About two years ago, my husband and I bought
a house, the cutest little house, a simple classic vernacular farmhouse with the most
amazing Victorian staircase, but wait a minute, a farmhouse with a Victorian staircase? What
in the world is that? Being an avid researcher, I jumped straight down the American architecture
styles rabbit hole. I wanted to figure out what this house is. Today, I’m going to share some of the stuff
that I found out about Folk Victorian houses, including why they came about and some of
the classic recognizable features that all of them have. Real quick, we are in the middle
of renovating this 1905 Folk Victorian house and taking it back to what it could’ve been
when it was built. We are learning so much about how styles and renovation and DIY along
the way, so if you want to subscribe, hit the bell, you’ll get notified every time we
share something new with you. Victorian architecture is one of the most
universally recognizable styles of house. Anyone who knows a little bit about old houses
can probably point to something and say, “Well, that’s Victorian-ish.” Folk Victorians are
the same but a little bit different. We are going to discuss the history of them, where
they came from, how this style came about and talk about some of those identifying features
that are classically Folk Victorian. A lot of the information in this video comes
from the book of A Field Guide to American Houses. I will link it in the description
below and if you don’t buy any other book on old houses, you need to buy this one because
it is the most unbelievable wealth of information. Let’s jump into it. Folk Victorian houses start appearing in the
Midwest sometime around 1870 and trail out about 1910. They have their roots in the national
style farmhouse, which was made popular by the railroads but have a little bit of extra
Victorian flair. I started my research by trying to understand what the political and
societal and economic culture was in America at the time that these houses were built.
To start off, there were a few different presidents during this time period, but one of the most
recognizable and most widely known is Theodore Roosevelt. Around this time, Charles Dana Gibson also
created his famous Gibson Girl who became pretty much the quintessential feminine woman
in the Victorian era. It is rumored that she was modeled after the legendarily beautiful
Evelyn Nesbit, who became more or less America’s first “It girl.” Additionally, while mass
manufacturing had been increasing steadily since the mid-1800s, the beginning of the
20th century saw one critical difference. Previously, all of the mass manufacturing
had been done by people, people making lots of products, but now machines were introduced,
machines making products. The amazing thing about this change is all of those specialized
machines that were making Queen Anne porch spindles and detailing and trims, those machines
could be made, packed up, put on a train, and then shipped to other parts of the country. This allowed small local lumber yards, the
ability to make some of these very fancy, very extravagant trim pieces and exterior
pieces that were available in the big cities. Now, the grandeur that was previously only
available to the extremely wealthy and those in large cities is now available to rural
America. What does this create? You guessed it. The Folk Victorian house. As we mentioned, Folk Victorians have their
roots in national style farmhouses. Now, these are very simple folk houses with a few basic
shapes that are more or less one step above a cabin. Their main purpose was to be shelter
and nothing more. Those national style farmhouses started emerging in the 1850s primarily due
to the explosion of railroads at that time. Railroads could now carry building materials
and people farther and into more remote locations, which led to these smaller settlements farther
away from the big cities. Folk Victorian houses at their core are just very basic, simple
folk houses. Some of the houses had pyramidal roof shapes, but almost all of them have gables. Now, a gable roof is just a roof that has
a slope on both sides. A gable is the area underneath the roof that forms between the
two sloping planes. These houses could have front facing gables where that triangular
gable end was facing toward the front of the house or they could have a side facing gables
where they would go 90 degrees to the front of the house. Overall, the facades of these
houses were very symmetrical in terms of door and window placement, but with one very noticeable
exception. This exception is what let me know that Folk
Victorian was the style that we had in this house. You could obviously have just a front
gable or just aside gable or you could have a front and side gable. Normally that front
gable would be offset to either the right or the left. The front gable is often two
or even three rooms deep. The side gable would come out from the middle and typically only
be on one side of the house. This would create a T or L-shape farmhouse that is unbelievably
common around here in the Midwest. It is so common actually that I have a folder
on my computer of houses that have been listed since we bought this one that have the exact
same floor plan. Since this is such a common floor plan for houses around here, you would
think that some building book or architectural book, somewhere from the 1900s would have
an explanation of how this floor plan is supposed to be built. But so far I have spent hours
upon hours on the Internet and I can’t find anything. I’ve been all over archive.org and looked
through dozens upon dozens of house plan books and I’ve come up dry. I’ll leave a link to
Archive below and if you guys happen to go through and find either your house or my house
floor plan, leave it for me in the comments below. The other possibly most recognizable feature
of Folk Victorians is the millwork. The porches often had flat jigsaw cut porch trim up around
the roof of the porch and it almost looks like a lace border around the porch of the
house. The porch detail can also contain turned spindles as we’re seeing in many of the larger
more ornate Queen Anne Victorians of the day. On our front porch, we actually have both. Obviously, you can see the flat jigsawed portion
with these kinds of interesting trefoil designs, but then we also have a little bitty bit of
spindle stuck in the middle of it. It’s not super fancy, but it is also kind of fancy
and pretty special. Remember those gables we talked about earlier? Oftentimes those
gables had brackets under the eaves and roof lines. Sometimes the gables were sectioned
off with fancy trims so they could be a little bit more ornate. Other times there were just
other fancy architectural details up against the roof line, not too much, just a little
bit of extra fancy. All of these little exterior bits are the
kinds of things that would be created by these specialized machines that are now no longer
restricted to the city. So you can take your basic national style farmhouse, stick out
a few little fancy bits, and now you have a Folk Victorian. Now, a field guide to American
houses primarily focuses on the exterior features of the house that kind of define all of them. I have very little historical knowledge to
back up this next theory. But if we know that the exteriors of these Folk Victorian houses
were just basic national style farmhouses dressed up with a little bit of extra molding,
we can reasonably assume that the interior of the houses was probably the same. This
is at least the case for our house. Unfortunately, we only have one remaining doorway in the
house that has its entire trim remaining, but you can see that it is just a little bit
fancy. With the carved wood casings and the pretty circular rosettes, it’s a little step
above your basic flat molding. When we were renovating this house, we actually
found the name of the man who built it along with the city on the back of some of these
trim pieces when we pulled them down. We are assuming that this was a shipping address
so that the lumber mill or whoever made these pieces, was able to ship the pieces to him
and kind of reinforce that idea of mass-produced trim molding. One final point to discuss. How can we identify a Folk Victorian whose
character and who’s gingerbread and who’s trim has been stripped out? Well, I don’t
know. This is exactly what happened to this house. Almost all of the original exterior
trim is gone. Most of the original interior trim is gone. A lot of the original character
like fireplaces and mantles and tile is all just gone. This is why I really struggled
to determine what style of house this is. We are again in the realm of historical conjecture,
but the only tangible difference that I’ve been able to see is in just the overall size
of the house. Since the national style houses are older and more for basic shelter and are
really just one step above cabins, they tend to be a little bit smaller in their footprint
than Folk Victorian houses. The room, ceiling heights, the room dimensions, the staircases,
everything is just a little bit shrunken. For example, before we bought this farmhouse,
we actually toured a different house that I realize now in retrospect was a national
style farmhouse. It was very cute. It was the same kind of T-shape with a front gable
and an end gable, but the rooms were just noticeably smaller. Upstairs it had one large
bedroom, but then the smallest bedroom was something like 8 by 10. It was tiny. By comparison,
the rooms in this house are all about 15 by 15. They’re pretty good size, even by modern
standards. I’m not saying that a Folk Victorian can’t
have small rooms and I’m not saying that a national farmhouse can’t have large rooms,
it just seems to me that the Folk Victorians were a little bit bigger as people started
to spend more time in their house and less out of it. This is not a hard and fast rule
by any means and in fact, could be entirely wrong. I am not an architect, I’m not an architectural
expert, but given the rather ambiguous nature of identifying the age of these farmhouses
around here that are just kind of vernacular style, that’s the best I can do. That is everything that I have for you today.
I very much hope you enjoyed this video. If you did, would you mind clicking the like
button, subscribing and sharing with all of your old house enthusiast friends? I am hoping
to do more videos in this American architecture series where we can break down some of the
common architectural styles around the country and figure out what exactly makes them what
they are. So if you would like to see that, please leave me a comment below letting me
know what style of house you would like to see next. My husband and I are sympathetically renovating
our own Folk Victorian taking it back as best we can. And if you want to see all of our
daily updates on that and our little projects around the house, follow us on Instagram @farmhousevernacular.
Also, go ahead and subscribe to our email list. I am working on a home renovation project
planning course for you guys to kind of help you manage a whole house home renovation or
even just a part of it. So go ahead and give us your email if you want to sign up for updates
on that. And also we have tee-shirts now they say,
“Renovate With Respect.” I’ll leave a link into description if you want to grab yourself
one of those. They’re really comfy and represent old houses. Thank you so much for watching
guys. I will see you next time. Bye.

FOLK VICTORIAN | American Architecture Styles

35 thoughts on “FOLK VICTORIAN | American Architecture Styles

  • May 15, 2019 at 2:45 pm
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    I love this subject! I would love to hear about bungalows as well😃…

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  • May 15, 2019 at 3:07 pm
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    Thanks for watching guys! What kind of houses do you want to hear about next?

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  • May 15, 2019 at 3:53 pm
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    LOVE THIS! I knew what my house was called about 4-5 years ago by researching it. This is what mine is also, “Folk Victorian”. We have the 2 gables, the main one facing the road, then a smaller, 1/2 room size facing south. I have an old picture from probably around 1920’s of my house. It did have the trim around the small porch ( 12 x 4 ) with the spindles on the roof line. Also on the gables with the spindle detail and the shingles that were almost scalloped ( not sure what to call the look??? You know the fancy icing on the cake look! )

    My room sizes are 12 x 11, so bigger than the small….. but smaller than yours. No fireplaces … We are on the East Coast in Central New York, and yes at the time it was built there was a railway that ran through this small town!

    I love your HISTORY VIDEOS! Loved the History of your “woven blankets” and now this!

    Teach us once a day !!! LOL! Being on the East Coast, would love to learn more on the “Cape Cod” style!

    Thank you Paige… love coming to your classroom! 👍

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  • May 15, 2019 at 4:03 pm
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    Unless I missed it, you left out the part where people could order houses and/or house plans from companies like Sears. Is your house near a river or old railroad? That's how the kits were often delivered.
    After receiving the plans or kit, people would hire local carpenters to build their home. At that point, personal choice came into play. Maybe different room layout, window placement, woodwork, trims, exterior gingerbread trims, porches, and on and on.

    I live in an old American Foursquare circa 1918. These generally have arts and crafts style woodwork – very simple lines. But this one has fancy spoon carved woodwork throughout the ground floor and very simple woodwork upstairs – more simple and utilitarian than even arts and crafts. It was clearly a personal choice and a choice that was pretty much out of style by the time this house was built.

    I've also been told that people often either spent the money on making the outside fancy or the inside fancy. Usually not both except for the very wealthy folks.

    This is the third or fourth old house that I've had the pleasure of living in. All have needed intensive work. It's so fun discovering clues of what they once were.

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  • May 15, 2019 at 4:13 pm
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    Great job as always Paige!! I’d like to request something about Italianate homes. Both Brandon and I have a love for these beauties and I’m sure there are many others out there that do too. Thanks, David 😁

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  • May 15, 2019 at 4:59 pm
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    That book is on my wish list!

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  • May 15, 2019 at 5:00 pm
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    Love this! Cape cods definitely have my heart, and i'd like to learn more about them, but another distinctive style I like is lowcountry. I love the way they used the architecture of the house to keep cool. Plus they're all so gorgeous!

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  • May 15, 2019 at 5:07 pm
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    I too did all kinds of research on this subject. To boil it all down to most simple statement…People did what they could afford as they could afford it ! Most young people today would have a hard time with that but there was a time in this country when common sense was more common. I've seen old farm houses in Ohio that started out as log cabins.

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  • May 15, 2019 at 5:30 pm
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    We have a L shaped ranch. I didn't realize that triangle shape roofline was called a gable.

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  • May 15, 2019 at 5:52 pm
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    Thanks for sharing. Interesting subject.

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  • May 15, 2019 at 5:58 pm
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    Thanks so much for sharing, great video!! I live in the UK in a little Victorian row house with beautiful features and I’m keen to learn more about it. Have you come across any resources that I should check out for Victorian design outside the US? I’m loving learning along with you, keen the videos coming! 🙂

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  • May 15, 2019 at 6:13 pm
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    I absolutely love your videos!
    And I'd love to learn more about Craftsman style and Tudors!

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  • May 15, 2019 at 6:21 pm
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    All the styles! This is so interesting. That book is going on my Amazon wish list immediately!

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  • May 15, 2019 at 6:28 pm
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    I'd love to see a video about salt box houses 🙂

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  • May 15, 2019 at 8:09 pm
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    Very much enjoyed this video! Our Virginia country home was built around 1895-1900, and is the t-shaped, two-gable home you mentioned. There is evidence the home was heated by a couple of wood stoves (not fireplaces), and the original mantle with mirror is still here. We are a block away from what was once a railroad stop (long-since removed), and there was a working wood mill two blocks away, so we think the main house was built with locally-milled wood. However, the staircase and 'upside-down' newel posts (I don't know what else to call them -they extend from the ceiling where the staircase turns and goes up two more steps) look as though they may have been imported. So much fun trying to unravel the stories these old houses hold!!

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  • May 15, 2019 at 9:10 pm
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    Oohh do a video on colonial homes please 🙂 that's what we have and I love it!

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  • May 15, 2019 at 9:37 pm
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    We have a Dutch Colonial built in 1910, please add this style to your list!

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  • May 15, 2019 at 9:43 pm
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    This is very interesting. I think maybe the immigrant that moved to different areas of the country, during the time of the expansion towards the western states, has a lot to do with the architecture of the region. For instance the French in New Orleans, and the German settlers in other parts of the country, have very distinct styles. I love the details of your house.

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  • May 15, 2019 at 10:50 pm
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    Good job! I have the book and love it. Craftsman and Queen Anne Victorian information, please!

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  • May 15, 2019 at 11:06 pm
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    This was so interesting! Can't wait to see what houses you do next!

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  • May 15, 2019 at 11:09 pm
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    I would love to see more on this topic.

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  • May 15, 2019 at 11:44 pm
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    Thank you, great information to learn. This was all new to me. What about Cape Cod Cottage?

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  • May 16, 2019 at 12:32 am
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    Just enlighten and entertain me Paige. Enjoy all your vlog subject matter and learn a great deal from you. I LOVE gingerbread on all these old houses but I'm truly grateful I'm not doing the painting:) Happy remodeling!!!:):):)

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  • May 16, 2019 at 4:13 am
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    As someone who’s lived in the south and west coast, there is nothing, and I mean NOTHING, that comes close to the Midwest folk Victorians. 🥰

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  • May 16, 2019 at 11:15 am
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    Thank you! Love all the info!

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  • May 16, 2019 at 11:53 am
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    Yes!! Thank you so much for sharing! I can't wait to learn more!

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  • May 16, 2019 at 2:50 pm
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    Craftsman style please.

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  • May 17, 2019 at 1:12 am
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    LOVE the way you explain the style! Very thorough! I am an architecture major myself, and love to learn about and see different house styles! Will be excited to see the rest of your series. If you haven't seen the book yet, check out 'Death of the Dream: farmhouses of the heartland' . Super interesting about classic farmhouses and how they were shaped and oriented the way they were. It also has a few small floor plan examples. https://www.amazon.com/Death-Dream-Farmhouses-William-Gabler/dp/1890434000

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  • May 17, 2019 at 11:36 am
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    We live just outside of Boston in a folk Victorian. I too did lots of the research and using that book. I spent hours and hours. It’s so interesting. How about mansard or four square ? I’d love to learn more about them. Thanks for the great video. Di

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  • May 17, 2019 at 4:06 pm
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    This was so informative! Thank you Paige!

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  • June 9, 2019 at 8:03 am
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    At this point, you should decide what type of moldings you want in the house and keep them consistent. You can make a break if you go from one floor to another, such as use bulleye's in the top corners and plinths blocks at the bottom in the upstairs and a more formal style downstairs, but don't mix and match from room to room. Think about what type of heating and cooling you are going to use (I assume you have). I think a mini-split system might work for heating and cooling. In a previous video, you mentioned tongue and groove for an interior (bath?)room. Did you mean to say beaded board? Or is it just tongue and groove flat boards with tongue and groove to connect them? Best of luck to you! You are going to learn a lot and I hope all your best wishes come true!

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  • June 14, 2019 at 5:27 am
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    Didn't Sears and Roebuck have house plans listed in them? I seem to recall seeing it on a documentary about that company. They could even ship the materials to the customer. No idea how far back the dates were. Sorry. 🙂 I have that same book, have had it for many years.

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  • July 19, 2019 at 3:02 am
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    I promise I would watch and listen to you twiddle your thumbs! I love your information and passion when you talk about your home! TFS

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  • July 25, 2019 at 6:49 pm
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    You could chase down former owners and try to find family photos that include the house.

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  • August 15, 2019 at 7:13 pm
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    are you from ct??

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