The Painted Ladies of the United States

Painted Lady Victorian York PA

Dotted throughout the towns of historic Pennsylvania are colorful, ornately-decorated and architecturally-textured homes and other buildings, known as “Painted Ladies”. This term was first coined by Elizabeth Pomada and Michael Larsen in their book, Painted Ladies: San Francisco’s Resplendent Victorians, yet it has come to describe any Victorian home painted in three or more colors to accent the Victorian era’s magnificent architectural detail.

These intricately-decorated, lavishly-painted homes can be seen across the keystone state, in all manner of Victorian style. Aside from their colorful paint-jobs, many Victorian buildings can easily be spotted by their wrap-around porches, turrets, textured shingles, intricate Gingerbread trim, balustrades, spindles, high towers, scrollwork, steeply-pitched roofs, and asymmetrical designs.

The Victorian Era

From 1837 to 1901, Queen Victoria ruled England. This era brought about many significant political, social, and economical changes. Some of the most notable inventions were the telephone, the toilet, the camera, the radio and the train. The steam-powered machines that energized the industrial revolution during this time forever transformed how products were manufactured, and helped narrow the gap between the classes.  Industrialization also created advancements in architecture which, to this day, are evident in the homes and buildings built during this Victorian era.

Types of Victorian Homes

Today, the Victorian homes that remain are a link to this often-romanticized era of grace, and genteel style. Victorian artistry in all things favored beauty over practicality. There are many different types of Victorian-style homes, and each possess their own distinct features and history.

Gothic Revival

The steeply-pitched roofs, looming towers and dramatic vertical lines of this popular style are reminiscent of the castles and churches of medieval times. Pittsburgh’s McCook mansion is a shining example of the Gothic Revival style.


As a contrast with Gothic revival, Italianate style homes are often boxier than other Victorian designs, and feature the low horizontal roofs, Corinthian columns, cupolas, and large porches of Roman architectural styles. These homes are often replicas, or inspired by, Italian mansions, such as this amazing home:

Painted Lady Italianate Style


Second Empire

Both Philadelphia City Hall, and the Montgomery Mansion in Claysville were built in the Second Empire Victorian fashion. Similar to Italianate styles, the most distinctive characteristic of a Second Empire structure is a mansard (French) roof with round cornices, small entry porches, tall 1st story windows, cupolas, and more.

Queen Anne

Probably the most elaborate of all the Victorian style homes, Queen Annes have different varieties, but almost always include stained glass, turrets, sophisticated detailing, balconies, Gingerbread trim, spindles, bay windows, porches and more. View before and after photos of this painstakingly-restored grand lady in York.

Stick Style

The most defining component of a stick style home is stickwork, which is ornamental wood facades that create structural angles and grid designs. These homes stretch high vertically with steeply-pitched roofs, window bays and towers such as this stick style mansion in Canton.


Henry Hobson Richardson was the architect that is often credited with popularizing this style, hence it can often be referred to as Richardson Romanesque. Since they are made of stone, these structures look like castles, and were often used for large buildings and churches, such as  the Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail complex, located in Pittsburgh, and designed by Richardson himself in 1883.


Shingle Style

It’s hard not to be able to recognize a shingle style Victorian home since they are distinctively asymmetrical, and nearly covered entirely with shingles – walls, roofs, high towers ala Queen Anne style, and wide porches. These buildings also feature windows of different sizes and shapes, and decorative wood trim, as can be seen in many Philadelphia-area homes designed by Wilson Eyre, such as the Yeakle and Miller Houses in Montgomery County.


The Method Behind The Paint

Although there have been different trends throughout the years, Victorian homes in the mid 1800s were multi-colored, yet the palette was earthy, and there was a standard approach to painting. The overall object was to enhance the architectural textures and details. Usually a neutral color was chosen for the body of the home, with a darker shade for the trim, and black, or near-black for window sashes and frames. The colors used were typically earthy greys, reddish clay, browns, and natural greens.

Victorian House Tours in Pennsylvania

The whimsy and beauty of Victorian homes all throughout Pennsylvania is unmistakable. The historical backdrop of one of this country’s oldest established states compliment their grace and style. Since many of these homes have been converted into bed & breakfasts, inns, and restaurants, many day-trippers and vacationers can enjoy their majestic allure.

There are many Victorian homes in Pennsylvania from that will give you an interesting and tangible look into Pennsylvania history and architecture. Along your journey, you just might fall in love with a beautiful “lady” too!


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