Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Victorian-Style Homes

published Mar 6, 2024
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Exterior of Victorian-style home

Historic homes usually have some distinctive architectural details that make them stand out. They might remind you of a dollhouse you played with when you were growing up or, depending on your perspective, a creepy haunted house.

But what is a Victorian-style house, exactly? Whether you’re shopping the real estate market for a historic home or you’ve just always been curious about some of the houses in your neighborhood, here’s what to know about Victorian homes and how to spot their common features in a flash. 

What Is a Victorian-Style House? 

The Victorian Era refers to a very specific period in history when Queen Victoria sat on the throne of the United Kingdom. She ruled from 1837 to 1901, but the architectural elements linked to her name did not become popular until later in her reign, starting in the 1850s.

Victorian architecture is actually an umbrella term for several different styles that arose during this period, including early Gothic Revival, Italianate, Colonial Revival, and Queen Anne, to name a few. 

Victorian-style architecture is a reflection of what was happening in the world at the time. Thanks to the Industrial Revolution, it was cheaper and easier than ever before to manufacture and transport building materials. This productive period also made lots of people wealthy — and they wanted their homes to reflect that status. 

“The house wasn’t just about shelter or functionality; it was about showing off style and opulence,” says Kris VanBuskirk, a real estate agent based in Boulder, Colorado, which has many Victorian-style homes lining its tree-lined downtown streets. Some of the most common design and architectural hallmarks of a Victorian-style home are wrap-around porches, ornate trim, turrets, bright colors, high-pitched roofs, and decorative flourishes, VanBuskirk says.

You might also see stained glass windows, ceiling medallions, detailed doors and hinges, dark wood, subway tiles, mosaic floors, wainscoting, and wall moldings, says Monica Breese, a New York City-based real estate broker and the founder of The Designed Domicilio, a home design and staging firm. “The mood and aesthetic are detailed and more is more,” she says. “It almost feels like the home is overdone — very ornate.” 

In the U.S., you’ll find Victorian-style homes in cities that sprung up before or during the 19th century. One of the most famous examples? The row of “Painted Ladies” on Steiner Street in San Francisco, which you might recognize from the opening credits of the show Full House.

You’ll also find a lot of Victorians in Brooklyn’s Ditmas Park neighborhood, says Gerard Splendore, a real estate broker in New York City. “This neighborhood is so historically accurate that period movies are filmed there,” he says.

Pros and Cons of Victorian-Style Houses

As with any type of home, Victorian’s have advantages and drawbacks. If you’re thinking of buying or renting one, you’ll want to spend some time carefully considering the pros and cons.

First, the positives. If you buy a Victorian, you’ll be buying — and, ideally, preserving — a piece of history. “Buying a 100-plus-year-old house means it has seen several owners and time periods, and may have a very cool history,” says VanBuskirk. “Some of Boulder’s most beautiful homes are Victorian homes that were built or designed by some of the most prominent people in the town’s history.”

Victorians also have lots of charm and character, so if you’re looking for a home that packs plenty of personality, this style can be a good fit, says VanBuskirk.

“These homes were built to stand out and, while they have a similar style overall, each home is unique in its design, color selections, millwork, and more,” she adds. “If you are looking for a home that doesn’t feel cookie-cutter, a Victorian-style home will get you very excited.”

These houses also tend to be large, so if you have a growing family or you just need more space, you might want to consider a Victorian, says Splendore. They’re typically at least two stories tall — often three — and they usually have spacious features like a big entry foyer that opens into a parlor. These and other features give them a “sense of gracious living and grandeur,” he adds.

But Victorians also have some potential disadvantages. That historic charm? It also means the house is just … old. You may end up needing to do expensive repairs, like replacing the electrical system and plumbing, says VanBuskirk. In addition, you might have to navigate the city’s strict rules around renovating historic structures — not necessarily a deal-breaker, but an added layer of complexity if you decide to make changes, she adds. “Your projects may need to be approved before you get working on them,” she says.

Because they are multi-story structures, they’re not ideal for people with mobility issues. And, often, the stairs can be pretty narrow. Depending on your preferences, the layout may also be a turnoff. Victorian kitchens are usually closed off from the dining and living areas, so if you love an open floor plan, you may have to do some remodeling.

“These things can always be changed via renovations but, again, those can get pricey quickly, based on materials and what you may find behind the walls,” says VanBuskirk.