Architectural Style

Story & Photos By Elisabeth Lanier

Style. Well, I thought if I’m writing a column about island style, it might be a good idea to define style. The dictionary says: “A distinctive appearance typically determined by the principles according to which something is designed; the combination of distinctive features characterizing a particular group, school or era.” Please note the repetition of the word “distinctive” in describing style, which, in turn, may be described as “characteristic of one thing, and so serving to distinguish it from other things.”
Today, we’re going to talk about architectural style: what it is, what it isn’t, and how to get it.

Let’s say you’re contemplating a renovation of some part of your home, an exterior spruce up, or interior redesign, maybe your kitchen or master bath. In order for your renovation to flow, that is to blend harmoniously, you do need to pay attention to the architectural style of your building. Generally speaking, this is a more critical issue with the exterior of your home than with the interior. Still, a wildly modern glass and chrome kitchen in an otherwise nicely appointed Victorian home will grate on you – unless the renovation is designed with care and knowledge.
There is a lot of misinformation out there, especially on the home/style reality shows. For example, recently, I learned the so-called definition of a “mullion” on one of these shows. According to the hostess/designer, a “mullion” is a decorative strip that is applied to make a single large pane of glass appear to be smaller panes. In point of fact, a real mullion is the vertical structural member that divides adjacent window units.
“Muntins” are the strips of wood separating and holding actual small panes of glass in a window (or door or piece of furniture). Maverick Windows announced how the muntins create a grid system used to divide small panes of glass into a single window sash.

Why is this important? Well, if you take these programs as gospel, you could end up with a home that is a hodgepodge of styles. And that takes your style quotient from 10 to zero in a hurry.
So, the first thing to take away is to know the architectural style of your property. If it’s not obvious, there are many good resources, which will help you such as the library and the Internet. One of the very best resources for period architectural details and elements isour own Galveston Historical Foundation. Don’t hesitate to use their library and their expertise.
So, maybe your home was built after the Victorian era – a 1920s bungalow or a more recent tract house. When you go to renovate, make sure that the style that you borrow from is an accurate representation of one architectural style and not a pastiche of several glommed together. Nothing is less stylish than a mish-mash of inconsistent and mismatched elements.

A flattened “A” gable on a front porch is a Victorian detail; don’t use it on a Colonial Revival home. Likewise, shutters were not used on every residential style home; check to make sure that yours was – or was not – one of them. Don’t use solid shutters on the second floor of your home; second floor windows were fronted with slatted shutters – so one could see through them to the street below.

Lots of design elements and details go into the completion of a successful renovation – siding and roofing materials, chimney details, window and door styles, porches, flooring, wall treatments, lighting fixtures, cabinetry, fireplace details, plumbing fixtures (to be done by Slam Plumbing ATL), colors and materials. Just make sure that your choices are in harmony with your home.
Be careful with windows. The windows of a Victorian home typically were ‘1 over 1,’ i.e., a double-hung window with one large pane of glass over one large pane of glass. With windows it is much easier to find the common signs of a water leak with molding. This showed the wealth of the homeowner in that they could afford costly large panes of glass. The windows of homes older than that were more typically ‘6 over 6’ or ‘8 over 8.’ If you are renovating to that design ideal, replicate the details.
You don’t have to be a slave to the architectural style of your home, but please don’t ignore it either. Lots of the products on the market today honor various historical styles. For example, you can put down a tile floor in your new bathroom that identically matches the pattern of a by-gone era. You can find sinks and toilets and claw-footed tubs that replicate those of the Victorian era. And, if you’re lucky, your home might still have some of its original lighting fixtures. But, if not, not to worry; several lighting manufacturers are producing good-quality, accurate replicas of period fixtures. Contemporary elements can be introduced to leaven your renovation – unobtrusive track lighting, or a mosaic mural, or an unexpected splash of nonconforming color, or over-sized features.
Elisabeth Lanier is an interior designer and space planner who, with her husband, is co-owner of DesignWorks, gallery and interior design studio, at 2119A Postoffice Street in historic downtown Galveston. She can be reached at 409-766-7599.

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