era and sought to produce goods that celebrated human craftsmanship.

America experienced growth and change during the Late Victorian Period. Building technology advancements, such as balloon framing and factory-built architectural components, made it easier to construct larger, more complex, and decorative structures. The expanding railroad system enabled these products to be transported across the country at a lower cost. Previously, luxury elements could be used in a wide range of less expensive buildings. It was an expansive period in American culture, and the architecture of the time reflects this. Most Victorian styles draw inspiration from historic precedents, but the architectural designs of the time were not exact replicas of earlier structures. The tall, steeply roofed, asymmetrical form of Victorian-era buildings is based on a Medieval prototype, with various stylistic details added. Elements of the Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, and Italianate styles persisted, albeit in more complex forms and combinations. New stylistic trends, such as the Second Empire style, Queen Anne style, Stick/Eastlake style, Romanesque Revival, Renaissance Revival, and Chateauesque style, borrowed from previous styles while introducing new shapes, forms, and combinations of decorative features.

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The Victorian Houses _© Michael Fanelli

The Queen Anne Takes America by Storm, 1876-1910…

As the fashion statement of the French Second Empire Style faded in America in the early 1870s, a picturesque new style emerged in England.  The British dubbed the new style the Queen Anne. The term was historically incorrect, as architecture during Queen Anne’s reign (1702-1707) had nothing in common with the emerging extravagance of the Victorian style.  The name is widely believed to have been coined because Queen Anne’s reign was regarded as one of grace and style. Coincidentally, numerous histories and romantic novels about Queen Anne and her times were published around the same time as the style was developing. George Devey and Richard Norman Shaw, British architects, introduced and popularized house plans with elements of the style.

By the mid-1870s, British builders were constructing homes with the towers, trim, and extravagance that are now synonymous with the style. In 1876, a British builder shipped two pre-cut versions of his Queen Anne homes to America, where they were later constructed and displayed in the British Pavilion at the Philadelphia Exposition. Queen Anne was an instant success in America. People who returned from the exposition quickly spread the word about the new European style. Almost immediately, the style was being built on this side of the Atlantic, and it quickly surpassed the Second Empire style as the most popular.

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Victorian Style of Architecture in the 19th Century _ © John Greim

Queen Annes in the South were typically built with long covered porches surrounded by turned or sawn balustered rails. In the North and West, balconies were typically restricted to the entry porch. Color is another characteristic that varies greatly across regions. In the Northeast, the style is typically expressed as a conservative solid white with color limited to window frames and/or shutters. In the West, color was applied to every available surface in patterns and textures that highlighted every shadow line. The bright colors and patterns of San Francisco’s “Painted Ladies” and the boomtowns of the gold rush era are extreme examples of Queen Anne in “Technicolor”.

References :

  1. Rachel Silva. ElleDecor. A Complete Guide to Victorian Style Houses. [ online ]
    Available at : A Complete Guide to Victorian Style Houses – Victorian Style Houses (
  2. Kristin Hohenadel. The Spruce. What is Victorian Architecture? [ online ]
    Available at : What Is Victorian Architecture? (
  3. CollegeDepot. A Brief History of Victorian Architecture [ online ]
    Available at : A Brief History of Victorian Architecture – Cottage Depot

Urvi is an architecture student who enjoys delving into ideas and concepts on any subject, particularly during a round of discussion with a variety of individuals. She believes that design is a mode that improves the interrelationships between buildings, nature, and people to improve lives, provide infinite solutions and satisfaction to the world, and make the world a better place to live in through architectural designs that do not harm the environment.