The Exotic Revival Style

While many are familiar with the most popular “romantic” architectural styles of the 19th century (Gothic Revival, Greek Revival, Octagon and Italianate), fewer are familiar with the Exotic Revival.  In their essential and definitive “A Field Guide to American Architecture“, authors Virginia and Lee McAlester describe three “subunits” of the style:  Egyptian, Oriental, and Swiss Chalet.  They place the popularity of the style between the years 1835 and 1890. Drawing primarily upon Egyptian, Indian, Moorish, and miscellaneous Middle Eastern styles for inspiration, buildings and houses built in the Exotic Revival style often closely resembled more conventional styles of the era, but with a few exotic differences.

Because the Italianate style’s popularity roughly coincides with that of the Exotic Revival, and the two frequently share many characteristics, it is not surprising that many Exotic Revival houses are mistaken for Italianates.  How does one tell the difference?  The porch is the most likely place for the style to be expressed; columns and balustrades will look quite different from the comparatively staid Italianate details.  Often, Exotic Revival houses will not sport the large, paired, brackets beneath the eaves which are generally a staple of Italianates;  wide, unadorned, eaves were a common stylistic option.  Additionally, in more adventurous examples, window sash may stray from conventional shapes.

Exotic Revival structures were never common and they are now increasingly rare.  Below are a few examples of the style:

 

The 1849 James Dwight Dana house in New Haven, Connecticut. Designed by architect Henry Austin, the house is described as “Indian Italianate”.  This type of column is often referred to as a “candelabra column” and Austin has been credited with popularizing it in America.   The image is from the fascinating blog The Picturesque Style: Italianate Architecture where more images and information may be found.

 

This example dates to 1854 and is in Jacksonville, Illinois. The image was taken from the highly-addictive blog Old House Dreams. The porch columns closely resemble those of the house above; both were inspired by Indian designs much like the image below:

 

Columns such as these in India provided much of the inspiration for the 19th century Exotic Revival. Photo by Brian Farrell and courtesy of gettyimages.com

 

An historic image of an Exotic Revival house. The columns of Indian inspiration may be seen behind the people in the foreground. The house dates to 1855 and is in Victor, New York.  The porch has since been remodeled – and no longer sports the fantastic balustrade on its roof.  The candelabra columns have been replaced with more sedate versions. Current photos – including the interiors – may be seen here: Old House Dreams.  The historic image above was taken from osborne-harris.com – a delightful and historically informative site created by the realtor for the house.

 

This Exotic Revival porch was added to an older house in a mid-19th century update. The Indian influence is combined with the Gothic Revival for a truly memorable composition!  More information about this house in Oxford, New York, can be found, of course, on Old House Dreams.

 

The Egyptian influence is more likely to be found on a mausoleum or public building than a house, but residential examples do exist. This mausoleum is in Forest Home cemetery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Photo credit:  James Steakley.

 

Alexander Jackson Davis’ Swiss-inspired worker’s housing in the Hudson Valley. Photo from american-arcadia.hudsonvalley.org where more information may be found.

 

 

4 Responses to The Exotic Revival Style

  1. Oh! This post is so much fun!

    I love learning new stuff!

    And I am lusting after an Exotic Revival house like image #2!

  2. Very interesting! Although I think of myself as basically-education on the major residential architecture styles of America, this one is entirely new to me. Thanks for the lesson!

    The town of Monroe, Wisconsin has a number of Swiss Chalet-inspired structures, but I believe most of them are more modern than the period you are describing. The town had a large Swiss and German immigrant population early in its founding, so there was probably some nostalgia for the architecture they remembered from their homeland, and subsequent interest in continuing to highlight that heritage.

    • Glad you found this interesting! If anything, the Exotic Revival style is both obscure and contentious! Regardless of how one defines it, the style added a bit of excitement to the past, and today can rattle our notions about what the past was like.

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