Fit for a queen Victorians: The reign of Queen Victoria spawned several styles that became popular in Maryland.

December 08, 1996|By Mary T. McCarthy | Mary T. McCarthy,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When she took the throne of England in 1837 at the age of 18, Queen Victoria gave birth to an era -- a style of architecture named for her because of the elaborate and ornate structures which were built during her reign.

It is an architectural style of great detail, from the intricate gingerbread woodwork on wraparound porches to the magnificent iron finials perched atop witches' hat turrets, Victoriana is a genre with many enthusiasts.

"Victorian architecture" is a bit of a catch-all term used to describe several different styles, and tends to include buildings constructed between 1865 and the very early 1900s. There are majestic asymmetrical castle-like manor homes, formal Italianate city rowhouses and clusters of tiny gingerbread cottages and they are all Victorian.

Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Italianate, Second Empire, Stick and Queen Anne are some of the styles in the Victorian architecture family.

The easiest way to spot a high-style Victorian structure is by its well, its' accessories.

Like a queen dressed in her highest royal jewels and fanciest garb, homes built during this period are bedazzled with elaborate architectural splendor: Delicate woodwork swags, dramatic stained glass windows and carved ornaments adorn their exteriors.

And the inside? Elegantly tiled mantels, carved balustrades and weighty pocket doors combine with breathtaking chandeliers, ceiling medallions and curved stairways to create a majestic aura.

The most fascinating feature about the gorgeous Victorian homes, however, is not their appearance but the people who live in them -- who have taken the time to painstakingly restore, renovate and revitalize these historic treasures.

"Welcome to 1896," says Richard Leatherman when you enter his spectacular home in Buckeystown, south of Frederick. Along with his wife, Karen, Leatherman has worked endless hours to restore the Queen Anne Victorian home to the way it would have appeared exactly a century ago, when it was built.

When they bought the house in 1986, its condition was poor. White paint covered the entire interior, and aluminum siding masked the exterior. The original wood shutters had been removed and sold at a yard sale. It was a blank slate for Victorian enthusiasts, a house begging to be restored to its original grandeur.

"It has been a labor of love, and it's an unending process," says Leatherman. "What's neat about the house is that it shows the way a family would have lived at the turn of the century."

Karen Leatherman adds: "It's never done! First you have to undo what's been done over the years, or replace what's been taken away, before you start to add your own touches. Everything is a major project -- whether it's having shutters custom made to replace the originals, or removing aluminum siding, these are things which take a huge amount of time and effort.

"You know what, though? Somehow it's worth it. If the house was never done, then what would we do?"

Over the last 10 years, many things have been added to the Leatherman house, not the least of which is a majestic copper roof.

Fortunately for the stately home, Richard Leatherman's company, Leatherman Brothers, specializes in wallpapering, antiques and interior design.

In Victorian tradition, there are 13 different wallpapers just in the ladies parlor, which is also graced by his great-great grandmother's 1893 Stieff piano.

A beautiful 1880s parlor suite fits right in, along with period fabrics, lamps and fantastic draperies. Across the hall in the library, 12 different wallpapers surround the antique-filled room, highlighted by an antique game collection, rare vintage books and period furniture.

In fact, everything in the living museum which makes up the first floor of the Leatherman house is authentic to the Victorian period.

Play upstairs

But the couple's favorite additions to their home have been their two sons -- Michael, age 6, and Christian, 3.

How do you raise children in a house like this? "It gives them a great appreciation for fine things," says Richard Leatherman, "and they usually play upstairs!"

Their house, with its architecturally dramatic, three-story tower room (the original wallpaper remains in the third-story round room) and gorgeous double-hung stained glass windows is the highlight of the Buckeystown Days house tours every September.

Baltimore is no stranger to the whimsical Victorian style of architecture. And one needn't go any farther than City Hall to see a textbook example of high-style Victoriana.

A drive around town turns up other delights, such as:

The Gallagher Mansion on Notre Dame Lane, off the 5200 block '' of York Road, recently restored as part of a new seniors' housing development.

USF&G's Octagon House on a hill above the 5800 block of Smith Ave. (If you look closely in the surrounding, and primarily Victorian, Mount Washington neighborhood, there's another octagon house to be found.)

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