Victorian Cottage Residences

Victorian Cottage Residences

by Andrew Jackson Downing, A. J. Downing

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This incredibly rich, firsthand source for the most popular styles of 19th-century Victorian architecture presents 26 cottage designs — including Gothic, bracketed, Italianate, "rustic," more — and 155 illustrations (includes floor plans). The small, inexpensive detached house received one of its earliest popularizations here.  See more details below


This incredibly rich, firsthand source for the most popular styles of 19th-century Victorian architecture presents 26 cottage designs — including Gothic, bracketed, Italianate, "rustic," more — and 155 illustrations (includes floor plans). The small, inexpensive detached house received one of its earliest popularizations here.

Product Details

Dover Publications
Publication date:
Dover Architectural Series
Product dimensions:
5.41(w) x 8.48(h) x 0.95(d)

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Victorian Cottage Residences

By Andrew Jackson Downing

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 1981 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-14282-1



A Suburban Cottage for a small Family.

WE have supposed this cottage to be situated in the suburbs of a town or village, and, for the sake of illustrating the treatment of a small portion of ground, we shall also imagine it to be placed on a lot of ground 75 feet front by 150 deep, which, at the time of commencing the building, has upon it no trees or improvements of any description.

By referring to the plan of the first floor of this cottage, Fig. 4, the reader will perceive on the left of the hall, the parlor, or living-room, 16 feet by 21 feet, having in communication with it, a pantry and a closet for books—each 4 feet by 8 feet. On the opposite side of the hall are, the kitchen, 14 feet by 16, and a bed-room 12 feet by 16 feet.

In the plan of the chamber floor, Fig. 5, there are four bedrooms of good size, and one of small dimensions. Sufficient cellar room will be obtained under the living-room, closets, and hall, and it will not therefore be necessary to excavate for this purpose under the kitchen and first floor bed-room; a circumstance which will lessen the expense in building the foundation walls.

This simple cottage will be a suitable one for a small family, when the mistress wishes to have the management of the domestic affairs directly under her own personal care and supervision. In such a case it is indispensable to have the kitchen on the same floor with the living-room, though, if possible, not opening directly into it; as in the latter arrangement, the smell arising from the cooking would be in unpleasant proximity to the living-room. We have therefore placed it on the opposite side of the hall, though but a few steps from the living-room. In a cottage of this description, the master and mistress will generally prefer to have their own bed-room on the first floor, and we have accordingly placed it opposite the living-room.

Although this cottage is of very moderate size, yet, to a family of small means, leading a comparatively retired life, it will afford a great deal of comfort, and even a considerable degree of taste or neatness. The parlor or living-room is comparatively large; its outline is agreeably varied by the bay window opposite the fire-place—and the closet of books connected with it, indicating a certain degree of mental cultivation, may very fairly stand in the place of the library, which forms one of the suite of apartments in a larger cottage or villa. On the other hand, the pantry opening into the same apartment renders it equally eligible and convenient as a dining-room. However large our dwelling-houses may be, including every grade, from a cottage to a palace, if they are occupied by a family of moderate size, it will be found that more than one room is seldom used at a time, and that all the actual comforts of domestic life may be realized in a cottage of this class, containing only a single parlor or living-room, as well as in a mansion of a dozen apartments. "I must confess," says Cowley, "I love littleness almost in all things. A little cheerful house, a little company, and a very little feast." Whatever is necessary beyond this, arises either from a desire to enjoy a more luxurious style of living, or from the wish to entertain a larger circle of friends. Now as none of these are supposed to come within the wishes or means of the inmates of a cottage like the present, its accommodation will be found ample. And supposing one or two of the attic chambers occupied by younger members of the family, and another by a domestic or domestics, there will still remain a "spare room," which we shall suppose always neat and clean, ready for the friend or stranger who may enjoy the cordial welcome of the cottage.

In building this cottage, the kitchen should be provided with a brick drain, leading from the sink to some large drain at a distance from the house, or, in case this is impracticable, to a reservoir dug at a distance of forty or fifty feet from the house in a gravelly stratum, where the drainage may lose itself in the soil. [Cement pipes, or glazed stoneware pipes, laid in cement, with stench-traps of the same material attached to them near the house, or directly under, just beyond the rise, are now used in preference to the brick drains, being cheaper, and better for the purpose.—ED.] This reservoir may be of the size of a cistern of ordinary capacity, the sides built up with a dry wall, the top covered by flag stones, and the whole finally covered by soil. In order to prevent smells arising to the kitchen from the drain, it must be provided with a smell-trap, which is easily constructed. If the water from the well, or cistern, or both, is introduced by a leaden pipe and small pump into a corner of the kitchen over the sink, it will add still further to the convenience of performing the culinary labor of the dwelling.

As regards external effect, we think this cottage will be allowed to be very pleasing to the eye. Aside from any other quality, its uniformity will be a source of satisfaction to a larger class of persons who do not relish irregularity in any building. There are also several features entering into the composition of this cottage which give it at once the air of something superior in design to ordinary buildings of the same class. The first of these is the veranda, ornamented by brackets between the supports, which shel ters the entrance-door, and affords an agreeable place both for walking in damp or unpleasant weather, and to enjoy a cool shaded seat in the hotter portion of the season. The second feature is the projection of the eaves, with the ornamental eave-board, which serves to protect the exterior more completely than any other form against the effects of storms, and gives character by its boldness and the deep shadows it casts upon the building. The chimney-tops are rendered sufficiently ornamental to accord with the degree of decoration displayed in the other portions of the cottage; and something of the bracketed character is kept up in the dressing of the windows and door-frames. The projecting dormer-window adds beauty and gives importance to the entrance front.

If we suppose this cottage, stripped of its projecting eaves, its bracketed veranda, its dormer-window, and the little decoration visible in the chimney-tops and other details, we shall have a building in the form of a parallelogram of the very plainest description. Such a building would be distinguishable from a barn or outhouse only by the presence of chimneys and windows of larger size, and would convey to the mind no impression whatever of refinement in its occupants. By a trifling additional outlay at the time of building, amounting from seven to ten per cent. on the whole cost, such a plain dwelling may be made the ornamental cottage shown in Design I., which we think would strike every observer as being tasteful and agreeable to the eye.

Construction.—This cottage, being light and somewhat fanciful in its character, may be built of wood filled in with brick. The roof should project twenty inches or two feet, and the roof of the veranda in proportion. A portion of this veranda is shown in Fig. 6, and a section of the pillars or supports in Fig. 7.z, The ornamental cornice which surrounds the building, is shown more in detail at y; the pendent portion being cut out of inch board, and the points terminated by acorns turned, and nailed on. The details y and z are to the scale of one-half of an inch to a foot.

Brick and cement would be a very suitable construction for this cottage, as the projecting roof would afford perfect security for the dryness and preservation of the walls. In this mode of building the roughest bricks may be used, and are really preferable, as affording a better surface for receiving and retaining the stucco than smooth ones. In many districts, where bricks are easily obtained, this kind of building will be found as cheap as wood.

It will be observed that in this design, and the seven others that follow, we have placed the chimneys in the interior, not in the exterior walls, a point of considerable importance, which is greatly overlooked by our builders. When a stack of chimneys is built in the outer walls, it seldom continues warm during the whole twenty-four hours, as it parts with its heat rapidly to the cold external air. Now as a good draught depends, in a great degree, on the warmth of the column of air, and this upon the heat of the chimney, it is evident that chimneys in the interior of a house must draw better than in the exterior walls. Besides this, a great deal of heat is retained in the body of the house by carrying the stacks of flues through it. And in point of external effect, it is much more pleasing to see the chimney-tops rising from the apex, or highest part of the roof, than from its lowest edge.

Estimate.—The estimated cost of this cottage, finished in a neat and suitable manner, is $1,800. This, as well as the estimates which follow, is intended to apply to the majority of situations in the Middle and Eastern States, where timber is comparatively scarce, and bricks of second quality, suitable for stuccoing upon, are worth about $4 per thousand. In districts where wood is much cheaper, the cost of erection would be much less if this material were wholly employed. [When the above estimate was made, labor and materials were about one-half the present prices. At the present writing, ordinary hard bricks are worth from $7.50 to $9 per thousand. Carpenters charge $2.50 to $3.50 per day, and masons from $3.50 to $4.50. This cottage in wood would cost about $3,600, and in brick, about $4,500.—ED.]

Laying out the ground.—As this cottage is decidedly ornamental in its character, it may fairly be presumed that it would be required that a considerable portion of the limited ground nearest the house should be rendered ornamental also. In the suburbs of a town or village, the more common kinds of vegetables may generally be purchased as cheaply as they can be raised by the inmates of such a cottage. The more delicate kinds of fruit, and a few of the earlier or finer kinds of vegetables may, however, be produced, of fine flavor, and with more satisfaction to the proprietor, on the spot. We have therefore devoted one-third of the area of the lot, Fig. 8, to the kitchen garden a, and the remaining two-thirds will remain to be occupied by the house, and for ornamental purposes. In order to separate these two portions, and to prevent the eye of a person looking from the house, or any of the walks across the little lawn b, from seeing the kitchen garden, at the same time with the ornamental portion, we shall place an ornamental trellis across the lot at c, which may be covered by the following vines, remarkable for the beauty of their foliage and flowers, or for their fragrance, viz.:—


These, after a couple of years' growth, will form a verdant barrier, which in no season, except winter, will be without flowers. Across the walks leading into the kitchen garden, the lattice fence may be continued in the form of light gates, and the vines may be trained so as to form archways overhead.

Around the exterior of the kitchen garden is a border 6 feet wide, which will be an excellent situation for a few choice fruit trees; because, if planted on this exterior border, they will not shade the beds devoted to vegetables, which, if planted in the middle of the compartment, they would soon do to such an extent as to render the situation unfit for raising a crop of any kind. On the right-hand border, which is the warmest aspect, we would advise the planting of some grape-vines, which may either be trained to the fence, or to a trellis placed four or five inches from the fence. These vines may consist of a Catawba, an Isabella, an Elsingburgh, and a Bland's Virginia, all hardy varieties, very productive, and requiring little care. [Instead of the Catawba, Isabella, and Bland's Virginia grapes, place Delaware, Israella, and Concord, which are more in favor now; and for the D'Aremberg Pear substitute the Beurre Bosc.—ED.] On the other two outer borders there will be sufficient room for one tree of each of the following fruits, viz., a Bartlett, a Seckel, and a D'Aremberg Pear; a George the Fourth and a Snow Peach; an Imperial Gage and a Jefferson Plum; a Mayduke and a Downer's Late Red Cherry, and a Moorpark Apricot. In the same borders, and beneath these fruit trees, strawberries may be planted, making a bed about one hundred and twenty feet long, which, if kept in good condition, will be sufficient to supply a small family with this delicious fruit. The border to the right, containing the grape-vines, we shall suppose (except immediately around the vine) to be kept in grass, in which neat posts are set at the distance of twelve feet apart, for the purpose of stretching a line for drying clothes upon. These posts being half way between the frame or trellis, upon which the grapes are trained, and the walk, the line would be easily commanded by a person standing upon the walk. The space devoted to culinary vegetables we have merely indicated by beds four feet wide on the plan, leaving the occupant to apportion the same to their various uses, premising that the large bed in the centre, at a, is intended for asparagus; the three smaller ones, d, for sweet herbs; and the long bed, ×, behind the trellis, covered by ornamental vines, for the esculent rhubarb, which is so valuable an article for tarts or pies, that no cottage garden, however small, should be without it.

Such a thing as a wall for fruit trees, in a cottage garden, is nearly unknown in the United States, and therefore we need say nothing respecting training them to a wall. But a cottage garden is usually surrounded by a neat board fence or paling, painted some drab or inconspicuous color; and as the number of fruit trees that could be judiciously planted here is small, we would strongly advise the owner of this garden to train the branches to this fence, or to a trellis formed by nailing narrow strips of board, trellis-like, at a distance of four or five inches from the fence. The luxuriance and fruitfulness of trees planted as ordinary standards, in most parts of the country, is the very obvious reason why, except in gardens of the first class, a trained tree is so rarely seen; but, on the other hand, the superior size and beauty of the fruit raised in this way make it an object of considerable importance, when the number of trees is small. Besides this, the trees occupy so much less space, interfere so little with the growth of anything else that may be near or under them, and are so much more completely under the control of the gardener, that we are certain they would, if trained, afford ten times the satisfaction at all times beyond that derived from standard trees, cultivated, or rather left to grow, in the usual manner.

Proceeding now to the ornamental portion of the ground, we shall suppose the outer border, e, to be planted with a small mixed collection of handsome trees and shrubs, of such varieties as may be easily and cheaply procured. The trees may be planted at considerable distances, as a very few, when they have attained some size, will be sufficient for this limited surface. In the intermediate spaces, room will be found for quite a variety of shrubs, interspersed with several sorts of hardy roses. In the centre of each of the two small circles fronting the house, we will place a Norway spruce, one of the finest evergreens in this climate, as it preserves its rich green verdure unimpaired throughout the coldest winter. These firs, with two or three additional evergreens in the swell of the front border, will give a cheerful aspect to the entrance front of the cottage during the winter months.


Excerpted from Victorian Cottage Residences by Andrew Jackson Downing. Copyright © 1981 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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