House Style: Second Empire

This is an essentially French style brought to the United States and Canada during the mid to late 19th century from the Second Empire in France of Napoléon III. The First Empire collapsed in 1815, the monarchy was then restored, and the Second Empire was led by Napoléon III, nephew of Napoléon I, from 1852 to 1870. This style is lavish, grand and complex. It enjoyed a huge success in large public buildings for a short while, then for reasons that are difficult to grasp, it went out of fashion. Sadly, many of the public buildings across North America were demolished.

For smaller buildings and residences the style is less elaborate, but is still ornate and very impressive. Windows are generally high with elegant surrounding moldings and there is always a Mansard roof punctuated with gabled or elliptical dormers. Roofs and balconies are generally embellished with iron cresting, and the roof itself is often dichromatic.

Second Empire homes usually have these features:

  • Mansard roof
  • Dormer windows project like eyebrows from roof
  • Rounded cornices at top and base of roof
  • Brackets beneath the eaves, balconies, and bay windows

Many Second Empire homes also have these features:

  • Cupola
  • Patterned slate on roof
  • Wrought iron cresting above upper cornice
  • Classical pediments
  • Paired columns
  • Tall windows on first story
  • Small entry porch
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