Monday, February 4, 2013

The Houses in Which We Live No. 2: Victorian

I'm back! Had a bit of an unplanned hiatus, but these things happen. People get busy and overtired, blogs get ignored. It's the strange truth of the times we're living in when we have not only a "real" life to balance, but an online life as well. Still, I always think the most important thing is to spend time with the ones you love (whether in the physical or digital world) and to make an effort to stop and smell the roses. And the houses. So, without further adohere's another installment of "The Houses in Which We Live."

Victorian ("Queen Anne")
Thanks to Full House, these Victorian-era "Painted Ladies"
are instantly recognizable to legions of adults who grew
up in the late 80's and early 90's watching Mary Kate and
Ashley Olsen before they made their billions.
Ah, the Victorian period. A simpler time. A time when women married to men they didn't love were told to "close their eyes and think of England" and, if they refused to play alongor, heaven forbid, played along too muchthey likely wound up in the attic. Thank goodness Victorian homes have such cool attics! Sure, they're drafty and filled with the creepies and the crawlies, but come on! I'd put up with all that for vaulted ceilings and a third floor view of the moors. 

Technically, a Victorian home is any home built in Great Britain and its colonies while Queen Victoria was parked on the throne (1837-1901). Yet, nowadays the moniker "Victorian" is often used to describe any home or building that combines features such as intricate ornamentation, turrets, bay windows, large porches, steep roof pitches, stained glass and asymmetrical design.

Now, what I just described is really only one faction of Victorian housinga faction commonly known as "Queen Anne." This is not to be confused with the eighteenth century architectural style that occurred in England under the reign of the same-named monarch. Instead, "Victorian Queen Anne" stems from a revival of the original Queen Anne style that took place in the late nineteenth century, led by Scottish architect Richard Norman Shaw. Still with me? (If not, don't despair. You aren't the only one. There is still much confusion and debate over what should and shouldn't be considered "Queen Anne architecture." Further, what is considered Queen Anne in England is not necessarily Queen Anne in North America.)

This Victorian Queen Anne style home has traditional
features such as an asymmetrical facade, a large porch,
 a steep roofline and, my personal favourite, a turret.
Things are about to become further muddled as, aside from the Queen Anne style, "Victorian architecture" filters down into several other subcategories: Italianate, Gothic Revival, Folk Victorian, Shingle Style, Stick House, Second Empire, Richardsonian Romanesque, Eastlake and Octagon. But, since I'm writing a blog post and not an essay for History of Architecture 101, I'm going to stick with discussing the Queen Anne style because I think it's probably the most recognizable type of Victorian home. I'm also going to stick with North America's version of the Queen Anne home because that's where I live and that's what I know. (Plus, England is so damn olddiving into it's architectural past would be like opening a jar of big, fat, monocle-wearing worms.)

As mentioned in my post about Craftsman homes, the Arts and Crafts movement was a response to the Industrial Revolution. Now, it may be hard to believe considering what mass-produced houses look like these days, but back in the mid-nineteenth century, they often looked like the Queen Anne home pictured above. Because of new technology and ease of shipping, factories got all crazy pre-making elaborate architectural parts and sending them all over the United States to be assembled into inventive, and sometimes over-the-top, homes. However, not all Queen Anne homes are massive and elaborate. Smaller homes may borrow just a smidge of the traditional Queen Anne detailing, sometimes mixing in other architectural styles to create a delicate, but still simple, exterior.

How cute is this Victorian-inspired cottage? Doesn't
it just make you want to drink tea and eat crumpets?
 (Umm... does anyone actually know what a crumpet is?)
The thing I love about a home style like Queen Anne is also the thing that makes them so hard to reproduce, particularly in modern timescharacter. Somehow, the combination of so many intricate details, the care and attention that goes into creating each spindle, each wide-trimmed bay window, is often lost on newer "Victorian" homes. Sure, you can slap a turret on a house built in 2010, but when you smoosh it in next to a double attached garage and cover it with vinyl sidingit just isn't the same. A favourite pastime of myself and my husband is driving around looking at (and, I'll admit it, criticizing) new homes. He'll point to anything that looks even remotely Victorian and say "you probably like that one." But I won't. "That window is in the wrong place." "The turret roof has too low a slope." "There's just something about it that's... off." Yet, take me through an older neighbourhood, like Edmonton's Garneau area, and every house I see has the kind of character that makes it unique. Even a pre-fab home built during the Industrial Revolution seems to have more to say than every new house on a suburban street. You could say it's a money thing, but I'm willing to argue it's much more than that. It's about attention to detail. Is this sort of architectural thoughtfulness a lost art form? In a time when Malvina Reynolds' "Little Boxes" (a.k.a. the theme song from Showtime's Weeds) has never been more true, has the convenience of reproducing the same house time and time again dampened our desire to want something just a little more... interesting?

What think you? Are new houses still interesting in their own way? Or has mass production finally homogenized the unique right out of our homes? Let's chat about it in the comments section!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think what makes a home interesting is the character of it. "legoland" style homes, although cheaper and likely easier to build, have as much character as they do yard space. (which we all know isn't much)I think people do not care anymore... because if they are the kind of people that care they will just build a home to their desired specifications. Everyone else is just looking to save a buck so having a unique home with lots of character means Nada.