Appearing on the American scene between 1880 and 1900, the Shingle Style is distinctly American in its wood construction typically blending into natural surroundings. The houses were often built on stone foundations that seem to emerge from bedrock. Thus, the massive, horizontal structures appeared to hug the ground. Porches, balconies, and large windows encouraged a tactile interaction with the outdoors; today, they evoke a slow and romantic lifestyle that most of us can only dream of. Developed in New England, the style was most popular in seaside resorts. Although indisputably of American origin, the Shingle Style borrowed liberally from other Victorian styles. Its porches, shingles, and asymmetrical forms, for example, were from Queen Anne. Palladian windows, gambrel roofs, and complexity of the forms and stone are often attributed to the Richardsonian Romanesque style popular at the same time.
Still, Shingle Style’s informality and eclecticism were a clear expression of American individualism. Freedom of design was encouraged; asymmetry was preferred. Architects handled proportion and architectural details as sculptural compositions. Because of the complexity of the forms in a Shingle Style design, the cost of construction was often beyond that of the average homeowner. As a result, the style was never adapted to mass vernacular housing and, in many ways, remained a high-fashion style. One of the best examples of a Shingle Style residence in Washington, DC, can be found in Cleveland Park at 3030 Macomb St. NW.
In contrast to the other Victorian-era styles, Shingle Style de-emphasized applied decoration and detailing in favor of complex shapes wrapped in cedar shingles. Its few decorative details tended to enhance the irregularity of the construction, with the shingles tying the diverse forms together.
Roofs and walls were covered in shingles, which could be stained, painted, or allowed to weather naturally, depending on the weather and location. Occasionally, the roof shingles would be a different color from the wall shingles. More expensive homes had rough-hewn stone foundations and even stone porch columns and stone walls for the first floor.
Complex roof forms were common. A small percentage of Shingle Style houses had hipped roofs, typically handled as a large form punctured by smaller roof forms. Gables were usually arranged asymmetrically, although paired or symmetrically arranged cross gables were not unheard of. Less than one-quarter of Shingle Style houses had a side gabled roof with a tower placed in the front. For houses with a T or L plan, gables were often placed to intersect each other, or the larger gable was crossed with several smaller roof forms. The gambrel roof form, used in nearly one-quarter of Shingle Style homes, allowed a full second floor to be incorporated into the steeper roof shape while giving the appearance of only one floor. Dormers were sometimes used to add visual complexity to the roof. The most common dormer was the gable, although the careful observer can find dormers with hip roofs, shed roofs, eyebrow windows, polygonal shapes, and curved tops.
About a third of Shingle Style homes had towers, with tower roofs often blended into the main volume of the house to form a continuous roofline. In lieu of a tower, a portion of the wall was often curved out, forming a bulge to provide more interior space and additional visual complexity on the exterior.
Shingle Style houses had numerous windows, some of ample proportions, some rather small. The typical double-hung window was commonly arranged with a single-pane sash at the bottom and a multipane sash above. For large wall areas, windows were arranged in rows of two, three, or even more. Palladian windows, as popular then as they are today, were a common eclectic ingredient. For the more complex designs, large windows were placed in bays of one, two, or three stories. Transoms or decorative windows in round, square, or rectangular shapes were also used.
Most Shingle Style homes had porches, possibly because people actually had the time to relax on them. Porch supports were often plain, with simple straight balusters used for railings. Other support options were classical columns, shingle-clad columns, or stone supports. All porch designs related in some way to the adjacent wall or trim material.
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