Americans have long been noted for their eagerness to embrace whatever is new – even when it’s a revival of something old! This has been especially true of architectural styles. In the 18th century we were embracing Classical details in new construction; the 19th century ushered in several revival styles including those with Greek, Italian and English influences. Period revival styles gained popularity in the 20th century, and evidence of the fact is abundant in the earliest “streetcar suburbs” of all major American cities. There is it easy to find Tudor Revivals, Spanish Eclectics, Italian Renaissance Revivals, and other similar “romantic” styles which still appeal to many homeowners today.
In the late 20th century, another type of revival began to dot the suburbs: the Neo-Victorian. First appearing in the late 1970’s, these houses typically exhibit characteristics of Queen Anne-styled houses applied to more contemporary forms. Neo-Victorians today are notably more refined from those built 40 years ago; from a distance, many of them bear a striking resemblance to their 19th-century counterparts. Up close, however, the magic unravels fairly quickly. Their details and proportions are often the first clues that these are not antique houses.
Compared to houses actually built in the Victorian era, Neo-Victorians often seem cartoonish – like those illustrations of big-eyed children or sad puppy dogs so popular in the 60’s, these houses often have proportions which are sometimes awkward. They also tend to mix elements from differing styles which were popular during the 64-year-long span of the Victorian era, demonstrating either an indifference toward stylistic integrity or an ignorance of it.
Narrow mullions between paired windows – and lack of a wide window frames – show this house to be of recent construction. Other non-traditional elements include the brick veneer inside the porch and the lack of an entablature on the porch (ceiling here rests directly on the posts). Image from Zillow.com.
Tower-like bay windows with fish-scale shingles scream “Queen Anne” and are at odds with the Colonial-inspired 6 over 6 windows and entry door with fanlight. While 6 over 6 windows were indeed used throughout the 19th century, they were considered out of fashion in the fourth quarter and were typically reserved for utilitarian structures or minor elevations; not the main facade! The shingled band on the bay window is not delineated with trim boards as would have been done in the 19th century; the siding rather abruptly transitions to shingles. The fretwork porch is eclipsed by the distinctly non-Victorian three-car garage (with gable decoration!). Image from Zillow.com.
This newly-built Neo-Victorian has a Neo-Craftsman entry door. The fretwork frieze below the porch entablature looks awkward because the posts have capitals on them; capitals and fretwork were not historically used together like this. Image from Zillow.com.
An early and modest example of a Neo-Victorian; a contemporary form with a bay window emphasized by a peaked roof and decorative panels below the windows. Image from Zillow.com.
The shingled gable of the porch roof and beefy trim elsewhere are visually too weighty for the anorexic porch posts. The center window of the bay has an uncomfortably thin transom sash while those flanking it are not transomed. At least we have an entablature here! Image courtesy Google Street View.
A “gazebo” porch, oval windows flanking the door and a lattice balustrade suggest the Queen Anne style. Again, there is no porch entablature.
The 6 over 4 and 6 over 6 windows do not help to convey the Queen Anne imagery strived for. The brick chimney is atypically bulky and too rustic in appearance to be convincingly Queen Anne. The porch again lacks an entablature. Image from Zillow.com.
This Neo-Victorian has a porch which is distinctly Queen Anne in character, yet it incorporates square posts with chamfered corners which are characteristic of the Italianate style. Windows are all a bit small for the era emulated. The diminutive porch entablature is better than none at all! Image courtesy Google Street View.