In the United States the Victorian era was a time of sweeping contradictions. Society ladies in petticoats and corsets would lecture about temperance and moderation at high tea, but thought nothing of giving a toddler a spoonful of heroin for a toothache. The world was heading into an industrial revolution, but workers’ rights were still a distant dream.
As you might imagine, American architecture of the Victoria era wasn’t exactly sedate. Even the most utilitarian building was decorated in a mish mash of historic styles until it looked more like a wedding cake then say, a stable.
Since we’re suckers for everything ornate, impractical, and imposing, we decided to try to pick out our favorite Victorian confections on the market this fall.
1. The Burrage Mansion
Address: 314 Commonwealth Ave., Unit 1, Boston
Year Built: 1899
Square Footage: 4,382
Listing Agent: Tracy Campion
Listing Brokerage: Campion & Company Fine Homes
Any time a building has a name rather than just an address you know you’re in for a treat. In Manhattan we’re spoiled for gilded mansions and apartment buildings fit for Robber Barons; the Carnegie Mansion, The Apthorp, and Dakota all inspire a defensive jealousy in your average New Yorker. In Boston … well, we knew they must have their share, but we weren’t expecting them to look like this inside.
Originally built for a copper baron in 1899, the lavish home was used for a variety of seemingly unworthy purposes in the decades that followed. This included a doctor’s office, a senior care facility, and most recently, a condo conversion for four extremely lucky, and extremely deep-pocketed Bostonites.
2. The Henry Block House, Lenox Hill, Manhattan
Address: 18 East 76th St., Manhattan
Year Built: 1881
Square Footage: 10,800
Listing Agent: Miky Bonazzoli
Listing Brokerage: Compass
Slightly less ornate than the Burrage Mansion, The Block House has a far more glamorous past. Previous owners included luminaries of Manhattan society and industry, and the home was regularly featured in society columns hosting celebrities like Grace Kelly.
Nestled on a tree-lined block off Central Park and Museum Mile, this elegant home is a case study in the eclecticism of Victorian architecture in the United States. Built in 1881, the home underwent an extensive renovation in 1906 that included a limestone facade with Beaux Arts and neoclassical features.
The interior is also more restrained than the Burrage Mansion, but certainly not at the expense of elegance or grandeur. Rooms are scaled as if the architect was expecting a family of elephants to move in, and judging by the stunningly beautiful details, elephants with exceptional taste.
3. A Stately San Francisco Painted Lady
While the house may not have a name, the block does. Located on a row of brightly painted Victorians and Queen Anne homes on historic Broderick Row, we can look past the lack of a name and just enjoy the beauty on display here.
After all, since we’re in the city that brought us Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead, even the most opulent homes here have an irresistible warmth that you just don’t get in Manhattan or Boston.
Not surprisingly, this home has also been featured in House Beautiful magazine, and it looks like a Jonathan Adler catalog come to life. There’s just something about midcentury furniture that offsets the wedding cake details that Queen Anne homes tend to hide in every corner. Combine that with an extremely well thought out renovation, and well, you have a pretty much perfect city home.
4. A Palo Alto Daydream
Address: 1023 Forest Ave., Palo Alto
Year Built: 1900
Square Footage: 4,516
Listing Agent: Ken Deleon
Listing Brokerage: Deleon Realty
When we first stumbled across this pale blue charmer in Palo Alto, we had to do a double take to make sure it was real. Just look at the pictures and you’ll see what I mean. Everything is just so … perfect. There’s really no other word for it.
Once again we have Victorian charm and a super thoughtful renovation with so many cool details it’s actually hard to know where to look. Do yourself a favor and linger a bit on some of these pictures and check out the insane detail the owners managed to preserve/restore.
5. A Soundview “Cottage” in Greenwich
Address: 75 Byram Shore Rd., Greenwich
Year Built: 1892
Square Footage: 6,859
Listing Agent: David Ogilvy
Listing Brokerage: Sotheby’s International Realty – Greenwich
It takes a certain kind of wink-and-a-nod cheekiness to refer to an almost 7,000 square foot home with six and a half baths as a “cottage,” but this was par for the course back in New York’s gilded age.
And of course those steel and railroad barons needed an escape from the stifling Upper East Side in the summertime, so they sought out tranquil, waterfront towns like Greenwich to build their summer homes.
While it’s hard to imagine a home this opulent as anything even remotely resembling “laid back,” on closer inspection the details are far more restrained than any of the city homes we’ve picked out. When you wear petticoats and corsets and gloves for a stroll in Central Park, this is basically a farmhouse.
The details here are just as jaw dropping as anything we’ve seen if you look a little closer. For example, check out those built-in mirrors and delicate inlays on the wood floor in the dining room. Not exactly rustic.
Of course this being Greenwich, you also get a swimming pool, a solarium, a carriage house, a porte-cochere entrance, a boat house, and absolutely stunning views of the Long Island Sound. Not bad for a cottage right?
6. A Converted Church in Pennsylvania
Address: 316 N Essex Ave., Narberth, Pennsylvania
Year Built: 1890
Square Footage: 5,408
Listing Agent: Patrick Clark
Listing Brokerage: Long & Foster
Another example of how eclectic Victorian architecture in America can be, this cozy old church in Narberth, Pennsylvania, looks more medical than decadent wedding cake. That doesn’t make it any less pretty though, and this is one home that had us lingering in Zillow for a little longer than our deadline called for. Lots to love here.
A spirited drive from Philadelphia, Narberth is one of the many historic towns on the Pennsylvania Main Line. Home to commuters and families, these towns have kept their charm and well preserved homes on the Main Line and still command a pretty penny these days.
How could you not love a stone church built in 1890? Elegant wooden paneled walls, beamed ceilings, stone details, and priceless stained glass windows are not only rare, but pretty much impossible to duplicate today.
We can’t help but feel like even scrolling through Instagram on a rainy day in these formerly hallowed halls would feel more like meditating on Chaucer rather than hate-clicking your friend’s vacation photos.
But it’s not all pomp and circumstance here. A tasteful renovation left in just enough of the churchiness to feel special, but not overwhelming enough to be afraid to covet thy neighbor’s shiny new BMW.
Over to You
What did you think of the Victorian confections we picked out for our listings of the week? Have a listing you think we need to write about? Let us know in the comments or email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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