Our local library provides its patrons with access to digitally archived photos that document our town’s history. It’s where I found this photo of a couple taken in 1910. I do not share any connection with them except that their house, which still exists today, is located a few blocks from my own. The architecture of the house, built in 1845, has always intrigued me. There is a complexity of angles where the gables meet the roof and precision in the handcrafted trim details.
I have always enjoyed travelling through small towns far removed from the city. These communities, established in the 1800’s, often took shape around the rising industry of that given era or some commonality shared among the residents. Before arriving at the downtown core, you can count on passing through a stretch of grand homes, like a wedding reception line. Regardless of the season, they wait to greet you then pass you along to the next house.
Down unassuming side streets is where I also like to venture, just off the beaten path, to the homes built nearly two hundred years ago by shop keepers, tradespeople and those who toiled in the service of others. Each building’s façade exudes a personality in the same way as a person’s facial expression might. I’ve been looking for a style of house to suit the personality of a certain gentleman I know. I must confess here that he is a fictitious character named Floyd who is central to the novel I’m writing. The house style I’m settling on is — Gothic revival cottage.
Gothic revival cottage, or rural cottage as it is sometimes referred to, was commonly built throughout Ontario in the 1800-1900’s. The design was considered modest and affordable to most middle income families.
One characteristic feature of a Gothic revival cottage is a steep gable above the front door. This feature is functional as it directs rain and snow away from people standing at the front door. The gable at the front of the house also allows for extra head room. These cottages have one and a half stories as opposed to two full stories, meaning that the exterior wall height is less than eight feet. The ceiling of the upstairs rooms sloped downward toward the exterior wall so that you couldn’t cross the entire room standing upright. My grandparent’s upper floor was designed in this way. The bed was pushed against the shortest wall, so if you jumped up too quickly, your noggin would bump the sloped ceiling. I like the idea of incorporating these details into the physical description of this character’s home.
Gothic architecture details also include ornate trims, finials (the decorative spindle on top of the gable) and muntins (the window grids), and windows that are tall and arched or pointed at the top.
I’ve been searching for a new home for a man who doesn’t really exist in a town whose name I made up. A rather odd statement, don’t you think? I’ve been drafting his life for so long, he nearly seems like part of the family. The town he lives in is a construction of my imagination, a compilation of many towns I’ve visited throughout Ontario. And so too, his home will be a compilation of many homes I’ve admired from afar.
Many of the Gothic revival cottages were built with bricks, but Floyd’s home needs to be more vulnerable, so it will be faced with board and batten. Because he is a stoic and linear thinker, the design of his house will be symmetrical in design, as is characteristic of these cottages, and any trim will be simple as opposed to being overly ornate.
Will Floyd maintain the home when his life circumstances change or will it fall into disrepair? How will the house reflect his personality? Well, that is something else to ponder!
Lead photo: J.W. Wilson Co.
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