Everything You Need to Know About Victorian Style Houses (2024)

It seems that our love affair with Victorian homes remains as inexhaustible as our love for the Queen herself. And while she may no longer be sitting on the British throne, the houses erected during her reign remain popular monoliths of that bygone era.

“There’s something about Victorian houses that appeals to the little girl in all of us,” says Molly McClain, a University of San Diego history professor. “They are eclectic, they’re colorful, and they’re a romantic piece of an American past.”

Whether restored to their pure original state or reinterpreted into a more contemporary style for present-day requirements, these charming structures in their seemingly infinite variety all have one thing in common—there’s absolutely no lack of character. From the imposing stately mansions to the cozy romantic cottages, Victorian style homes give occupants something you can’t find in modern properties: a chance to own a piece of history.

So What’s the History of Victorian Houses?

The Victorian aesthetic boomed during the mid-to-late 1800s amid Queen Victoria’s reign in the U.K. The U.S. followed suit 50 years later, after the expansion of the railway, which created land availability for suburban development, and on the heels of the Industrial Revolution, which made manufacturing of house parts possible on a mass scale. For the first time, people could have houses wherever they wanted that would look like whatever they wanted.

Everything You Need to Know About Victorian Style Houses (1)

A row of Victorian homes in San Francisco.

“That’s the glory of the Victorians—that mere function was no longer the sole purpose of this architecture,” says McClain. “People would look through publications like the American Home or Good Housekeeping, and they would choose these eclectic house designs, and it was their way of expressing their taste, their social aspirations, their individuality.”

What’s more, new chemical dyes made different house colors possible. “It was a revolution in color,” says McClain. “You simply couldn’t do that before the 1830s, so people experimented with bold, bright hues. It wasn’t until later in the century that they would go for more grays or natural, moss-colored houses.”

Where Can You Find Victorian Houses Today?

Victorian-era houses can be found in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and Australia. While these historic gems account for around one in every six homes in the U.K., according to Robin Guild, author of The Victorian House Book, thanks to early conservation efforts in the 1930s, many Victorian homes in the U.S. were demolished in the name of urban renewal beginning in the 1950s. Even still, millions of these houses remain, and their current residents are becoming well acquainted with their dated idiosyncrasies (charming or otherwise).

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A charming Victorian cottage on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

“In general, the materials used in building houses during the Victorian era were of higher quality than what is typically used in new construction today,” says Scott T. Hanson, author of Restoring Your Historic House: The Comprehensive Guide for Homeowners. “Even after long periods of neglect or abuse, these materials can often be restored to their original function and beauty.”

Nevertheless, any old house is high maintenance, so it’s important to know the history behind your home, Hanson says. “This can include updating mechanical systems for comfort and efficiency, dealing with hazardous materials, and working with local building codes and historic preservation regulations.”

Features of a Victorian House

While a number of styles have dominated in varying periods of history, there are some typical characteristics that tie this architectural style together. The houses usually have two to three stories with steep, gabled roofs and round towers. On the exterior, there are towers, turrets, and dormers, forming complex roof lines as architects sought to create designs that would pull the eye to the top of the house. And of course, one can’t miss the signature stained glass, decorative woodwork, and bright paint colors—all often framed with a wrap-around porch accented with gingerbread cutouts and spindle work. Basically, think dollhouse.

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Inside, it’s common to see high ceilings and walls with irregular shapes (sorry for those applying wallpaper), with closed-off rooms and added nooks. Intricate trim work was the hallmark of these homes, from decorative wooden staircases to ornate fireplace mantels to gilded wainscoting. The quintessential Victorian home had a glittering chandelier, as the Victorians are known for nothing if not their fondness for opulence.

As for the layout, open-concept was unthinkable during this period, says McClain. “There were particular rooms for particular activities,” she says. “There was a music room where you had the piano, a library for reading, and a parlor where you received visitors.” For that reason, detailed floor plans are common in these homes, with interiors that were often rambling in their complexity.

Learn More About the Different Types of Victorian Homes

Everything You Need to Know About Victorian Style Houses (4)

Everything You Need to Know About Victorian Style Houses (5)

Rachel Silva

Assistant Digital Editor

Rachel Silva, the Assistant Digital Editor at ELLE DECOR, covers design, architecture, trends, and anything to do with haute couture. She has previously written for Time, The Wall Street Journal, and Citywire.

Everything You Need to Know About Victorian Style Houses (2024)


Everything You Need to Know About Victorian Style Houses? ›

Features of a Victorian House

What were key features of a Victorian home? ›

Key Elements
  • Two to three stories. Victorian homes are usually large and imposing.
  • Wood or stone exterior. ...
  • Complicated, asymmetrical shape. ...
  • Decorative trim. ...
  • Textured wall surfaces. ...
  • Steep, multi-faceted roof or Mansard roof. ...
  • One-story porch. ...
  • Towers.

What makes a house a Victorian style? ›

“Recognizable characteristics are steep, tiled roofs, painted brick, bay windows, and asymmetrical design,” Dadswell says. “Wooden floorboards, plaster cornicing, sweeping staircases, wooden sash windows, and tiled entrance hallways would have been incorporated into most Victorian homes.”

What are the disadvantages of a Victorian house? ›

The cons of buying a Victorian house
  • Uncomfortable draughts and difficult to heat. ...
  • Less precise construction. ...
  • Inefficient sash windows. ...
  • Upkeep can be more expensive. ...
  • Small and cramped. ...
  • Nowhere to park. ...
  • Dangerous paint residue.

How much would it cost to build a Victorian style house? ›

In the U.S., it costs, on average, $350,000 to build a Victorian-style house. Typically, most homeowners spend between $250,000 and $600,000. The average cost per square foot to build a Victorian-style home is $100 to $200.

What is the typical layout in a Victorian house? ›

What are the typical floor plan layouts of Victorian homes? Victorian homes often have irregular floor plans with rooms branching off hallways. There may be multiple stories, towers, and bay windows, contributing to the asymmetrical design.

What type of roof do Victorian houses have? ›

Steeply pitched roofs: Victorian houses often have gabled or hipped roofs with intricate designs, such as turrets or dormer windows.

What are Victorian colors? ›

The classic Victorian colour palette was dark and consisted of dark, rich, deep colours of maroon, red, burgundy, chestnut, dark green, brown, and blue.

Why are Victorian houses so expensive? ›

Victorian homes tend to be more expensive than other simpler homes such as Cape Cods and ranches. They're typically bigger in size, because they have more floors, and the architectural details increase the price as well.

What were the dangers of Victorian homes? ›

Exploding sweets, radioactive ornaments and poisonous medicine were just some of the potentially deadly dangers lurking in Victorian and Edwardian homes. These health hazards were often found in everyday, apparently innocuous objects. Some of these items have - safely - gone on display in a Leeds museum.

What is the difference between a modern home and a Victorian home? ›

Victorian homes are everything opposite of what modern-day homeowners are looking for: small odd-shaped rooms, closed floor plans, historic architecture, and traditional design.

What did poor Victorian houses look like? ›

The houses were cheap, most had between two and four rooms – one or two rooms downstairs, and one or two rooms upstairs, but Victorian families were big with perhaps four or five children. There was no water, and no toilet. A whole street (sometimes more) would have to share a couple of toilets and a pump.

Are Victorian houses sturdy? ›

Built to last: Most Victorian homes are around 150 years old, and they are usually as sturdy as they were when they were first made. Any house that has lasted that long with no major issues is definitely worth investing in.

What are Victorian style homes called? ›

In the United States, Victorian house styles include Second Empire, Queen Anne, Stick (and Eastlake Stick), Shingle, Richardsonian Romanesque, and others.

What style home is most expensive to build? ›

Beach Houses and Mediterranean-style homes are the most expensive in the U.S. and are often found on prime land close to the ocean. Large windows and balconies accentuate the use of natural light, which adds a feeling of luxury and simplicity to a home.

What are the prominent features of Victorian age? ›

Key themes include the following:
  • The Industrial Revolution.
  • Population growth and migration.
  • Social reforms.
  • The rise of the middle classes.
  • The growth of democracy.
  • Expansion of Empire.
  • Idealisation of the family.
  • The growth of leisure pursuits.

What are 2 significant features or ideas of the Victorian Age? ›

Important political events during this period included the abolition of slavery in the British Empire; the expansions of the franchise; working-class political activism, most notably Chartism; the rise of liberalism as the dominant political ideology, especially of the middle class; and the nationalization of ...

What are five characteristics of the Victorian era? ›

The five characteristics of the Victorian Era​ are- social and political reform, economic progress, poverty, and exploitation were also equally present, The gap between the rich and poor increased, and material and commercial success was there.

What are the key features of Victorian art? ›

A standard scenery theme in Victorian art is usually of very intricately painted farmland or hilly landscapes. Victorians loved dramatic contrasts. This can be seen in both single and group portraits; the paintings with people could often be reflected by the colours they wore.

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