Appearing on the American scene between 1880 and 1900, the Shingle Style is distinctly American in its wood construction typically blending into natural surroundings. The houses were often built on stone foundations that seem to emerge from bedrock. Thus, the massive, horizontal structures appeared to hug the ground. Porches, balconies, and large windows encouraged a tactile interaction with the out-of-doors; today, they evoke a slow and romantic lifestyle that most of us can only dream of. Developed in New England, the style was most popular in seaside resorts. Although indisputably of American origin, the Shingle Style borrowed liberally from other Victorian styles. Its porches, shingles, and asymmetrical forms, for example, were from Queen Anne. Palladian window, gambrel roofs, and complexity of the forms and stone are often attributed to the Richardsonian Romanesque style popular at the same time.
Still, Shingle Style’s informality and eclecticism was a clear expression of American individualism. Freedom of design was encouraged; asymmetry was preferred. Architects handled proportion and architectural details as sculptural compositions. Because of the complexity of the forms in a Shingle Style design, the cost of construction was often beyond that of the average homeowner. As a result, the style was never adapted to mass vernacular housing and in many ways remained a high-fashion style. One of the best examples of a Shingle Style residence in Washington, DC, can be found in Cleveland Park at 3030 Macomb Street N.W.
In contrast to the other Victorian-era styles, Shingle Style de-emphasized applied decoration and detailing in favor of complex shapes wrapped in cedar shingles. Its few decorative details tended to enhance the irregularity of the construction, with the shingles tying the diverse forms together.
Roofs and walls were covered in shingles, which could be stained, painted, or allowed to weather naturally, depending on the weather and location. Occasionally, the roof shingles would be a different color from the wall shingles. More expensive homes had rough-hewn stone foundations and even stone porch columns and stone walls for the first floor.