What: Victorian architecture — buildings constructed during the reign of Queen Victoria
When: 1837 to 1901
Main type: Terraced housing, generally built to accommodate workers moving to cities to work in factoriesThe Victorian era is the period in which Queen Victoria ruled Britain, from 1837 to 1901. Following the industrial revolution, which began around 1760 and lasted until about 1840, production methods and manufacturing processes had changed greatly. The beginning of the railways meant that building materials that would previously only have been available to those in the local area were now available countrywide.People flocked to the towns looking for work. “The explosion of the property market happened in the Victorian era, so they were forced to mass produce homes to accommodate all of the workers,” says Hugo Tugman of Architect Your Home.
A small, hidden kitchen. Kitchens were considered to be the territory of servants for the wealthy, and would certainly not have been on display to the public in smaller homes. Beyond the main house traditionally was a rear projection, or outrigger, which housed the kitchen, the pantry and, historically, an outside toilet.“The only rooms to be presented to the public were the formal reception rooms. That’s probably one of the biggest differences between an original Victorian property built in the 19th century and one now: things like cooking were certainly not something on show to friends and guests,” says Martyn Clarke of Martyn Clarke Architecture. The rear projections were often more than 20 feet long, and can be extended sideways today to create around 430 square feet of space.
Sash and bay windows. Plate glass — allowing for larger panes than were previously possible — arrived in 1832. Typical Victorian windows are made up of four or six panes fixed to wooden runners that slide vertically, called sash windows.
Often the homes have bay windows, either circular or rectangular. “Bay windows are very characteristic of the Victorian era and can even go up to three stories high,” Clarke says. “The Victorians embraced ornament in the detail and in the form of their buildings,” Tugman adds. “They would have had bays to create more interest in the modeling.”
Molding. The quality of woodwork and molding traditionally was directly related to the status of the house. Molding gives form and shape to a room and is an important element in Victorian interior design. Grander homes have much more elaborate molding with decorative details, including ornate coving and ceiling medallions, designed to catch the smoke rising from gaslights.
“You can have different grades of fireplace, different levels of cornicing — different levels of embellishment across the board,” says Clarke.
Types of Victorian Homes
The Victorian terrace. The terrace houses designed for working families are often very small and in close proximity to one another.
A typical house of this kind is a two-up, two-down (two rooms upstairs and two downstairs). Sometimes a whole street would share just a few toilets. Some families may have had as many as 12 children — a source of income at the time, because they could be sent to work — so space is often extremely tight.
Despite their compact footprint, Victorian homes are characteristically well proportioned, making them comfortable living spaces. “They have the best-proportioned spaces, with high ceilings and great depth,” Clarke says.
The Victorian semidetached.Members of the emerging middle class lived in larger terraced and semidetached houses, just streets away from the more crowded homes of the working class. These homes are more likely to have flushing toilets and servants’ quarters in the loft or basement, depending on the status of the original owners. Their internal finishes are more elaborate, particularly in the public rooms.
The Victorian mansion. For the wealthy, Victorian mansions traditionally were places of refuge and comfort. These homes are very grand and followed all of the latest fashions when they were built, including heavy curtains, flowery wallpaper and extravagant furniture. Rich, dark colors were à la mode back then, as were button-backed armchairs, ottomans and chaise longues.
“Often they had riotous colors, and they embraced color much more than we readily give them credit for,” says Tugman. Servants once lived downstairs and were responsible for cooking and cleaning, lighting the fires, heating water for washing and helping members of the family to dress.
Victorian homes today. Victorian architecture shapes much of our architectural landscape today. Many of the larger homes have been subdivided into apartments, and extensions have often been added to both large and small homes to make the most of the space.
There are numerous ways to update Victorian homes: “You can add a contemporary extension, lay underfloor heating and renew sash windows,” for instance, says Clarke.
But while many Victorian homes have been brought into the 21st century, many aspects of their history and character endure.