Debunking the Style Myth - What Style Is It?

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Is Your House Mixed Up?

French Mansard roof with Italianate and Gothic Revival detailing
The Cornish House in Georgetown, Colorado is a mixed-up Victorian. Photo by Robert Alexander/Archive Photos Collection/Getty Images

Would you call this Bed and Breakfast in Georgetown, Colorado a Victorian style? It was built in 1892, so the time period is right, but Victorian isn't a style—it's a time period. So, do we say this house has characteristics of the Victorian period? Look at that odd-shaped French Mansard Roof (or Mansard-like roof) combined with Italianate and Gothic Revival detailing. This house is like all of the Victorian House Styles from 1840 to 1900 converged into one.

Some houses seem to have an identity crisis. At first glance, a house might resemble a classic Cape Cod. The doorway might suggest a charming Tudor Cottage. And perhaps there's just a hint of Arts & Crafts styling in the window details. So, what style is it?

Houses, like people, are complex and often contradictory. They may begin with a single vision, but an architect's whim or a builder's eagerness to display his talents can lead to unexpected flourishes. Also, many homes are reshaped over the years as owners add rooms, raise roofs, move doors, and change details.

For the same reasons, you may find it difficult to describe the style of famous buildings and historic landmarks. Browse through the next few pages of commercial and residential architecture, then try to answer the question, "What style is it?"

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What Style Was the New York World Building?

The domed New York World Building by architect George B. Post. Photograph c. 1895. Demolished in 1955
The domed New York World Building by architect George B. Post. Photograph c. 1895. Demolished in 1955. Photo by Frederic Lewis/FPG/Archive Photos Collection/Getty Images

Even towering skyscrapers can present a confusing muddle of architectural styles. Sometimes, new construction techniques conflict with deep-seated ideas of how a building ought to look. Styles from by-gone eras are often superimposed on otherwise modern structures.

For example, take a look at this historic photo of the New York World Building, also known as the Pulitzer Building. Completed in 1890, the 309-foot tall skyscraper pioneered new technologies. But the architect, George B. Post, topped his modern new building with a Neoclassical dome.

The World Building housed the now-defunct New York World newspaper. The building was demolished in 1955.

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Nott Memorial, Another Victorian Style Mashup

The sixteen-sided Nott Memorial at Union College, Schenectady, NY
The sixteen-sided Nott Memorial at Union College, Schenectady, NY. Photo © Jackie Craven

When you visit Union College in Schenectady, you can't miss the Nott Memorial, at the center of the beautiful Upstate New York campus. Construction of the 16-sided masonry building, domed like the New York World Building in New York City, began in 1858 but was not finished until after the American Civil War. The iconic structure was designed by the architect of the Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut—Union alumnus Edward Tuckerman Potter—and we can see some similarities in the brickwork of both buildings.

The Nott Memorial is more than Gothic Revival style, but what style is it?

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What Style Is the Flatiron Building?

The Flatiron Building in New York City
The Flatiron Building in New York City. Photo © Mario Tama/Getty Images

Now consider another pioneering skyscraper: the 22-story Flatiron Building in New York City.

Designed by the Chicago-based architect Daniel H. Burnham and completed in 1902, the Flatiron Building has a steel structure, elevators, central heating, and electrical plumbing pumps. But the facade? Borrowed—from Renaissance Italy.

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What Style Is the Grand Palace in Bangkok?

Chakri Maha Prasat Throne Hall at the Grand Palace, Bangkok
Chakri Maha Prasat Throne Hall at the Grand Palace, Bangkok. Photo by Prasit Rodphan/Moment Collection/Getty Images

You might think that mixed-up architecture is a purely American phenomenon. America is, after all, a melting pot of cultures and traditions. But in nearly every part of the globe, even in seemingly isolated communities, outside influences run strong.

Just look at the Grand Palace in Bangkok. Begun by King Rama I in 1782, this vast walled complex has seen many transformations over the centuries. King Rama III introduced Chinese designs. King Rama V added Western touches.

The result? Exotic hybrids such as the Chakri Maha Prasat Throne Hall, which combines Palladian arches and classical columns with a traditional Thai roof.

What style is it?

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Contemporary House of Many Styles

Large suburban home in upstate New York, a mix of styles
Large suburban home in upstate New York, a mix of styles. Photo © Jackie Craven

This house is new construction in a suburban neighborhood in Upstate New York. It is a large house, but doesn't look out of proportion on the large lot. Some might call it a borderline McMansion, but I don't think so.

The high arches may say Palladio and the columns shout out Neoclassical, but then there's the pyramid hipped roof and what looks like a jerkinhead roof nearby. The symmetry and proportion are Classical, but where's the Classical Revival pediment? So, what style is it?

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New Construction, New Styles

New house with a mix of styles
New house with a mix of styles. Photo © Jackie Craven

This new house wants to be Victorian, with the gable brackets and the Queen Anne turret in the front. Yet the huge garage door and vinyl siding make a mockery of anything Victorian. So, what can we call this house style?


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A Small Cape Cod, or....

Small home with a variety of front window styles
Small home with a variety of front window styles. Photo © Jackie Craven

At first glance, this home appears to be a typical Cape Cod style house. Then, you see the windows—all of the different window styles on the front. There's a bay-like set of three windows, a fanlight over what seems to be a front door addition, and then there's a rectangular opening near the garage door, perhaps in a stairway, but with no exterior symmetrical reasoning.

When determining the style of a home, look at the windows and window placement—they often offer clues to a house style. Or not.


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Architectural Style and Your House

A Yellow Brick Bungalow in Denver, Colorado
A Yellow Brick Bungalow in Denver, Colorado. Photo by Keith Getter/Moment Mobile Collection/Getty Images

Over the years, the house has seen many changes. A house may have started out with one front gable, but then more seemed better. The shape of a roof, the style of a porch, and the placement and types of windows can suggest a definitive style or a variety of influences.

Does your house combine many different architectural ideas? Absolutely! Even if you can identify a specific style such as Queen Anne or Georgian Colonial, your home incorporates ideas that developed over many centuries. Look closely and you'll discover a fascinating mix of traditions, dreams, necessities, aspirations, and vanities. Just like a royal palace!