Welcome to Part II of our Historic Homes in Houston series. This week’s post will focus on Revival styles of architecture. Houston’s historic neighborhoods are filled with Classical, Colonial, Mission, and Tudor Revival homes. Revival architecture might incorporate ancient Greek columns or apply decorative details like intricate moldings or stained glass windows, depending on the reference period. Classical and Colonial Revival homes in Houston were designed partly to reflect the owners’ wealth and status. Houston’s Revival homes are some of the most intricate and evocative examples of this type of architecture. They offer glimpses into different eras of history while still being functional spaces for modern living. You might prefer the grandeur of a Classical Revival mansion or the cozy charm of a Tudor Revival cottage. Either way, Houston’s Revival architecture is worth a look—or two!
What is Revival Architecture?
Revival architecture is a style of building design that draws inspiration from earlier movements. Revivalism emerged long ago but took off in the 18th and 19th centuries when architects heavily referenced ancient Greek and Roman designs. During this period, politicians and other thinkers adapted Greek and Roman philosophy for a newly established America.
Architects wanted to recreate the grandeur, elegance, and sophistication of buildings from these periods. But they also wanted to tie ancient ideals to public and private buildings where new Americans spent much of their time. As this resource from ArchitecturalStyles.org explains, “The Greek Revival movement became widely accepted throughout the early U.S. as a symbol of the new democracy.”
In Houston, public and private buildings incorporate Classical, Mission, and Tudor Revival elements. Houston homes designed in the Tudor, Greek, Mission, Georgian, and other historical styles date a bit later than those built in the Northeast. Many of these homes were constructed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. We will begin with Classical Revival, touch on Colonial Revival, and finish with Tudor Revival homes in Houston.
Revival Architecture: Historic Homes in Houston Part II
The Classical Revival architectural style emerged in the late 19th century and continued through the early 20th century. It encompasses several types, including Georgian, Greek, and Roman Revival. Neoclassical architecture is considered by many to be distinct from Classical Revival architecture, so we will place it in its own category.
As you might imagine, Greek and Roman architecture heavily influenced Classical Revival architecture. This is evident in the inclusion of columns, pediments, symmetrical facades, and grand entries.
In Houston, Classical Revival homes can be found throughout the city and tree-lined neighborhoods, with many designated as historic landmarks. Above is a Colonial Revival in Westmoreland, posted on Instagram by Preservation Houston.
Greek Revival Homes in Houston
Greek Revival architecture is technically a subgroup of Neoclassical or Classical Revival architecture, just like Georgian Revival is a subset of Colonial Revival. The Greek Revival architectural style originated in America during the late 18th century.
This style reflects the classic beauty of ancient Greece, with its clean lines, symmetry, and grandeur. One of the most distinctive features of a Greek Revival house is its imposing columns. These columns or piers typically adorn the front entrance and support the roof structure.
Another prominent feature of this style is the use of pediments, triangular-shaped structures above the entrance or windows. These pediments usually contain decorative sculptures or motifs that add to the overall aesthetic appeal of the house. Greek Revival homes also boast large, rectangular windows on either side of the front door, which provide ample natural light to the interior space.
A Greek Revival house typically has high ceilings and spacious rooms, creating an open and airy atmosphere. Moldings and trimmings on doors and windows add a touch of elegance to these already impressive homes.
Many Greek Revival houses have symmetrical floor plans with central halls running from the front door to the back of the house. Formal sitting areas, dining rooms, and bedrooms often flank these hallways.
In Houston, Greek Revival homes are common throughout the West Eleventh Place neighborhood and others in the city’s historic districts. The Kellum-Noble Houst (pictured above) is one notable example.
The origins of Neoclassical architecture can be traced back to the 18th century. It emerged as a reaction against the ornate and extravagant styles that had dominated European architecture in the preceding centuries.
Neoclassicism sought to revive the classical forms and motifs of ancient Greece and Rome. The architecture of these periods embodied timeless ideals of beauty, harmony, and proportion. Some associate Neoclassical architecture with Classical Revival styles, while others place it squarely in the Colonial Revival category.
One early example of Neoclassical architecture is the Petit Trianon at Versailles. The palace was commissioned by Louis XV’s mistress Madame de Pompadour in the mid-1700s. Its architecture features clean lines, simple shapes, and restrained ornamentation, all hallmarks of the neoclassical style.
However, it was in the late 18th and early 19th centuries that Neoclassicism truly took off. In America, this period coincided with the founding of the country and the desire to create a new national identity based on classical ideals. Architects like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Latrobe embraced Neoclassicism to express these values through their designs.
One iconic example of neoclassical architecture in America is the United States Capitol Building, designed by William Thornton in the late 1700s. The White House, redesigned by James Hoban in the early 1800s, is perhaps the best-known example in America.
Features of a Neoclassical House
One of the most prominent features of a Neoclassical house is its columns. These are typically large and imposing. They serve both an aesthetic and functional purpose. They provide support for the roof and upper floors while adding to the overall beauty of the structure.
Another key feature of a neoclassical house is its symmetrical design. This means that everything from the placement of windows and doors to the shape of the roof is carefully balanced and proportioned. This ordered approach produces a sense of harmony that is pleasing to the eye.
Neoclassical homes also often have elaborate entryways, complete with pediments, pilasters, and other decorative elements. These can be made from a variety of materials, including stone, wood, or metal, and add to the grandeur of the overall design.
Inside, Neoclassical houses typically have high ceilings, ornate moldings, and other luxurious touches. The rooms are spacious and well-lit, with plenty of natural light.
Neoclassical Architecture in Houston
In Houston, many public buildings like courthouses and churches were designed in the Neoclassical style. For example, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH) was once solely a Neoclassical building. The above pair of photographs from the MFAH’s Instagram account shows the evolution of that campus. Certain neighborhoods — like Avondale East — are home to Neoclassical mansions.
According to this article from Masterclass, “Architects are still seeking out ways to creatively resurrect the spirit…of Athens and Rome yet again.” In fact, our Colonial Drive project is a contemporary interpretation of Neoclassical architecture. A new build in River Oaks, this home features expansive windows, streamlined pillars, and a dramatic yet streamlined facade.
A Colonial-style home perfectly captures the grandeur and stately elegance of early American architecture. Massive gable roofs, shuttered windows, and board-and-batten siding are all hallmarks of this style. Today, you can find many examples of Colonial Revival homes throughout the United States, each with its unique twist on the classic design.
One typical feature of a Colonial Revival home is its symmetry. Everything from the placement of windows to the size of the front door is carefully considered to create a balanced and harmonious facade. However, certain Colonial Revival styles abandon symmetry in favor of creativity. Inside, you’ll often find spacious rooms with high ceilings and plenty of natural light.
Of course, no discussion of Colonial Revival would be complete without mentioning the role of the Prince of Wales. In 1919, he visited America and expressed his admiration for the country’s historic architecture. This sparked a renewed interest in Colonial Revival architecture.
A subset of Colonial Revival architecture, Georgian Revival emerged in the 20th century. Its roots are in English architecture and in the architecture of New England, where the Georgian style was popular during the 18th century. In Britain, Georgian architecture dominated neighborhoods during the reigns of King George I, II and III.
According to this resource from the University of Vermont, Georgian Revival architecture takes many liberties in its departure from earlier Colonial styles. It does not exactly — or even closely — replicate Georgian architecture.
Instead, “Classical details were either over-exaggerated or updated for the 20th century.” Rather than recreating the facades of Georgian buildings, “the strict…symmetry and order was usually broken.” The size, shape, and number of windows all vary from house to house. Similarly, the size of modillions and columns are rarely consistent with those of a traditional Georgian home.
As time passed, Georgian Revival homes further separated themselves from the style that originally inspired this architectural movement. Between the 1920s and 1940s, many Georgian Revival homes entirely abandoned the symmetry that characterizes Georgian architecture.
Sir Edwin Lutyens, a renowned British architect, heavily influenced the development of Georgian Revival in America. His designs were notable for their attention to detail and use of traditional materials like brick and stone. After his death, many architects closely followed Lutyens’s designs to create their own Georgian Revival homes as well as many public buildings.
Georgian Revival Homes in Houston
In Houston, the majority of Georgian Revival homes were built between 1915 and 1940. Georgian Revival homes are celebrated for their charm and integration with nature, as many feature private gardens and entertaining spaces. In Houston, mature trees, hedges, and rose bushes create that English garden aesthetic we have come to associate with Georgian Revival homes.
The Georgian Revival home pictured above can be found at 4 Shadow Lawn in Houston’s Historic District. Homes in this neighborhood were designed by iconic local architects like William Ward Watkin and John Staub.
Built-in 1929, this home is one of four Georgian Revivals in the Shadow Lawn neighborhood. The neighborhood is also home to Tudor Revival and French Eclectic architecture.
Like other Revival architecture, Venetian Revival was popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This style takes its inspiration from the ornate buildings found in Venice, Italy, with their intricate details and stunning façades. Some of the key features of a Venetian Revival house might include elaborate window treatments, arched entryways, decorative stonework, and balconies adorned with wrought iron railings.
These homes often feature large, multi-paned windows with intricately designed frames and sills. Many also have round or oval windows with curved mullions that add a touch of elegance to the home’s exterior. Additionally, some Venetian Revival Houses have what are known as “palladian” windows. These are three-part windows with a larger center pane flanked by two smaller panes on either side.
Another defining characteristic of a Venetian Revival house is its use of arches. Arched entryways are common, as are curved or segmented arches above doors and windows. The effect is one of grandeur and sophistication, reminiscent of the opulence of Venice’s palaces and churches. Often, these arches are highlighted with ornate keystones or other decorative elements, further enhancing their beauty.
Decorative stonework is yet another hallmark of a Venetian Revival house. From carved stone lintels to elaborately detailed cornices, these homes make extensive use of natural materials to create an atmosphere of luxury and refinement. Balconies are also common, offering residents a place to enjoy fresh air and take in views of the surrounding landscape. These balconies are often adorned with wrought iron railings featuring intricate scrollwork and other decorative details.
From ornate windows to its decorative stonework, every element of these homes speaks to the grandeur and sophistication of Venice’s golden age. As for Houston, one stunning Venetian Revival is the F.A. Heitmann House, originally designed by William Ward Watkin in Shadyside.
From Downtown and Memorial Park to Boulevard Oaks and the Rice/Museum District, Tudor Revival homes can be found across Houston. These stately homes were first built in the United States during the late 19th century and early 20th century. They were inspired by the Tudor architecture of England, which dates back to the 16th century.
Like Georgian Revival homes, Tudor Revival homes are revered for an unusual combination of grand facades and country charm. Many boast massive chimneys and steeply pitched roofs. The Tudor style is also characterized by its use of brick or stone exteriors, shuttered windows, and board-and-batten siding. In Houston, this style perfectly blends old-world charm with modern amenities.
One of the most prominent features of Tudor Revival homes is their use of decorative half-timbering. This technique involves exposing the wooden frame of the house and filling in the spaces between the timbers with stucco or plaster. Doing so creates a unique and eye-catching pattern on the exterior of the home.
Tudor Revival homes also often feature elaborate entryways, with arched doorways and intricate carvings. Inside, these homes typically have high ceilings, large rooms, and plenty of natural light. Other decorative elements that can be found on Tudor Revival houses include leaded glass windows, wide doorways, and carved wooden accents. Tudor Revival homes are sometimes mistaken as French Eclectic and vice versa. The Tudor Revival home pictured above by @historichoustonhomes is an excellent example.
Tudor Revival Homes in Houston: North Boulevard ShowHouse
With their endless charm, stunning facades, and timeless appeal, Tudor Revival homes are often featured in shelter magazines. For example, this Tudor Revival mansion at 418 W Friar Tuck Lane in Memorial Park was recently profiled in The Chronicle. This Tudor Revival in Montrose’s Courtlandt Place Historic District is another prime example.
Though many Houston neighborhoods feature Tudor Revival homes, we would be remiss in ignoring one of our own projects! Those who follow our firm might remember that LUDC Founder Laura Umansky renovated her North Boulevard house a few years ago.
Laura updated this 1925 Tudor Revival to her tastes and the needs of a modern family. Quoted by Diane Cowen in an article for The Houston Chronicle, Laura described North Boulevard as her “‘personal dream house.'” To Laura and the team, it was “a study in mixing time periods.'”
Final Thoughts About Houston’s Domestic Revival Architecture
Many Revival homes are just that: rooted firmly in the time during which they were built but recalling and adapting elements from the past. We hope you enjoyed this installment of our Historic Homes in Houston series. Stay tuned for Part III, in which we celebrate some of our favorite historic Houston homes from the mid-century and beyond.