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: