San Francisco is blessed with a wide array of interesting historical architectural styles reflecting its colorful history and evolution.  Unfortunately most people just have no idea how to classify what kind of house they actually have.

Is it a Victorian?  A Tudor?  A Spanish Revival?  Dutch Revival?  Colonial Revival?  Edwardian?  Queen Anne?

There are some great books out there, like the Field Guide to American Houses by Virginia and Lee McAlester,

Field Guide to American Houses

Bernie's Coffeeand I’d highly recommend picking one up and flipping through it over a Bernie’s Coffee one sunny Sunday morning, watching the Noe street scene pass by.

But for your rapid edification, I’ll present an excerpt from a great website by Realtor Sharon Kramlich that details some of the most common residential architectural styles in San Francisco…

Architectural Styles

San Francisco’s architectural styles have always reflected the fashions of the current historical period. Structural elements or smaller details were applied to the design of both residential and large commercial and public buildings. Architectural style is a simple way of classifying buildings of a particular period according to these common design characteristics. San Francisco is famous for its Victorian buildings, but there is really no single Victorian architectural style. Queen Victoria lived from 1837 to 1901, and anything built during her reign is considered Victorian. Many varied and interesting styles emerged and were adapted and reshaped for American tastes in rapidly growing cities like San Francisco. This section will explain the details of most architectural styles found here in the Bay Area.


A rebirth of classical Greek architectural elements, this style is relatively rare in San Francisco. Some larger or commercial buildings in this style are loosely based on the Greek temple, with a low triangular roofline and a facade of columns. Usually includes rectangular balanced compositions with sash windows, elaborate entrances with transoms, projecting porticos, and large ornaments.


A rebirth of classical Greek architectural elements, this style is relatively rare in San Francisco. Some larger or commercial buildings in this style are loosely based on the Greek temple, with a low triangular roofline and a facade of columns. Usually includes rectangular balanced compositions with sash windows, elaborate entrances with transoms, projecting porticos, and large ornaments.


Gothic Revival


The Gothic Revival style was based on the churches and homes of Europe in the Middles Ages and is considered the first true Victorian style. Sometimes called carpenter Gothic, these homes were often built by untrained builders from carpenter’s pattern books. They have irregular pitched gable roofs, fanciful eave treatments, pointed arch windows, and sometimes elaborate Gothic ornamentation and details. Most Gothic styled residences were destroyed in the 1906 fire, but a few wooden churches survive. These are sometimes referred to as Victorian Carpenter Gothic.




Most numerous of the Victorian homes, these Italianate structures, sometimes called Bracketed Italianate, borrowed Italian Renaissance motifs. They are rectangular in shape, with two to three stories, tall and narrow, a balanced composition with bracketed cornices, parapets and false fronts, elongated, arched, wooden sash windows, large paneled doors, and facades decorated with molded panels, friezes, pilasters or quoins.


Italianate Villa


The larger Italianate Villas were mansion sized homes. They resembled the Bracketed Italianate, but also has a square tower or cupola above the roof line.Generally more ornate, with ornamented porticos and triangular pediments on the roofline/porch.


False Front Pioneer House


Resembling New England wooden cottages, the Pioneer House in the west usually had a false front which extended above the roofline and shelf molding above doors and windows. The “Pioneer Box” House had a pedimented roof rather than a false front. The decorative trim consists of hoods or shelf molding above the doors and windows and often brackets along the cornice line, below the false front.


Raised Basement Cottage


These houses have Italianate style trim, similar to Pioneer houses, as well as triangular pediments in the roofline and raised basements. Less ornate versions are sometimes referred to as Working Mans Cottages. Good examples can be found in Dana and Parker Streets in Berkeley.



This style is defined by an exterior expression of a building’s skeletal structure. It usually includes angular forms and decorative details made from strips of wood, which give the structures a similarity to the half-timbering of the Elizabethan style. These houses are boxy or squared and the simplest and least ornamented of any style in the Victorian period. The stickwork is usually visible in wood planking above windows and doors and along corners.


Stick Eastlake Villa


Inspired by the designs of Charles Eastlake, these homes include a square tower, incised panels, machine-cut friezes and decorative motifs. Stick Eastlake cottages and homes include these Eastlake motifs but have no tower.


Queen Anne


Originating in England’s pre-Georgian period, the Queen Anne style usually includes Classical ornamentation added to a building with medieval forms. The American Queen Anne period began at the end of the 19th century, and is characterized by spoolwork, shaped shingles, foliated plasterwork, irregular, gabled, hipped and conical roofs, complex compositions emphasizing varied, surface textures, varied entrance designs frequently with porches, and a mixture of various ornamentation. They may include a turret or brick chimney, or fish scale shingles, combining various elements of earlier styles. This most elaborate of the Victorian home styles can be found in the Western Addition among other San Francisco neighborhoods.



The architect Henry Hobson Richardson is credited with introducing a style called Romanesque Revival or Richardson Romanesque. Taken from the heavy stone structures of early medieval Europe, its masonry styles were Gothic in character but included rounded arches. This style is considered part of a transitional period in architecture. Churches built in the style usually include a rose window, connecting stone arches, squat columns, clasping buttresses and a pyramid shaped spire.


Colonial Revival


Borrowing loosely from early American architecture, the Colonial Revival house often included Palladian windows (from the 16th Century Venetian architect Andrea Palladio, or Andreo Palladian), a four-sided flat-topped hipped roof, clapboarding, shingled facades and stained-glass windows.


High-Peaked Colonial Revival House


This transitional form of the Colonial Revival House, has a steeply pitched main gable; slanting dormers on the sides; small corner porticos; balustraded or Palladian windows in the gable; and shingling on the upper surfaces and clapboarding on the lower ones.


Queen Anne Row House


The house above has many of the same characteristics as the Colonial Revival Cottage, like the small front porch, straight-in steps, door with adjacent window, bay window and shingles above over clapboard below, but this is instead a Queen Anne Cottage.


Craftsman Bungalow


Bugalow refers to one or one and a half story. These modest size houses have a rustic, wood crafted look, that comes from the natural use of materials. Generally, they have roofs sloping toward the street, with dormer window, exposed beams along the eaves, brown shingled walls and wood, stone or brick pillars along the front porch. Often, the owners themselves where the designers.




Neo-classical styled homes are often two-stories, distinguished by a balanced composition, porticos, large-scale, academic, classical ornaments which often included the columns and capitals of the Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian ages. Triangular pediments and naturalistic ornaments like Acanthus leaves, waves, egg-and-dart, garlands, even Greek key shapes are used. The Colombian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, which featured this classic style from the Ecole de Beaux-Arts in Paris, is credited for spurring the Classical Revival movement in the U.S.



Edwardian is the named given to some homes built when Kind Edward VII was on the throne, just before the beginning of the first World War. The homes of the era were built at a time of economic stability and might include prominent roofs with false gables, bay windows, stained glass and Art Nouveau-influenced details. Edwardians combined elements of European Modernism and English Arts and Crafts styles but on a more expansive scale.


Mission Revival


California missions provided the inspiration for this style, sometimes combined with the Craftsman style. Arched openings, pastel stucco over wood construction, clay-tile roofs, arcades, exposed rafter beams, mock bell towers, quatrefoil windows and usually an arcade along one or more sides are common in Mission Revival structures of this period.


Tudor Revival


Though rare in San Francisco, this adaptation of the English Tudor style includes steeply-pitched roofs, much brick and timbering, leaded glass windows, bargeboards and a variety of surface textures. These structures look Elizabethan in character and seem to belong in the age of Shakespeare. Other revivals of the 20th century include Regency, French Provincial and Norman (sometimes complete with gargoyles).


Georgian Revival


The American Georgian Colonial style was adapted in the west in Georgian Revival homes which often included high-peaked, or doubled-angled gables, roof dormers, porticos, latticed windows with shutters and pedimented porticos in front of the entryway. Palladian windows or doorways are sometimes seen as well.


Spanish Colonial


It comes as no surprise, considering San Francisco’s past, that Spanish and Mediterranean styles would be popular throughout the City. These Spanish influences drew on sources as diverse as Andalusian farms and Moresque structures. The Pueblo Revival in the southwest also provided a boost for this style. It is characterized by rectangular, tile gable roofs, stuccoed walls, multi-pane windows, arched doorways and Mediterranean-inspired low relief ornamentation.



Nob Hill features some homes decorated in the Art Nouveau tradition. French decorative artists and craftsmen originated the style, which is recognizable by its elegantly curving foliage and floral forms.


Prairie Style


East Bay houses of the Prairie Style or Prairie School were inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright Designs. They were built with low-angled, flat rooflines with wide extending eaves. Stucco slabs or geometric designed stucco was used in the facade, often along with decorative window lattices and rectangular panels over window panes.



Sometimes called Moderne or Modernistic, Deco is distinctive in its use of geometric designs in low relief. It borrowed from other cultures, Egypt, Central America and Asia and even from the machine age, in its incarnation as Streamline Moderne. This innovation softened the hard edges of 1920’s Deco with aerodynamic curves suggestive of airplanes and ocean liners in the 1930s. The toll booths at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge are a good example of this curvolinear style.



Henry Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson are credited with inspiring this style, with their book and a New York exhibition which connected American modern architecture with European modern styles. Variations on this style can be found in some of San Francisco’s commercial buildings: ribbon-like windows which wrap around corners, asymmetrical forms and an absence of decoration.



Steel, glass and unfinished concrete were the hallmarks of this office building style. These sometimes include a curtain wall of glass or metal grid elements and more recently, curved or angled forms. Louis Kahn, Le Corbusier and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (originator of the Brutalist style) are credited with influencing these modern structures.



The earlier forms of the Bay Tradition focused on Craftsman-like simplicity and natural shingle or stucco construction with woods used outside and inside. Increasingly less casual and more formal, newer structures in this general classification incorporate European geometric forms as well.