What’s Your Style?

Six Prominent Architectural Styles on Capitol Hill

In the Capitol Hill Historic District, there are over 8,000 homes, built from the 16th century to the early 1900s. While most people who live here treasure these bits of history that are in their care, a more comprehensive knowledge about a building’s history, style, and age can help develop a deeper appreciation for the importance of properly designed restorations, renovations, and additions. 

Over the past few decades, many of these older homes have been lovingly restored to their former beauty. Below we will list the features of the dominant types of Hill architecture. Remember, if your home is in the historic district, even new windows and doors must be reviewed by the Historic Preservation Office. 

Italianate Style (1840-1885)

This style is delicate and subject to deterioration. Its prominent characteristics are:

  • Tall, narrow windows arched or curved above frequently with elaborated crowns usually of inverted U shape.
  • Square cupola or tower.
  • Window and door hoods.

Window sashes were typically two lite over two lite, or one over one, depending upon their location in the building. Typically doors were four panel and without glazing. Moldings tended to be heavy, and there was usually a transom panel of glass. Often a decorative hood was located over the doorway to symbolically reinforce the entry.

Queen Anne Style (1880-1910)

This style is ubiquitous to Capitol Hill. Its prominent characteristics are:

  • Steeply pitched and irregularly shaped roof, usually with a large front-facing gable.
  • Cutaway bay windows or other illusory devices to avoid a smooth-walled appearance.
  • Asymmetrical façade with partial or full-width porch and extended along one or both side walls.

The Queen Anne style tends to have more unusual and varied windows than other styles. Typically they are double hung with one lite over one lite. Queen Anne windows occasionally have small panes surrounding a large single pane, curved patterned mullions or diamond panes. Four panel doors tend to be the norm, though there are exceptions such as double doors with two panels. Always try to repair and restore the original door if you are fortunate enough to have it. You can also have a door custom made for your home in the appropriate style.

 

Second Empire Style (1855-1885)

A good example of a Second Empire home is located at 6th and G Streets, SE. A rare style on the Hill, its characteristics are:

  • Mansard roof with dormer windows on steep lower slope.
  • Molded cornices normally bound the lower roof slope both above and below.
  • Decorative brackets beneath eaves.

The mansard roof, typical to the Second Empire style, is its most important feature, and the most critical component to protect. Additionally, many of these homes once had decorative metal grilles running across the roof line. It is possible to recreate the original cresting, or repair the existing one.

 

Federal Style (1780-1840)

The plainest of the styles, Federal buildings are characterized by:

  • Semicircular or elliptical fanlight over front door often incorporated into more elaborate door surround including a decorative crown or small entry porch.
  • Decorative moldings highlight cornice, usually with tooth-like dentils.
  • Windows with double-hung sashes; three part Palladian windows are typical.

The Federal style, sometimes called Adams or Colonial, tends to be of a humble nature and executed on a small scale. The buildings have little ornamentation and minimal detail. There are about as many frame as there are brick Federal style buildings on Capitol Hill. 

At the time of their construction, the technology available to produce glass was limited. Thus, Federal style homes had multi-lite windows each comprised of two sashes having six lite over six, nine over nine, or twelve over twelve. Replacing or repairing your windows to match the original is critical. 

 

The Stick Style (1860-1890)

A reflection of Victorian exuberance, there are few buildings faithful to this style on Capitol Hill, although a few have been altered at the time it was in vogue. The Stick style was meant to be rendered in wood. 

Characteristics:

  • Overhanging eaves with exposed rafter ends (shown as brackets in town houses).
  • Wooden wall cladding interrupted by patterns of horizontal, vertical or diagonal boards (stickwork) raised from wall surface.
  • Porches have diagonal or curved braces.

 

Richardsonian Romanesque Style (1880-1900)

An American style developed by Henry Hobson Richardson, this style is more prevalent in Dupont Circle than Capitol Hill. Its characteristics are:

  • Round topped arches over windows, porch supports or entrance.
  • Masonry walls with rough faced squared stonework.
  • Most have towers which are normally round with conical roofs.

The Richardsonian Romanesque style is robust and hearty, and was always constructed of stone. 

Our houses are, most importantly, homes, but with imagination and professional help, they can be modernized while still maintaining their historical integrity and beauty.

Bruce Wentworth, AIA, is an architect and home improvement contractor. He is president of Wentworth, Inc. Visit www.wentworthstudio.com, or call 240-395-0705 to learn more about Wentworth’s remodeling services. 


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