Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Monday, October 30, 2017

I am not amused

Second Empire with NHS credentials 
I recently spent a week agonizing over dozens of architecture books preparing for a talk which didn't happen on 'house styles' (which I tend to think might better be referred to as stylistic influences, given the tendency for Ontario buildings to go all eclectic on us.) Blame the vernacular builder, the owner with dodgy taste who selects everything fancy to slap on, to the high Victorian Italianate/Second Empire piles who tended to share high style elements. Or later additions. Not a bit like train-spotting.

Gothic Revival
This we know for sure.
Second Empire.
Romanesque Revival.
Gothic Revival.
And so on.

I've read that most 'styles' express one of  two polarities - the stylistic see-saw between the popularity of influences from the Classical or the Gothic.


Greek Revival


Shannon Kyles devotes a chapter to Victorian architecture on the Styles pages of her website

She explains: "a Victorian can be seen as any building built between 1840 and 1900 that doesn't fit into any of the aforementioned categories."


Victorian houses came in many sizes and shapes. A very common form was the L-shaped house, commodious for the large Victorian family and their entourage of relatives and household staff.

Hastings County

She describes that pleasing "mixing of styles", the bargeboards good but not Gothic, decorative but not historical. Gable designs feature not quatrefoils but sunbursts and starbursts. 

Shannon likens the craftsman's propensity for decorating every surface with as much variety as possible, to the Victorian dressmaker's art, which brought the art of over-decorating to heights never attained since.

The site lists features you'd see in any self-respecting Victorian home: "bay windows, stained glass, ornamental string courses, and elegant entrances."

Shannon Kyles points out that good craftsmanship was the hallmark; despite all those details, a pleasing "unity of design" prevailed.
Toronto Bay and Gable
Cabbagetown Cottages
 Bless those Victorians. No 'style' identification angst. Just sit back and enjoy them.

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