Welcome back to Period Dramas, a weekly column that alternates between rounding up historic homes on the market and answering questions we’ve always had about older structures.
Not every grand house in the 19th century was built with the showstopping finishes of a Newport, Rhode Island, mansion.
In fact, the latter half of the 19th century saw a type of structure that—while informed by fashionable European architecture—was purposefully informal: the Shingle style home.
First coming about in the 1870s, the Shingle style married the Colonial American house—which gained new attention after the Civil War—with architectural styles that originated in Normandy, a location fancied by architects and American elites alike.
Shingle style houses typically sported open floorplans centered on central halls. They were rambling, asymmetric structures that lacked much ornamentation on their exteriors, save for their characteristic wood-shingle cladding.
Inside, intricate wood paneling decorated public rooms of the most impressive homes, although beadboard and other more simplistic finishes were also common. These houses, with their quirky rooflines and oddly shaped rooms, tended have a more informal personality, and became the architectural style of choice for summer houses of the Northeastern elite.
Many of the original Newport Shingle-style mansions—including the famed Breakers—were originally more modest houses before getting rebuilt as tastes changed.
The Shingle style held onto its popularity through the 1890s thanks to the work of architects like H.H. Richardson and McKim, Mead & White, which were rapidly building houses along the New England coastline.
While many of the best examples are no longer in existence—McKim, Mead, & White’s Low House, widely regarded as the apex of the shingle style, was demolished in the 1960s—some have survived and are even the market. Here are a few up for grabs right now.
Jamestown, Rhode Island (6 bedrooms, 6 bathrooms, $2.99 million)
In the seaside enclave of Jamestown, this 1888-built home, named the “Boulders,” is exactly the sort of eclectic, rambling, wood-framed dwelling that typifies the Shingle style.
The house’s exterior is anything but symmetrical, with gables, porches, and turrets—likely inspired by Norman dovecotes—punctuating the silhouette. It’s an impressive exterior, but it isn’t refined, in keeping with the more casual feeling of the Shingle style.
The interior continues that informality: The main hall is clad in paneling that, while thoughtfully designed, is roughly carved. Upstairs, the bedrooms are rather plain, with irregularly sized floorboards and simple moldings around the windows and doors.
The fireplaces, with their tightly paneled surrounds, are the one area where this house plays with intricate ornamentation. The rest of the house has a more comfortable, cobbled-together aesthetic popular at the end of the 19th century.
Edgartown, Massachusetts (5 bedrooms, 6 bathrooms, $19.5M)
Built in 1890, this home on the coast of Martha’s Vineyard shows how the Shingle style was adapted for homes of a smaller scale. The floorplan is open, with the foyer flowing directly into the living room to create the sort of “central hall” found in larger Shingle style houses.
The combined foyer and living room connects to the dining room, and they both open onto a back porch with ocean views, letting the ocean air circulate through rooms as much as possible.
Unlike some other Shingle style houses, the woodwork here is kept fairly simple. Beadboard, diamond-paned windows, and simple door surrounds make up the extent of ornamentation. At 3,700-square-feet, it was never designed as a grand house but rather as an informal retreat, which is rather ironic given its price.
Dublin, New Hampshire (3 bedrooms, 6 bathrooms, $1.39 million)
Not every Shingle style house was by the water. Case in point: this estate in the mountains of New Hampshire.
The exterior of the house features everything from dormers to gables to porches. Unlike the Edgartown house above, this structure seems purposefully off-center, with the main gable pushed a bit to the left.
What’s especially interesting about this house is the visible influence of the Colonial Revival style, also popular in the late 19th century. The foyer, which takes the form of a central hall typical of the Shingle style, is outfitted in finely carved woodwork that is more reminiscent of Colonial architecture. This is especially noticeable around the fireplace, where the carvings are light and graceful, rather than heavy and paneled as in the Jamestown house.