House Spotting Carpenter Gothic


Editorial, Photography & Graphics By: Dr Christopher Cooper


Originally, the Gothic Revival style was meant to be executed in stone and brick imitating the imposing cathedrals of mediaeval Europe. In Canada and America the vast primaeval forest and the invention of the steam powered scroll saw led to the whimsically enchanting Carpenter Gothic movement. The style caught on like wild fire across North America due in part to Andrew Jackson Downing’s (the founder of the movement’s) influential pattern books, “Victorian Cottage Residences” (1842) and, “The Architecture of Country Houses (1850).


The little framed Carpenter Gothic house can be spotted across the east coast and there is a large concentration of such houses from Windsor to Fort Erie, Ontario, on the old Highway 3. Sadly, most of these little houses have been covered up by aluminum and vinyl siding and have had their characteristic lancet and round-head windows destroyed by unsympathetic scoundrels promising owners “Your heating bills will be slashed in half”. Unknowing owners will, however, spend a small fortune to destroy the very essence of the style with a plastic window which will last 10 years”. (Of course, they won’t tell you that when you are signing on the dotted line!)

The central peaked gable over the front door is there to direct snow and rain away from the entrance and seems to be also a less expensive and simpler solution to its predecessor, the Georgian dormer. Most of these little cottages do not include the idealistic picturesque setting of babbling brooks, undulating fields of rolling greenery and shade trees, and seem to be more a practical yet stylistic solution on the domestic rural farmhouse. More substantial Carpenter Gothic homes dot the same countryside that the more common farmhouse inhabits. Most of these homes such as The Cone in Port Hope, Ontario, and the Junker House in New Dundee, Ontario, adhere quite closely to Downing’s philosophy and are as beautiful in their purest Carpenter Gothic form as they are within their picturesque surroundings.

Homes in the Carpenter Gothic style usually have these features: steeply pitched roofs (sometimes steep cross-gables), lacey barge or vergeboards, gothic-head, triangular-head or round-head windows, one storey porches or verandahs, asymmetrical floor plans, bay or oriel windows and vertical board and batten siding (Horizontal clapboard siding, however, is not uncommon.)

The traditional siding on a Carpenter Gothic house has been vertical board and batten, this unique exterior finish has been proven to have longevity, with many houses built 140 years ago still having their siding intact. Vertical board and batten has long life because it is an unbroken vertical board extending from the foundations to the underside of the soffit with a strip of wood or batten covering the seams between boards shedding water unabridged to the ground, making it almost impervious to rot when well painted and caulked.

Remember your Carpenter Gothic is made of wood, which will require constant care to ensure water and rot is kept in check with a regular regiment of caulking and painting. See the graphic left, for areas requiring bi-annual inspection and regular maintenance and attention.

Keeping the paint scheme of your Carpenter Gothic historically correct is as important to the style as the Gothic-Head windows are. Most Carpenter Gothic we have encountered have been painted white with green trim, however, many colours were available by the mid 19th century opening the colour palette to include rather colourful renditions. Several tri-colour schemes are noted to the left which would suit any small or large Carpenter Gothic.

Not withstanding our recommendation, a proper and in-depth investigation of the paint layers are your best source for a historically correct paint scheme for your particular house.


The Wood Window Restoration Workshop

Sunday April 26th, 2020

People complain about their drafty old wood windows, how about the same complaints about replacement windows and have the same complaint after spending thousands of dollars. More Here…


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Sunday May 24th, 2020

Repointing is the process of removing deteriorating mortar from the joints of a masonry wall (brick or stone) and replacing it with new mortar.

The decision to repoint is usually made to arrest some obvious signs of deterioration such as disintegrating mortar, loose bricks, cracks in mortar joints themselves, damp walls, or damaged interior plaster. More Here…

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