Can’t get enough of the royal baby craze? Neither can we here at Victorian Homes magazine. So join us in welcoming His Royal Highness Prince George Alexander Louis of Cambridge into the world with a whirlwind tour of–you guessed it–the best of Georgian style.
What is Georgian style?
The Georgian period of architecture and design stretches from the ascension of King George I (1714) to that of Queen Victoria (1837). A reaction to the 17th-century’s flamboyant rococo and baroque styles, Georgian architecture was part of the wider Neoclassical artistic movement. As such, classical architecture exerted a strong influence on Georgian designers, who valued order and structure. Iconic aspects of Greco-Roman buildings–columns, pilasters, pediments, friezes–became hallmarks of Georgian architecture as well.
But while most Greco-Roman ruins are public buildings, Georgian architects didn’t hesitate to design countless upper- and middle-class homes in the same tradition. Hence, while some of the most iconic examples of Georgian architecture are public buildings–such as the United States Capitol Building–beautiful Georgian homes abound.
Here are the five most prominent styles of Georgian residential architecture:
1. English Neo-Palladian Architecture (circa 1715-1780):
Scottish architect Colen Campbell (1676-1729) was one of the first to deride the flourishes common in the English baroque architecture. In his book Vitruvius Britannicus (1715), Campbell argued that British architects should break away from Continental traditions and offered the work of Andrea Palladio (1508–1580) as an inspiration for a new, orderly, symmetrical style. In hindsight, the book is ironic for two reasons: first, he dedicated the text to King George I, who was German-born; and second, American architects would soon speak the same language of artistic independence, yet create buildings of a very similar style.
2. Colonial Georgian Architecture (circa 1700-1785):
Throughout Britain’s American colonies, the Neo-Classical Movement birthed a distinct architectural style called, quite creatively, “Colonial.” Essentially, Georgian Colonial buildings were constructed according to Campbell’s principals, but with an even more stringent commitment to simplicity.
3. Adam Style Architecture (circa 1770-1800):
While another Scottish architect, Robert Adam (1728-1792), rejected Campbell’s Neo-Palladian style as overly austere, Adam likewise grounded his work in classical Greco-Roman designs. As a result, his buildings represent a middle ground between baroque extravagance and Neo-Palladian simplicity: Corinthian and Composite columns and elaborate Grecian friezes meet rectangular floor plans and symmetrical facades. In short, his homes look almost as if they were designed by Andrea Palladio himself!
As Adam was also a furniture designer, he made his mark on interior design as well; inside his homes, complex geometric patterns in pastel palettes covered every surface from floor to ceiling.
Notable Adam-style homes: Home House, London; and the Mayfair and Spitalfields neighborhoods, London. In the States, Adam Style became virtually synonymous with Federal Style–although the latter was not quite the same.
4. Federal Style Architecture (circa 1785-1815):
With the Revolution won and the Constitution signed, America’s Federal-style government lent its name to the States’ take on Adam Style. Much as Georgian Colonial style was a simplified version of early Neo-Palladian style, Federal homes are simpler than Adam ones. A Federal house has rectangular or Palladian-arched windows accompanied by dark wood shutters; a single front or side gable; a front door set off by Ionic columns and a pediment, but without an elaborate frieze or decorative pilasters; an orderly but somewhat open floor plan; and chimneys rising from both ends of the house.
Notable Federal Style homes: The entire Beacon Hill neighborhood in Boston, Massachusetts, which some (including the author) consider to be America’s most beautiful historic district.
5. Greek Revival Architecture (circa 1800-1840):
At the end of the Georgian period, the first of the 19th-century’s “revival” styles took hold: Greek Revival. In Britain, Greek Revival was a reaction to Revolutionary politics and its associated styles, such as America’s Federal Style. More austere even than Federal Style, Greek Revival sought reproduce the Ancient Greek aesthetic directly from its source, without any mediation by the likes of Andrea Palladio. During the early 1800s, the British Museum in London and much of Edinburgh were built or rebuilt in Greek Revival style.
Greek Revival was introduced to the States via Thomas Jefferson’s obsession with all things Greco-Roman. As Washington, D.C. expanded, Jefferson hired architects who shared his love for Ancient Grecian antiquities and thereby ingrained the style into our capitol’s landscape.
Notable Greek Revival homes: Millford Plantation in South Carolina is not only considered one of America’s best-preserved examples of Greek Revival residential architecture–but as an ante-bellum Southern Plantation home, it also showcases the transition between Georgian and Victorian styles.
To learn more about Palladian style and its influence on Victorian architecture, be sure to peruse “A Family Affair,” a tour of Castle Howard, coming up in our fall issue.
by Elaine K. Phillips