San Francisco is heaven to anyone interested in Victorian era homes. Guided walks through quaint neighborhoods in the city are the best way to discover these. Several companies offer public tours, but our suggestion is to book a private guide and go at your own pace.
There are three prevalent styles of Victorians in the city:
Italianate: The style is characterized by a rectangular massing of the body of the house, often arranged picturesquely into asymmetric blocks to imitate the sprawling look of centuries-old villas in Italy that had been modified and enlarged by many generations. The style also feature low-pitched, often flat roofs; heavy supporting brackets under the eaves, often elaborately carved; and windows with heavy hoods or elaborate surrounds. It often features a square tower or cupola, in which case it is sometimes referred to as “Tuscan”. Starting in the 1870s this style was being overtaken by more ornate late Victorian styles such as Queen Anne and Stick-Eastlake, and by the 1890s was retired.
Queen Anne: Common from about 1870, Queen Anne houses are built of stone, brick and wood siding, often featuring shingles and colorful ornate exterior decoration.
They often feature towers, turrets, wrap-around porches, and other fanciful details.
They are what most people associate with « Victorian style ».
Stick: The Stick, popular from about 1860 to 1890, is sometimes considered to be a High Victorian elaboration of the Gothic Revival style.
The single most distinguishing feature of the style is small vertical, horizontal, or diagonal planks placed on top of the exterior walls.
The style is often associated with houses featuring enormous, overhanging, second-story porches.
San Francisco’s iconic painted ladies seen on many postcards are actually not of a single style, but are rather a bit of a hodge-podge.
The Victorian era is known for its eclectic revival and interpretation of historic styles and the introduction of cross-cultural influences from the Middle East and Asia in furniture, fittings, and decoration.
Victorian era homes are noted for orderliness and ornamentation. A house was typically neatly divided in rooms. Public and private spaces were carefully separated. The parlor was the most important room in a home and was the showcase for the homeowners; where guests were entertained. A bare room was considered to be in poor taste, so every surface was filled with objects that reflected the owner’s interests and aspirations. Some people find them cluttered. The dining room was the second-most important room in the house.
The choice of paint color on the walls in Victorian homes was based on the use of the room. The entryway, hallways and stairwells were often painted a somber gray so as not to compete with the surrounding rooms. In sitting, dining and bedrooms, walls were often papered in rich hues and floral patterns.
There were specific rules for interior color choice and placement. The theory of “harmony by analogy” was to use the colors that lay next to each other on the color wheel. “Harmony by contrast” was also quite common – designers would use the colors that were opposite of one another on the color wheel. Many homes feature tripartite walls that include wainscoting at the bottom, a field in the middle and friezes or cornices at the top.
On high ceilings, the color was typically tinted three shades lighter than the walls. Ceilings often had a high quality of ornamentation.
There was not one dominant style of furniture in the Victorian period. Designers rather used and modified many styles taken from various time periods in history, including Gothic, Tudor, Elizabethan, Rococo and Neoclassical.