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How Art Shapes Our Lives: Victorian Era Architecture

By Sal Maccarone —

Preceded by the Georgian era, the Victorian era refers to the reign of Queen Victoria. At 63 years-plus years (1837-1901), her reign in the United Kingdom was the longest of any monarch until recently as her great-great-granddaughter Queen Elizabeth II now holds the new record.

In terms of progress and architecture, though, Queen Victoria ushered in a period of unprecedented development which coincided with our industrial revolution in America.

In the United States and Canada, the term ‘Victorian architecture’ actually includes a variety of different building styles. The Victorian era was a time period., so much of the architecture that evolved between 1837 and 1901 is considered Victorian.

John Muir mansion built in 1883

For example, the John Muir mansion built in 1883 located in Martinez, California, is an Italianate style Victorian. Muir is considered by many to be the father of the National Park system — his home is now a National Historic site and park we can all enjoy.

Some of the features evident in this house include projecting eaves, low-pitched roofs, corbels and bay windows. These are all appealing elements of Mr. Muir’s Italianate Victorian.

To point out a few differences, some of the prominent features of the American Queen Anne style include a dominant front-facing gable which cantilevers over the wall below, round towers, porches and balconies at every level. Wall textures such as shingles or relief panels are also commonly used.

These buildings can be one, two, or three stories high — often with basements. Queen Anne is the building style most often thought of as a true ‘Victorian.’

San Francisco’s famous ‘Painted Ladies.’

San Francisco’s famous ‘Painted Ladies’ are all great examples of this familiar genre, but the grandest Queen Anne Victorian in the west has got to be the ‘Carson Mansion’ in Eureka, Ca. Constructed by lumber baron William Carson in 1886, the house was built with many thousands of board feet of redwood.

Here is a short video with aerial footage that does a good job of showing the features of the Carson house. This magnificent building is now home to a private club and, fortunately, it is also open for tours.

With the advent of motor-driven power during this era, it became much easier to produce beautiful architectural elements. Components such as moldings, turnings and curved windows could now be pre-fabricated in shops and then shipped to the worksites for installation.

Everything was trimmed and accentuated.

This new procedure allowed for crude joints made in the field that were then covered with ornate caps and moldings. This same principle applied to the interiors of these homes of the time. Everything was trimmed and accentuated with moldings, corbels, plaster, ornate turnings and the like.

Thanks to power and machinery, attention paid to detail became the name of the game for the many designers of Victorian era architecture.

Victorian interior.

Sal Maccarone is a foothills-based artist and craftsman

Read more about How Art Shapes Our Lives.

About Sal Maccarone

Sal Maccarone is an American author, furniture maker, sculptor and kinetic artist. He is best known as a master craftsman, and for his internationally distributed woodworking books such as Tune Up Your Tools, and How to Make $40,000 a Year Woodworking, both published by F & W publications, Betterway Books, in Cincinnati, Ohio. He is also known for his woodworking technique articles published both online since 1994, and by the national magazine Popular Woodworking. He attended San Jose State University and achieved a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Art History, and in 1974 a Masters degree in sculpture. Beginning in 1997, after the publication of his first national woodworking book, he began teaching woodworking technique. Touring the country with The Woodworking Shows, a Los Angeles based trade organization, he gives three day woodworking seminars in twenty-one different US cities each year. In 2009 he began a syndicated newspaper column called, "How Art Shapes Our Lives". The column is published once each week in the California central valley, Sierra foothills, and the Yosemite area. The column is designed to help build an awareness of the fine arts and the "Bigger Picture" while pointing to something local that can be observed. In 2010 he designed and built the two wood and glass display cases which reside as part of the permanent collection in the Great Lounge of the Ahwahnee Hotel. These furniture pieces were the first new additions to grace the Great Lounge since 1927. Both matching cases are made of native California walnut and are primarily used to display the historic baskets made by the Miwok people who once lived in Yosemite Valley. In 2011 the display cases were designated as "Reserve Property" of the hotel and are now part of the United States national heritage. He has been in the business of designing and building cabinets, furniture and sculpture since 1972. His woodwork and kinetic sculpture can be viewed in many public, and private collections throughout the United States, and British Columbia. As a member of the American Institute for Conservation he has also served as a conservator of furniture for the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park, and has helped to preserve such National treasures as the three Craftsman style harvest tables which were built in 1926 by L & J.G. Stickley especially for the hotel.

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