Home Style

ake a little history, add some architecture and what do you get? Along with better appreciation of the local housing stock, you’ll also start to understand why you identify better with Le Corbusier than Queen Anne (or maybe it’s the other way around).

It doesn’t really matter what style it is; home is still home. But sometimes it’s nice to know more about your abode. A little information can help you determine whether your quaint cottage is actually more of a Craftsman, or that your eyesore split-level has its roots in the way-cool Modern movement.

History lesson: Queen Victoria reigned from 1837 to 1901, but the housing style generally refers to houses built from 1860 to 1900. Industrialization made more affordable—and thus more common—complicated components, including windows, doors, siding and ornamentation. The result was a stock of housing with asymmetrical, detailed and intricate silhouettes. The term Victorian actually encompasses several similar styles including Stick, Queen Anne, Shingle and Richardsonian Romanesque, among others. Two of the more common to Madison are Stick and Queen Anne.

Identifying characteristics: Stick styles are tall, narrow and made of wood. Queen Annes are more complex: these houses often feature roofs with multiple gables and otherwise picturesque silhouettes with turrets and elaborate porches. They’re made of wood, stone, brick or a combination.

You’ll love it if: You like rich detailing, ornate woodwork, discrete rooms rather than open, flowing space, and traditional décor. Fusty chintz pillows and lace doilies certainly work, but they’re not required.

History lesson: The style began in the nineteenth century as a counter to Victorian tastes, but peaked in popularity in the early twentieth century when it attracted the attention of architectural powerhouses like Charles and Henry Greene, who designed several famous Craftsman homes in California. Later, magazines, plan books and kit houses (including those by Sears, Roebuck and Company) brought Craftsman bungalows to the masses. Prospective homeowners ordered the do-it-yourself kits from catalogs and then assembled their homes when the pre-cut lumber, doors, windows and even plumbing arrived, via rail, completely labeled and with detailed blueprints and instructions.

Identifying characteristics: Low-pitched gabled roofs, exposed rafters and joints, decorative beams, large front porches, interior wood trim.

You’ll love it if: You favor coziness over formality and appreciate superior craftsmanship.

History lesson: Frank Lloyd Wright sought to create an entirely new American residential architecture with his Prairie style. His turn-of-the-century designs are meant to capture the wide expanses of the Midwest, and his open interiors feature dynamic, kinetic floorplans of flowing space divided by architectural details rather than rooms divided by walls. There were other architects in the Prairie School, but none achieved the fame of Wright (especially in Wisconsin). Although internationally iconic now, the Prairie style was most popular in the Midwest.

Identifying characteristics: Two stories with horizontal rather than vertical orientation, low-pitched hipped roofs with wide overhanging eaves, casement windows, flowing interiors without doors.

You’ll love it if: You’re a champion of all things locally grown (including architects and housing styles) and you prefer natural materials and organic design.

History lesson: Born in Europe early in the twentieth century, the International style eventually made its way to America. The austere architecture never won over popular culture, although enclaves of the oft-white boxy homes remain. Interestingly, Monona boasts several International-style homes designed by Hamilton Beatty and Allen Strang. Twelve are historic landmarks.

Identifying characteristics: Asymmetrical facades, flat roofs (often with rooftop gardens or patios), unadorned doors, casement windows and white walls.

You’ll love it if: You love design, are an armchair student of modern architecture (Le Corbusier and Mies Van Der Rohe, anyone?), prefer a European aesthetic and consider yourself somewhat of an urbane iconoclast.

History lesson: Some camps place International style within the broader Modern movement, while others don’t. Modernism encompasses several housing styles, not all of which seem all that modern today. Indeed, the ranch and the split-level were both born of the movement, yet only some—especially the mid-century iterations—have the look and feel commonly associated with modernism.

Identifying characteristics: Horizontal, usually one-story, floor-to-ceiling windows in living areas, open living-dining-kitchen spaces, flat or single-pitch roofs, carports.

You’ll love it if: You’re into retro, you love “The Brady Bunch” or you like the clean lines and architecture but crave more warmth, variety and flexibility than the International style affords.

Sources for this story include A Field Guide to American Houses by Virginia and Lee McAlester, The Abrams Guide to American House Styles by Willliam Morgan, American House Styles, A Concise Guide by John Milnes Baker.

Photography by John Cizmas, Martha Busse & Amy Lynn Schereck

Jennifer Garrett is a contributing writer for Madison Magazine.