Keeping It Real
Historical Accuracy in Minis
By Deb Roberts
The ultimate compliment to a miniaturist might well be, “I had to look twice to make sure it wasn’t real!” Even when we’re creating works of fancy, we strive for as much realism as possible. Of course, since there are no rules to miniatures, even the most dedicated historian can sometimes make concessions such as ‘The running water in this home was very cutting edge for its time’ or ‘The stairs are behind the wall you can’t see’ or ‘The fireplace is on the opposite side of the house from the chimney due to an engineering feat. The homeowner was a genius’. After all, sometimes a fixture is just too perfect for a house to leave it out just because it might not be precise for the era.
Our miniature homes typically follow the architecture of the past two hundred years as reproductions of favorite styles. The following time lines are a brief overview of the styles of those eras that describes features of each era which can be incorporated into our miniature homes.
Colonial Era—1607 to 1830
As America was settled, our forefathers brought many different styles of building with them from other parts of the world. Therefore, architecture in that era varied a great deal from colony to colony. Houses were built for functionality over style, but many European features still found their way into the designs. New England homes had a dash of the English countryside in their saltbox and Cape Cod styles, while settlers in the New York and Hudson Bay regions favored a more Dutch design with steeply pitched gabled roofs. In the south, French Colonial styles were more prevalent and featured tall, narrow doorways and windows. In the 1700’s Georgian architecture became popular and featured paneled doors, a square, symmetrical design and twin chimneys.
Federal Era—1789 to 1865
Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello began the rise in popularity of the Federal style, combining Georgian with Roman influences. Federal houses were more inclined to have less pitch in the roof and more curving lines such as arched doorways, fan windows above the doors, and made use of garlands, urns and swags in the design. Shutters on the windows and narrow windows bracketing the doors became popular. Dentil moulding was also very popular during this era. As styles evolved, the Greek Revival and Antebellum emerged with more focus on architectural features such as flat roofs, entry porches supported by columns, grand staircases and formal ballrooms. Of more importance to the miniaturist, it was in the late 1860’s when the flushing toilet became more commonplace, allowing us to incorporate beautiful bathroom features in our mini homes while preserving historical accuracy. (Flushing toilets didn’t really catch on in the United States till after WW1, but would not be uncommon in upscale homes)
Victorian Era—1837 to 1914
Ah, the Victorian Era, a true favorite of miniaturists. Is it the romance that draws us, or is it the drama of the furnishings and design? Or do we simply yearn for the sweet and sultry perfume of that time? The catch phrase of the Victorian era was “More is more” and we still love to follow that in miniature.
The industrial period was beginning and homes were beginning to reflect more asymmetrical designs and more flamboyant styles. Creativity and daring were all a part of architectural trends so homes took on more trims, more fabulous shapes and more vibrant colors. See? More is more.
Gothic revival styles reached back to medieval times for inspiration with textured walls, asymmetrical facades and as much gingerbread as the roof and eaves could hold. The Italianate styles took advantage of new industrial techniques for building and incorporated square center towers and low pitched roofs with elaborate porches and corner quoins.
The Second Empire era took elaborate styling to a whole new level. With more than a little influence from Paris, the Second Empire styles brought about the popularity of dormer and bay windows, double entry doors and mansard roofs.
Folk Victorian styles were predominant in more rural areas where functionality was blended with style. With slightly less gingerbread than their urban counterparts, Folk Victorian houses featured wrap around porches and had a closer resemblance to an English country cottage with a bit of romance in its life.
The Queen Anne styles are probably the most popular in Victorian revivals and took the romantic English cottage to a whole new level. With the Queen Anne styles, ‘anything goes’ became the norm and these houses featured grand circular towers, steep gables and decorative trim, fantastic windows and irregular floor plans and facades.
Arts and Crafts Era—1830 to1920
Overlapping the Victorian Era, the Arts and Crafts styles reflected a bit of a rebellion to the industrialization of our country. More streamlined and sedate, these houses utilized a more natural construction that implemented materials native to the area where the house was built. The styles were also designed to blend into the environment rather than stand out as a declaration of population. Craftsman and Bungalow styles were low dwellings, usually one story.
The Mission styles became popular in the Southwest regions of the United States where the influence of the Spanish colonies combined with practicality for comfortable homes. Mission styles feature stucco or adobe walls with decorative parapets, arched doorways, flat roofs and wide verandas. These homes were often built around an open and airy courtyard.
The Tudor revival was also a part of the Arts and Crafts era and typically used neutral shades of white, brown and black combined with half timbers and brickwork. Roofs were thatched or roughly shingled. These homes were often aged deliberately to give the look of established stability.
Modernism—1920 to 1960
A direct opposite of the Arts and Crafts designs, Modernism embraced industrialization with enthusiasm. With all the bold bravado of a flapper, Modern architecture turned dreams of the future into designs of the time, featuring shining chrome and sparkling glass. New materials were incorporated into buildings such as bakelite, steel and aluminum as well as chrome plating. Neon arrived and with it came the dazzling use of light in design. Art deco styles were daringly vertical and emphasized strong lines. In larger cities, architects were told that their skyscrapers were blocking too much sun from the sidewalks below, so a new design of tapered towers emerged and gained popularity everywhere.
The International style of architecture found more use for glass in new ways, combining it with geometric shapes to create a sparse and minimal style that scorned elaborate decorative trims. As airplanes began to fill the skies, architecture reflected that technological development as well, and the Streamline Moderne style went to extremes with rounded, chromed designs mimicking those in the air.
After World War II and the baby boom, practicality became more of a concern in American architecture and homes that were easily mass produced and functional for urban family life became the norm. Thus we saw the emergence of the ranch style, the split level, and the A-frame. Suburbia began its rapid growth and America saw the arrival of the attached garage. These homes were mass produced and a common joke of that era was that no one in a neighborhood knew for sure which house was theirs till they found the one that fit their front door key. However, the modern look and convenience of these houses made them true homes.
If you’re considering historical accuracy for your miniature home, there are many resources available online. These are just a few sites where you can research historical accuracy for your mini home
Historical accuracy in colors: Historic House Colors
Examples of styles: American Architecture and Styles of Architecture
And a really great article on Carpenter Gothic style by our own Wende Feller: Historic Style: Carpenter Gothic
Whether your house is historically accurate, a flight of fancy, or somewhere in between, the most important aspect is that it is pleasing to you. After all, your creation has its own place in architecture… your individual design
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