Houses, Hunks, and Whodunit

In keeping with the new log line on my blog – courtesy of Lyda Phillips, whose review of A Cutthroat Business in the Nashville Scene last year included the sentence “…a frothy girl drink of houses, hunks and whodunit,” – I thought I’d say a few words about houses.
More specifically, one house: Aunt Inga’s house in Fatal Fixer-Upper. There’s a chance that not everyone might have seen a Second Empire Victorian, and I thought I might remedy that.
Here are Avery’s words on her first visit to Waterfield:
Graham Rodgers had told me it was in bad shape. I had been prepared for the fact that it would need some work. Aunt Inga had been old, childless, and not well off, so there had been things – probably a lot of things – she hadn’t been able to keep up with. I expected an overgrown yard, a few loose roof shingles, missing gutters, and maybe some rotted boards. The reality was so much worse than anything I could have imagined, that for a second, I just stared, appalled.

Oh, don’t get me wrong: the house must have been beautiful once. Like mother had said, it was a fairytale Victorian cottage with a tower and arched windows. Unless my mandatory architecture classes betrayed me, I was looking at a Second Empire Victorian. Basically an Italianate style, identified by a square tower, mansard roof, and tall, narrow windows, arched or rounded on top. Named for the reign of Napoleon III (1852-1870), Second Empire was the first true style of the Victorian era in the US.

Above is another, more manicured example. Note the tall, narrow windows on the first floor, the arched windows on the top level, and the mansard roof… all hallmarks of the Second Empire style. 
In the United States, the style usually combined a rectangular tower with a steep, short, mansard roof; the roof being the most noteworthy link to the style’s French roots. The tower could be of equal height to the top floor – such as in example 2 – or it could exceed the height of the rest of the structure by a story or two, like in picture 1 and 3.
The mansard roof crest was often topped with iron trim, called “cresting”. There’s plenty of cresting on this house: both on top of the tower and on the lower roofs. In some cases, lightning rods were integrated into the cresting design, making the feature useful as well as decorative.
So there you have it. A basic description of the Second Empire Victorian, i.e. Aunt Inga’s house. Next time I think I’ll hunt up some pictures of Dr. Ben’s Folk Victorian Cottage. After I post about hunks and whodunit, of course. In the meantime it’s Friday, and time for a frothy drink. Until next time. Cheers!

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