Folk Victorian

Pale green in color, with gleaming white gingerbread trim, and surrounded by velvety grass and masses and masses of flowers, the house we were visiting was another impressive Victorian confection, such as I envisioned Aunt Inga’s house might one day look like. The doorbell rang with a somber, tolling sound that reverberated in the recesses of the house. A few seconds later the heavy door opened.

Waterfield’s doctor was a good-looking older man, with graying hair cut short, and a friendly, open face with round glasses. He was casually dressed, in wrinkled khakis and a faded blue golf shirt with a crocodile on the pocket. A napkin tucked under his collar was stained with yellow. He had a fork in one hand, and when he saw us, his brows crawled up his high forehead like caterpillars. “Derek. Good morning, son. What’s going on?”

“Morning, sir,” Derek said, not waiting for an invitation, but walking right in. “This is Avery Baker. I’m helping her renovate her Aunt Inga’s house over on Bayberry. I found her looking like this when I came to work this morning.”

“Oh, dear.” The doctor looked around for somewhere to deposit his fork, and ended up putting it on what was either an outstanding reproduction or a genuine mahogany veneered Hepplewhite sideboard standing in the hallway. Philippe would have been drooling. “You’d better put her in the parlor.”

He stepped out of the way. Derek headed into a room on the left with the doctor following. “On the couch, please.”

The ‘couch’ was a pristine example of a 1770s Federal style straight-back sofa upholstered in yellow damask. It might even have been a Sheraton. Again, Philippe’s mouth would have watered, and he would surely not have approved of the way Derek unceremoniously dropped me onto the old seat. The doctor, whose sofa it was, didn’t turn a hair.
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That’s Avery’s first meeting with Dr. Ben Ellis, Derek’s dad, and his Folk Victorian cottage.
The Folk Victorian has a much simpler design than the ornate Second Empire Victorian or the Queen Anne. The classic Victorian styles (Gothic Revival, Italianate, Second Empire, Stick Style, Romanesque Revival, and Shingle Style) were created by professional architects, and were built mostly by the well-to-do. But the lower reaches of the middle class shared the same Victorian urge to live in a fashionable house, and if they couldn’t afford a professional architect, they could design the house themselves, or have a local carpenter do it. The design was likely to be an unprofessional but possibly still charming pastiche, including elements of styles that were still currently fashionable among the upper crust, and elements of styles that definitely were not. Also, the house would naturally tend to be smaller and plainer than what the wealthy could afford.

Many Folk Victorian houses were adorned with flat, jigsaw cut trim in a variety of patterns, or with spindles and gingerbread trim borrowed from the Carpenter Gothic. Some Folk Victorian homes may suggest Queen Anne architecture.

The exact division between Queen Anne and Folk Victorian is fuzzy, considering how many of the smaller Queen Annes were hodge-podged together by local carpenters, rather than designed by architects. But Folk Victorians were being built long before the Queen Anne style appeared on the scene, and in any case, it is still useful to make a rough distinction between the more expensive, very elaborate, architect-designed Victorians (Queen Anne) and their less-expensive, plainer, carpenter-designed cousins (Folk Victorian).

So there you have it, folks. Folk Victorian 101.

Till next time. Cheers!

4 thoughts on “Folk Victorian”

  1. Another great blog! Was this Internet research, or do you have some favorite architectural references books on hand? I have a couple of McAlester field guides to American houses, but I’m embarrassed to say I gave them a cursory look when I bought them, and they’ve sat neglected on the shelf ever since; I got distracted with something else as usual. Speaking of which, I’ve added some youTube links below the Wikipedia blurb on Eureka’s Victorian architecture to distract you from hitting your word count goal for the day. (he, he).

    “Due to northern isolation and unfavorable economic conditions in the latter part of the twentieth century, much of the post-war redevelopment and urban renewal that other cities experienced did not occur in Eureka. As a result, Eureka is resplendent with hundreds of examples of 19th and early 20th century architecture and historic districts. David Gebhard, Professor of architectural history at University of California, Santa Barbara, has said that Eureka has the potential of becoming the West Coast Williamsburg. He stated Williamsburg, Virginia preserves an authentic colonial environment; Eureka preserves intact Victorian and early twentieth century architecture. The extensive array of intact Victorian era and later homes and public buildings include many ornate examples of Colonial Revival, Eastlake, Greek Revival, Italianate, Queen Anne, and Stick styles of Victorian architecture. All of these styles are present in the most famous and possibly most ornate of Victorian homes, the Carson Mansion.”

    Eureka Victorians:

    Eureka, Ferndale & Arcata Victorians (nice photos, but long & a bit slow):

  2. Thanks, darling! Some nice stuff there.

    This was mostly internet research, and stuff I know from spending time as a Realtor. East Nashville, where I live, has a lot of Victorian houses. Not many Second Empires, but loads of Queen Annes and Folk Victorians. I’ll probably do the Queen Annes next…

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