Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Longevity of the Victorian Architecture

In is a subject of interest to me that the buildings of the Victorian era are still evident in many places in the world. From Alaska to Tasmania, there can be found a Victorian structure that has been restored and is used to this day. I have seen Victorian homes in New Zealand, countries in Africa, Europe, Canada and even Hawaii. It not only has had a lasting presence but a lasting appeal!

I remember though, in the 1950's how some people were burning down such houses, which were called "painted laidies" to make room for modern housing and tract homes that would make more money. A society was formed to step in and rescue any house that was a hundred years old, and some houses that were 50 years old. This was called the Historical Society and they were able to put a stop to the razing of these houses.

As I explained in a previous article, the Victorian architecture was not necessarily "Victorian," because they borrowed from other known styles of the past. That is why the houses were so different from one another. Some had Gothic characteristics. Others had Italian or Roman qualities. Still others were called Gothic Revival
Jacobethan (the precursor to the Queen Anne style)
Painted ladies
Queen Anne
Renaissance Revival

When I post here of my interest in Victorian homes, it is for several different reasons. One is that it was never one particular style, but rather the time frame (the period of time in which Victorian was Queen of the British Empire), and another was the versatility of the styles. They looked good in different settings, whether they were by the sea or in the mountains. They could take on different national qualities, depending on the country, the climate, and the materials available where they were built.

Everywhere you go, you can see them. There are in Russia and India, for example, still beautiful Victorian homes. These plans are still used today. I was walking around in a new housing development not long ago, which was entirely Victorian in nature, and yet could name some of the styles listed above. These houses had several things in common.

One of particular importance that modern homes do not always include, is the front porch that people may sit on. It was important in past centuries to have this as an extra room. There they could keep an eye on their neighborhood and their children and keep in touch with others. The front porch went by the way when some of the more modern homes began to be built. However, in the 1960's-1990's houses, many people are giving them a facelift, by adding porches and upstairs sections, creating a more Victorian look.

The reason I like the Victorian houses is that I know that the era was so staunchly family oriented. The home was considered the most important element of society. As the home goes, so goes the nation, they said. It was a time when a man's greatest accomplishment was to provide a nice house for his family, and women felt dignified by having a home all their own to take care of. It was a time when church and family were the highest order of society.

Todays painters are busily putting the image of these houses on canvas, as you can see by the painting above called Victorian Seaside by George Bjorkland who paints many beautiful scenes today. In fact, the painters of today paint beautiful paintings of the Victorian gardens, houses, carriages and fashions. The newer housing developments are using similar plans to the Victorian houses and creating the feeling of the old fashioned neighborhoods and country homes


Karen said...

I am very interested in Victorian architecture and homes. A favorite book of mine is The Victorian House by Judith Flanders (2003) ISBN 0 00 713189 5. Each chapter describes the organization, decoration, and function of one room (i.e. nursery, morning room, dining room, parlour, etc.)

Mimi said...

I think you already mentioned this, but, in the pre-air-conditioned South, porches were extra- important to the health and well-being of a family. Many of our region's antebellum and Victorian homes had two important porches: a open front porch for relaxing with the family and for showing hospitality, and a screened in back porch, that was more utilitarian in nature. People would store a few things on the back porch and also perform some tasks, there. For example, some carried their ironing to the back porch. Others polished their shoes out there or painted something or did other tasks that might create fumes.

Some houses even had a sleeping porch, which was designed to hold a bed or two. If the heat became oppressive inside, someone could awlays sleep more soundly in the cool night air.

In the South, houses built during the days before air conditioning were designed very efficiently. Many also had long halls that were either a permanent breezway (late 1700's, early 1800's) or had a front door and a back door (a little bit later in the 1800's) If the heat became oppressive, you could open the front and back doors and a breeze would flow right through the house. Some halls were large enough to serve as an extra room during a party.

I know you have spent much time in Australia, Lady Lydia. I saw a TV show about Australian architecture from the Victorian era, and I was charmed by how the Austrailians, too, found ways to design so efficiently for the heat.

Of course, air conditioning makes it possible to live without these lovely porches and fewer homes ware built with real porches these days. But, it's a shame that some of these design innovations have fallen by the way side. If more houses were still designed with climate in mind, we could save energy resources and money on heating/cooling bills.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for these lovely well thought out posts on victorian homes. It does me good to think upon lovely things and making our home a haven.

Your posts are always such an encouraging reminder that we do not have to be weathly to have a well appointed, serene home. It is the spirt that is about the home, more than anything.

Again-- Thank you.



Unknown said...

Dear Lady Lydia,
I have always loved the design of such homes, but have never known the name of them, sad to say. I always thought they were "farm houses". Thanks for enlightening me. I am sorry that you need to post "disclaimers" in it and I am sorry that you have been under such scrutiny. Your blog is my favorite!

Mrs. Anna T said...

While I'm far from saying the Victorian era OR Victorian fashion OR Victorian houses were perfect, I agree with you that the style of Victorian homes was so much more family-focused. It can be easily seen that the home, back then, was meant to be a place where the family spent many hours every day. Therefore, design was directed at comfort, beauty and hospitality. Today's crammed little apartments are often too utilitarian and do not provide decent conditions for receiving guests: visitors step right into the living room, and the kitchen and bathrooms can be seen from any point the guests might sit in. Eating out is now much more common than receiving guests in one's own home.
I do think that if we want to reclaim the beautiful culture of hospitality and relaxing home life (and don't tell me it's backward or impractical or impossible...) we have some things to learn from the Victorians.

smilnsigh said...

I so love that last line. ,-)

Anyone who loves the preservation of Victorian, please visit Photos-City-Mine and see our preserved and restored houses and downtown.

Please and thank you,

smilnsigh said...

Heavens! Whatever did I not catch, while I was away, as the result of back troubles? What happened here? No I am not really asking this. It's simply my being surprised at hearing that you had to discontinue comments.

And I certainly hope that all here, will stay calm now.


Lydia said...

Every summer when school is out, some of our homemaking blogs get a rash of students who like to criticise and mock the comments. Even a subject as nuetral as architecture becomes controversial. Sometimes people just innocently remark that they would have loved to live in Victorian times, and they get blasted from all angles by people who think it is a terrible thing to want the niceties and the manners from another era. I had to delete several comments but wish I had left them on just to show the silly reasoning that is coming from our so-called educated young women who claim that feminism has done so much for them. It doesn't take long for their comments to deteriorate into insults! I shudder to think of what kind of people will control our society when I am very old. They are fearlessly blunt, rude, selfish and oblivious to the feelings of others.

Lydia said...

One modern architect named Louis I. Kahn created structures that looked more like prison cells than buildings for human beings. He seemed to have the philosophy that people didn't need windows or beautiful structures to enjoy. One article I read about some of the riots that have taken place in the world, said that they were centered around some of the parts of towns that his buildings were in. He and some of the architects of his era, called modernists or progressives, apparently were seeking to create a socialistic type of architecture that resembled army barracks or jail cells. Some of the modernists were the forerunners of the modern apartment units and the dorm rooms. In country areas where livestock is kept, there are strict rules as to how much space is allowed per animal. The animals fare better in their stalls and barns than people do in dorms and apartments and office buildings! This bad architecture has been the source of much debate lately!

wendybirde said...

I was very interested in what Elizabeth said about buildings being designed to be cool without air conditioning. Does anyone know what other things besides porches and breezeways and building in shade and keeping heat emitting things out of living spaces etc (and swimming, smile) were used to keep cool? Not just structual elements built in but also things/ideas that could be brought into any space? I suspect there were some very innovative ways to cool a space pre air conditioning and it would be so wonderful to find out more.

Ive only heared of a few, mostly involving water. In ancient Greece ive read some households had a little pipe system on the ceiling that released a fine mist that cooled, and they also utilzed ice shipped in from the North. That was only for the wealthy though. I've heared in ancient egypt there was an idea to saturate strips of cloth then tie big beads at the bottom so the water didnt all drip off ( i think smaller beads were also used at intervals along the strip), and hang the soaked strips in a doorway so the breeze could cool the air more. Ive heared of pouring water over semi pourous tile type floors (today we could pour over cement too) that then the water slowly evaporates and cools the air in a room (not sure what culture that was from). Ive heared of a Victorian remedy of putting white vinegar on a small strip of cloth tied around the forehead to help heat dissipate from the head (we could also use small ice packs today) which also helps ward off headaches from the heat (mint essentail oil helps dissipate heat too). And of course eating ice cream : )

Does anyone know of anything else? Not only from the past but any new and still natural ideas? As you may have guessed i don't have air conditioning, and neither did anyone else for most of our history... so there must be a wealth of trial and error and discoveries out there that we have just forgotten post a.c. Does anyone know of any other things/ideas?...

KTHunter said...

I enjoyed the bit about the porches very much. I have a screened-in porch, and it is my favorite room in the house. I like to sit at my patio table and read with a glass of cold sweet tea, and it makes me feel like I'm the richest person in the world when I look at the bunnies in the back yard and hear the windchime singing in the breeze. Donald Trump never had it so good.

Lynda said...

I absolutely love these homes and what they stood for! I am a big advocate for my family and my home even though many of my neighbors are not. Thank you again for such beauty in your blog.

Susie said...

Lady Lydia,
I used to live in an area of the US that had plenty of Victorian homes. I used to love driving past those houses and imagine what it would have been like living back then. Sadly, the last time I was back in that area to visit, many of the homes were torn down and replaced with "cookie-cutter" luxury homes. Now I don't know if there was something wrong with those homes to make them unlivable, and thus they were destroyed, but it was sad to see them gone.

Mimi said...

I don't know if this is what Wendy Waterbirdie was looking for, but there are a couple of other things I thought of. I'm sure everyone knows them though.

Down here in the south, the kitchen was usually built separately from the main house. The kitchen was connected to the main house by a walkway. This was particularly true if the house was in the country; I suppose some city lots didn't have as much room to spread everything out in this way. Separating the kitchen from the main house served two purposes: 1)We're talkign about the days when poeple still cooked over a fire or over a wood-buring stove. If the kitchen caught fire from the blaze and burned down, you might still be able to save the main house. 2) The heat of summer cooking didn't invade the house.

Also, before the days of refrigeration, people all over the U.S. had spring houses and other types of little shelters that were built to keep foods fresh. Spring houses were built over or near a cool spring, and food, especially hams and other meats, were hung in them for refrigeration. Other kinds of shelters were dug down into the ground, where the air was cool. My uncle's house still has a little shelter outside where meat and other foods were kept cool.

I'm not an expert here. I'm going a lot on having visited many very old houses all over the South, both houses of relatives and houses that were open for tours. Also, when I was little, many people who were born in the Victorian age were still alive, and I remember them talking about why houses were built the way they were.

I'm sure that if someone wanted to study this topic in depth, they'd find that people of the 1700's and 1800's used many design elements to help with the heating or cooling of a house -- depending on what was needed for a particular climate.

I believe that the Victorian houses in a certain part of Austrailia houses had their family and living room type spaces on the upper floor. These spaces were lined with windows and huge blinds that could be opened to let the breeze circulate through the entire the top floor. Lady Lydia would have to speak to that one, though.


wendybirde said...

Thank you Elizabeth : )

I know to many this stuff may be common knowledge, but to those of us born in the 60s and later a lot of us are i think in real danger of never knowing this sort of thing unless we seek to learn it. And i think its important to know...for so many generations folks have learned to find comfort and innovation without high tech-ness and chemicals and the like, and we need to learn these things again i feel, to not forget there really is a more direct way of living...

Kimberline said...

I would like to share about my Victorian styled home if I may. When we were first married we lived in very little apartments and then were thrilled to rent a nice sized home when our second baby was born. We bought our first home when she was still quite little and began our history then of buying a home in disrepair, fixing it up, selling it for a profit, investing that profit into buying a slightly larger home also in need of rehab, and so on. We did this for 17 years.

My dream home was a Victorian with a fenced formal garden just off the wrap around garden, to the side of the house. I was aware of all the things Lydia says about Victorian times and always felt myself born perhaps out of the time most suited to me. I so longed to have a home that reflected the grace and peace of simpler times.

Our last home was very modern and large and comfortable after our rehab, but my husband and I still desired to try for the dream home. We had been able to save the money to build it because of the equity we had in our homes after years of buying rehab homes and living in them while we made them lovely and livable. Doing the work ourselves meant a tidy profit with each sale.

My husband by chance found a floor plan which he really liked at an online site for a Victorian styled home. There was no picture included for how the exterior looked, it was just the floor plan. We played with it for awhile, adding and taking away and rearranging it to suit our family. A number of years later we were in a bookstore and saw a plan book for Victorian homes and on the cover was this beautiful blue house with white gingerbread and a wrap porch that was nearly the exact one of my dreams. We both oohed and aahed and walked out of the store with the plan book and a renewed hope for building a dream home one day.

When we got it home and looked for the floor plan to match the cover picture, we were amazed and delighted to find that the floor plan was the one he had copied years earlier :) It was the floor plan we had revised to fit our dreams.

We were financially able to live in our current large home and build that dream house on acreage in the country. When the home was "done" we sold our other home for a very tidy profit and were able to use the cash to finish the home with curtains and furniture and to do landscaping. This last spring my husband gifted me with a Victorian wrought iron styled fence in white to go around the formal garden. (I wish I could somehow share pictures of it...I am filling it with flowers at this time!)

All of us enjoy showing people around our home and it is pure delight to work out in our gardens or in the woods. God has so blessed us! This house piques people's curiosity and many will come right up to our door to ask about it. One lady came by to say that when she saw it she told her husband it was an old house made new again and he told her it was a new home made to look like it was old. We use people's curiosity in it to introduce them to what a home can mean...a comforting and beautiful place where the family is together. The house is still not "finished," but remains a work in progress. Any house that is a home will always be that!

People have commented that the house and our family seems to have popped out of time long since past into the present. I am a stay at home mother with many children. We do so many things in an "old fashioned way," but we find this appeals to people so much that they are full of questions and if we are mindful of the example we set, maybe they too will want to make a home like this one. It is not so much that it is a beautiful house with people living in it as it is a HOME with people we love in it. We love our home and yet it is just a house, same as any other house. It is our love for one another and our careful attention to our house that makes it so full of love and so inviting. The thing I enjoy most is that it is a home that is full of possibilities and dreams.

I made it a point through the years to make even our most humble house a home by the lovely smells and sights and sounds within and surrounding it. We are just so grateful that God has blessed us with being able to have the home that was our dream home, but I can honestly tell you that every home we have had is still the "home of our dreams." Our children each have lovely memories that they carry from each of the places we lived. The youngers delight in hearing of the memories our older ones have of homes which they lived in before the younger ones came along.

Even if we were on the move constantly and only going to live someplace a short time, we made it a point to take out pretty things and make it as cozy as possible. Every home, no matter how simple, looks cheerier with crisp curtains at the window. I have never believed in storing up the good and beautiful things for when we got settled (saving the good things for 'good') We always tried to bloom where we were planted so we enjoyed using what nice things we were blessed with regularly. Home definitely is where the heart is. I am just blessed that the Lord let my heart come to rest in this house of my dreams. My husband likes to remind me that this house grew up on our elbow grease but it was a joyful job getting to here! ~smile~


Mimi said...

Hi Wendy and Moll Flanders,

I don't think I realized just what a treasure it was to have so many older relatives in my family when I was little and also to have relatives who lived in so many interesting old houses. Plus, my parents were interested in history and in older homes, so I got taken along on a lot of tours. Now, I wish I had written more information down. But, I'm going to try Lady Lydia's suggestion of jotting things down as they come to me.

Kimberline said...

Oh, for Wendy....

Some of the older historical Victorian homes we looked at had a front part that was a "bell tower" with windows facing 3 ways. The heat of the home would travel up the open stairways and be trapped in that tower which was higher than the rest of the home. When the windows were opened, it acted as a natural vent, releasing that oppressive heat.

All the homes we looked at also had full wooden shutters on the windows. Shielding the sun on the outside of the house prevents the windows from heating up so much and radiating heat into the home.

An attic fan in modern homes is an excellent way to release heat that rises in a home. They pull air in down lower in the house and that forces the heated air toward the upper areas of the rooms to flow out. On a cooler evening they often are enough of a way for cooling down that the house can be quite comfortable.

Be aware that sometimes adding humidity to a hot room can make it feel even hotter. The idea of the wet strips does work in dryer climates, but in climates where the humidity holds heavily in the air, it can also ADD to the humidity. If your home is above a certain level of humidity, it will feel sticky and miserable to you as the heat increases. A humidifier is a really effective tool to making a too humid home feel much more cool. You would be amazed at how much water can be pulled out of the air in a humid climate! The "temperature" in your home can be the same before and after you use it, but the dryer air feels cooler because it allows your perspiration to actually evaporate. If the humidity is too high, it is harder for your body to cool because the air already is so laden with water that perspiration clings instead of evaporating.

Do you know about using rice socks to cool down? You can fill a long sock with rice. It might help to stitch baffles in as the sock is filled so that the sock stays evenly filled all the way around. If you store the rice sock in the freezer and pull it out when cold, it will make cool comfort for you to wear around your neck or can be used to cool your pillow at bedtime. I've heard of people using the cool rice sock at their feet to keep them comfortable as they go off to sleep at night.

Enjoying everyone's comments today!

Lydia, sometimes I think it might be ok if you let us see the rude comments. I often wonder at just what you have to put up with. Thank you for screening, but if ever you want to leave something up so we can all see it, I would not be offended. It just gives me more people to pray for. I truly worry about the young people today and can tell you also do. :)


wendybirde said...

Thanks Kimberline. I really love especially that bell tower idea : )