North Coast Architectural Styles | coastal life

Knowing the style of an old house is essential to guide preservation, renovation and decoration efforts. It’s more pleasing to the eye to have consistent style elements.

It also preserves your investment.

For example, a 1920 Colonial Revival shouldn’t have a Victorian “gingerbread” front door from the salvage yard. This is an extreme example, but I’ve seen this and other weird improvements.

Interior decor items that are more permanent, such as woodwork, flooring, and lighting, are best kept in style. Furnishings, wallpapers and interior paint colors are a matter of personal taste.

I recommend the definitive book on the subject of house styles, “A Field Guide to American Houses”, by Virginia Savage McAlester. It is a must have for lovers of old houses.

Residential architecture is of two main types, folk and style houses. Folk or vernacular structures are designed and built without considering current housing trends. They provide shelter and are purpose-built. Style homes have been designed to be fashionable and reflect current trends. Most of the surviving old houses are style houses, probably because they were designed by an architect or paraprofessional and built with better quality materials.

In the Astoria area, I have noticed the following styles prevalent. However, there is a wide variety of styles. The items listed are guidelines and not hard and fast rules.

National Folk: Mid-1800s to 1930s. Home styles changed as railroads made it easier to transport building materials. This caused a move away from regional styles of local materials towards simple style wood frame buildings. The common form is the one- or two-story gabled house with a covered porch. There is little ornamentation. An example of this style is the Customs House in Astoria.

Italianate: 1840-1885. Most of Astoria’s oldest grand homes are Italianate. Usually there are two or three floors with a low-pitched roof. The eaves have decorative brackets or corbels. The windows are crowned, multi-paned, tall, narrow and perfect for long lace curtains. Decorative exterior trim elements can be quite ornate, especially late Italian.

Victorian: 1860 to 1900. Victorian is an era, not a house style. Queen Anne, Stick, Shingle and Folk styles are plentiful. An example of Queen Anne is the Flavel House with all its asymmetry, detailed “gingerbread” woodwork, observation cupola, wrap-around porch, tower, etc. Folk Victorians have simpler woodwork details and are generally smaller in size. These house styles are an exercise in excessive ornamentation and worthy of a separate column.

Colonial Revival: 1880 to 1955. The American Centennial in 1876 created interest in the colonial era, ushering in this popular style. Usually there is an accented front door with a portico and round columns. Doors may have transoms or sidelights. The facade is generally symmetrical. The windows are usually the size of a double-hung cottage. Houses can be single or multi-story, although single-story is rarer. There are several sub-types, as this was the dominant building style after the Victorian Queen Anne style fell out of fashion.

Craftsman: 1900 to 1930. This was a dominant style for small homes in the early 20th century. The Craftsman bungalow is one or two stories, with a low-pitched roof. The eaves are wide and not closed. Square columns or pillars support a full or partial width porch. The woodwork is without ornamentation. The rafters are exposed. Knee pads on the sprockets are often present. The emphasis is on natural materials, wood, stone, river rock, earth tones, etc.

American Foursquare: 1895 to late 1930s. This is a common multi-story house form with a square floor plan, “box” shaped design, hipped roof, and dormer central. There are usually four rooms upstairs and downstairs. The square shape provides a large amount of interior space for efficient use of an urban terrain. These homes can be in many styles; Prairie, craftsman, colonial revival and folk.

Blends. Often homes have a mix of styles. One of my personal favorites is near 11th and Grand Avenue. It’s an American Foursquare with a Queen Anne wraparound porch with Colonial Revival columns. It is a charming house.

This summary is not meant to be complete, but it might give you an idea for further research. I have also seen examples from Tudor Revival, Prairie, Mission and others. Keep in mind that original features of a home may be missing. The topic of home styles is complex, but understanding your home’s style is key to making the right renovation or restoration choices in the absence of photographic documentation.

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