The Style of the 1890s

So I’m doing an architectural history lesson with a bit of social economics thrown in. If your bored by this then maybe skip this post but I think it’s important to understand the house.

The Crow’s Nest was built in 1893, rather late in the Victorian age. The Victorian age being the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901). Thus when someone has a Victorian house it is a rather vague way of saying my house was built in between 1837-1901 years with a few years after Queen Victoria’s death. But Victorian isn’t exactly a style, but it kinda is. There is some debate to this. Would you consider in the style in the 1980s the same as the style 1920s? It goes the same with homes of the Victorian Era. Thus many styles and influences came in and out of style. In America there is: Neoclassical, Romanesque, Italianate, Queen Anne, Folk Victorians, Gothic Revival, Greek Revival, Stick/Eastlake, Shingle, Second Empire, Renaissance Revival, and many more. I wont go through all the details because they are not pertinent and one could simply Wikipedia or google these styles.

Greek Revival and Classical Styles were a little bit of a throwback to the Georgian Period but were very common in the Antebellum American South and was later Revitalized again especially after the Chicago Worlds Fair of 1893. These homes were usually reserved for the more wealthy.

Queen Anne styles featured irregular layouts and floors that typically were not symmetrical. Turrets, bay windows, balconies and wrap around porches were common. Intricate patterns and details were used to break up the façade into sections like fish scale shingles, wood carvings, and clap board siding. Stained glass was very commonly used in public spaces. Usually wealthy and upper middle class families had these homes like doctors, lawyers, and businessmen.

Another Queen Anne example.

The Second Empire Style started in France with Napoleon and features steep mansard roofs, arched windows were common, towers were typical in the design. Pediments above windows was also popular. Often built of brick but occasionally timber if brick was not available.

A Folk Victorian. Simpler with less ornamentation then a Queen Anne. A simple gable in the eves and some turned columns on the porch were enough to dress up the clapboard style home. Usually the home is meant to be viewed from the front but some side detail occurs if the house is going to be seen at a different angle.

Italianate Style which is based off of Italian Piazzas. The large cornice along the roofline and the evenly placed geometry with a central Palladian window is very typical of Italianate.

Carpenter Gothic. This is the famous house in shown in the Grant Woods painting. The gothic arch window and vertical stripes emphasizing verticality are hallmarks to this design.

Stick style/ Eastlake was very popular in the later half of the 19th century. The façade is broken up into panels by wood “stick” planks. Heavily ornamented thin wood details were seen on corbels, railings, posts, and gables. This further emphasized the stick idea.

In 1893 Queen Anne, Second Empire and Neoclassical styles were popular for the wealthy. Italianate and gothic revival styles were losing popularity but where still being built. The average middle class American however would not be able to afford such lavishness. Many of these elements had to be custom made and shipped to location or required skilled workmen on site. Thus the average rural Americans built Folk Victorians. These homes were simple in plan and build but, were decorated with woodwork that could be added latter when there was time and money.

The Folk Victorians were basically simplified Queen Annes. They lacked towers, complicated roofs, the interior finishes were simpler, and the homes were over all smaller. It was also in 1890’s that the beginnings of the craftsman period had begun. These craftsman homes were built just as carefully as the Victorian homes but were even less ornate and simpler in form.

The Crow’s Nest is a folk Victorian. It has a few splurges of detail such as the intricate tall base boards, stained glass windows and a bay window in the dinning room. But the staircase is fairly simple and the outside of the house is designed to be looked at from the front and not much thought is put into the sides and the back of the house. The house is basically a rectangle with the back addition for the kitchen. This is typical of folk Victorians.

The interiors of the rural 1890s were different from those of previous decades. There were two styles competing against one another and it was up to the home owner to choose what they preferred. There was no wrong or right, just personal preference. On one hand you had the budding craftsman style and the original Eastlake style vs. the Revivalists who preferred styles of the past like colonial, Louis XIV, Empire, and gothic revival. The Crow’s Nest actually has both style of moldings, early craftsman window and door molding on the ground floor and upstairs in the bedrooms we have colonial revival moldings.

Crown molding was no longer popular and instead picture rail was added around 12-18″ below the ceiling line. This allowed a wallpaper boarder or stenciled friezes to be installed above the picture rail with a coordinating wallpaper below.

This is pretty fancy and would have been more common in the upper class homes.

Wallpaper was usually floral, heraldic, or scrolling designs in golds, blues, reds, creams, and the newly popular mauve.

Portieres (curtains that hung in doorways between rooms to stop drafts and add a flair of drama) were all the rage.

Furniture was being inspired by the art nouveau movement of the 1890s, the Eastlake movement of the 1870s, but some preferred more traditional styles of past decades like Louis XVI and Empire. The Mertes family probably brought furniture with them to the house and thus older styles would have been seen in the house along with Eastlake.

Me and my Eastlake Style dresser. This is now in the dressing room.
An Eastlake bed. I want this so bad.
Art Nouveau Cabinet….I wish I had one of these. This would have been very modern and daring for the time. This probably is more closer to 1900-1910.
Empire style dresser. A little old fashioned for the house in style but still a classic.

Gas lighting was still in fashion and if you were wealthy you had both gas and electric lights in case the electricity failed as it was prone to do. The modern Victorian Bathroom had only been around for about 25 years. These bathroom fixtures were often separated into separate rooms. The toilet had its own room with the sink and bath tub in another. Claw foot tubs were all the rage and the debate between wood wainscoting vs. white subway tile was in full debate.

Kitchens were not modern like today. Usually a large range with a separate cast iron sink and separate furniture (Table, cupboard, and icebox) made up the kitchen. Often kitchens had support spaces such as butlers pantries, and food pantries with built in shelving and sinks. I would love if the Crow’s Nest had a butlers pantry.

One thought on “The Style of the 1890s

  1. Josh. Amazing information. I am learning so much from your post. Always looking forward to the next post. Great details. Love hearing about your and Sara house.


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