Some of the earliest Victorian-era houses were part of an architectural movement called “Gothic Revival.” Gothic houses in the United States were built primarily from 1840 to 1860, and are also referred to as “Carpenter Gothic,” “Rural Gothic,” and even more informally, “Gingerbread houses” — due to frilly ornamentation that is common to the style. Andrew Jackson Downing was the primary proponent of this style in the United States.
The birth of Gothic Revival was somewhat revolutionary at the time. The “Romantic era” that gave birth to Gothic Revival architecture was in many ways a rejection of Classicism and its strict rules, and included expressions in art, poetry, literature, architecture, interior decoration, style of dress, music, and so on. Romanticism tended to place less emphasis on the mind (and reason) and more on the heart (and emotion). As such, architecture was now supposed to speak to the inner-self and also blend into the natural environment. The result was that the common colors of houses also changed. Light earth tones, soft tans, and greys became popular in order to meet architects’ new desire for homes to fit into their landscape, instead of clashing with its environment, as did white-painted, boxy Greek Revival and Federal houses.
What To Look For:
Vertical siding (board & batten), steeply pitched roofs, cross gables, thin chimneys, bay windows, and pointed-top windows. The vertical emphasis and many other stylistic elements were borrowed directly from the original Gothic masterpieces- the great cathedrals of Europe.
With the invention of the scroll saw in the late 1830s, the Gothic Revival also often includes elaborate trim work along eaves and on gable ends. (the fanciest of which is often known as Carpenter Gothic, and is the reason some people refer to these as “Gingerbread” houses). Verandas and porches, which allowed the enjoyment of nature, are also common features on Gothic Revival houses.