Paintings of 'Paris in the Rain", "Paris
in Spring", "Paris in Bloom" are all pictures
of the Second Empire buildings in Paris France, in various seasons
and weather conditions. Modern travelers to France identify
Paris with the Second Empire Style because it is so prevalent.
The Champs Elysées is the most famous street
in Paris and a principle tourist destination. It is almost all
Second Empire. The great landscape architect Louis Le Notre
set up the boulevard in the time of Louis XIV, but it was not
until the era of the Second Empire that the buildings were built
and the very rich and famous moved in.
The Second Empire style is characterized by the
Mansard roof (shown in the original below) with a quite lavish
collection of classical elements on a subtle achromatic facade.
Paris Opera House
The Louvre was designed for Napoleon III. It is
one of the best examples of the most exuberant Second Empire
buildings. This is a pavilion on the wing extending into the
The dormer has an abundance of carved figures
including two caryatids, two acropodiums, a full entablature,
a keystoned arch, a triumphal sculptural group, margents (a
floral motif), a balustrade and scrolls extending along the
parapet. The dormer is part of the mansard roof.
The three levels of the main body of the pavilion
are similarly adorned. Everything from aedicules to banded rustication.
Napoleon has the distinction of being the only
ruler of France to be both elected as president and emperor
as part of the royal family. He is, in fact, the last royal
emperor of France.
Paris Opera House
This is one of Mansard's finest works showing
the grand simplicity of the French Classical style. The massing
of the blocks is masterful. Like the Coliseum, the ground floor
has the Doric order, the second level has the Ionic, and the
third or attic story has a truncated version of the Corinthian
The crowning feature of this design is the high
pitched roof with two angles broken by dormers that bears his
Second Empire houses in Ontario are usually
brick, though stone and the occasional wooden house can
be found. They are usually found in the best part of town,
usually with sumptuous gardens surrounding them. The roofs,
more often than not, are dichromatic slate with intricate
notable, of course, is the roof line. This can
be curved, squared, undulating, punctuated with dormers
or even gabled, but it is always in the Mansard style: gently
sloping on top with a swift vertical drop at the edge.
Belleville has some of the finest
19th century architecture in the province. Block after block
of the downtown core is preserved in pristine condition. The
spirit of each neighborhood is intact and the buildings are
Glanmore was probably the largest
and most grand of the Second Empire buildings in Belleville.
It was built for a wealthy banker and financier named John Philpot
Curran Philips in 1882 1883. A history of the families that
lived in the house for the next 90 years is well documented
under the Hastings County Museum site.
The building was designed by
Thomas Hanley. It has the asymmetrical massing popular in the
Victorian times. Note the scalloped
frieze under the bracketed cornice.
On the street level are many
doorways and large windows. A porch on the street level both
protects the salon from direct sunlight and allows for the occupants
of the room to exit onto a limited porch area. The porch has
decorative brackets and ornate iron cresting.
This is an impressive, ornate, even over-the-top
house. But it works. Why can't we do this anymore? Where has
our sense of balance and proportion gone? Buildings like this
set the standard for opulent ornament and conspicuous consumption.
They are still around because they are lovely. Many of our new
opulent houses looked more supersized than grandiose. We need
to keep looking back.
This detail of the roof at Glanmore
shows the gentle concave curve of the roof. There is an ornate
bracketed cornice along the eave
side of the roof, complete with a scalloped frieze.
The brackets are painted the same colours as the slate making
up the roof finish. There is decorative woodwork along the top
of the round-headed dormer windows. The top edge of the roof
has a smaller cornice with delicate brackets. The edge of the
roof is finished with iron cresting. The exterior of each dormer
is finished with copper.
Christina Cameron and Janet Wright
have identified the designer.
"The designer, Thomas Hanley, is listed in
the Belleville directories as a carpenter, builder and architect
from 1878 to 1902. Nothing is yet known of his origins or training,
however judging from his design of Glanmore he was either an
architect of considerable skill or a very clever copyist of
contemporary copy books."
Second Empire Style in Canada p. 71
Pott's House Belleville 1879 - 80
Two or three streets away is
another grand Second Empire building. The asymmetrical façade
is almost a mirror image of Glanmore, though there are many
differences. This has only one dormer on the bay roof where
Glanmore has three. The dormers on the other parts of the roof
are capped with an intricate triangular pediment. On Glanmore
the hoodmolds are stone, here they are patterned brick. A string
course of dogstooth brick runs along
the top of the street level. The brackets under the eave are
ornate console designs, but there is no frieze. (Christmas lights
also run along the edge. These are not original.)
The wooden porch and verandah
are entirely different. This is most probably the work of Thomas
Hastings, but no direct listing has been found.
Dr. Pott's House Belleville
Many houses of this era were
home to a large extended family. There are many doors on the
street and upper level, and these open on to porches or verandahs.
This would allow the various members of the family to have some
private space. It was also a huge advantage during the 1950s,
to 1990s when these large homes were divided into separate apartments.
Just around the corner is a smaller
example with iron cresting, arched dormers,
a Mansard roof, and ornate cornice
brackets. The windows within the Mansard roof have heavy
round-headed cornices and brackets.
The walls are undulating and
rooms are intricately placed with maximum access to balconies.
The massing of this house is completely different than the
two above. Instead of being asymmetrical High Victorian it is
much more reminiscent of the homes in Quebec and the eastern
provinces. The first floor has a long covered sun porch on the
street side, like a fine Parisian café.
Belleville balcony detail
This detail shows a round headed
dormer with a large curved cornice complete with a flared projection.
The iron cresting has large
newels at the corners. Under the dormer and the Mansard roof
is a small balcony with Tuscan columns, an architrave, a row
of dentils and a large cornice. The door opening onto the balcony
has a segmental arch.
The same cornice treatment is found on both levels.
If you are a bit confused about the difference
between a balcony, a verandah and a porch, see
the page on porches.
To the left of the balcony is
another round-headed dormer with the same decorative woodwork.
This small essay in perfection
shows that quality is much more important than quantity. The
owners of this place should be given an award. It is beautifully
maintained, and has been since the first time I included it
on this site almost ten years ago.
Here is a vernacular,
wooden version of the Second Empire style. The Mansard
roof has dormers, but instead
of shingles, the roof is finished in wood siding. The
tower takes the form of a wooden turret,
and the iron cresting is also of wood.
Under the turret is the opening to a balcony
with a wooden balustrade.
On the street level there is a bay
window with small pediment-shaped
cornices and a large roof. The other
first floor windows also have pedimented cornices as well as
The main entrance is a glassed in porch or sunroom.
This house has all the elements of the Second Empire house,
but everything is made of wood.
Sault Ste. Marie Ontario
Like many Second Empire houses, this one was divided
up and rented out for many years. Luckily the tenants were good
people and the main structure of the building was left intact.
When the current owners got hold of it, however, it needed more
than a little TLC. It is now restored with the kind of attention
to detail and accuracy that we can only hope for in other neglected
The front facade is stunning. The dormers on the
Mansard roof extend through the roof cornice in a very unusual
way. The brackets on the roof cornice are console shaped and
beautiful Small cornices above the doors allow for some protection
for both door and visitors. The transoms are protected as well.
On both the front and the side entrances, the transoms are stained
Stair detail Burlington
Notice how the roof has a patterned
tin finish and the stairs are decorated under the treads along
the stringer cover.
The interior molding on the Burlington
house is extraordinary. Every door on the main floor is capped
with this lovely large band adorned with chevrons along the
top. The rosette blocks are pointed as well. This is remeniscent
of Romanesque molding from France in the 13th and 14th centuries.
It's just lovely.
House Madoc 1900
Not too far up the street at
Madoc there is another Second Empire house with a similar dichromatic
mansard roof. This was originally built for John C. Dale, a
banker. The house is poised on top of a hill with 12 acres of
magnificent gardens descending beneath, adding to the palatial
character of the house.
The owners of the Seymour House
have done a good job updating the windows but still maintaining
the style of the building. The iron cresting has been removed.
The citizen's of Woodstock
are proud to say that they "kept the pavement out".
They have been relentless in caring for their built heritage.
As a result, almost every downtown street has a gem from the
past, like this one, that is beautifully restored and kept in
This building is a good example of a vernacular
adaptation of the Second Empire style. If you cover the roof,
the front door and bay window could be either Victorian or Italianate.
The massing of the tower on the roof, however, places it squarely
in the Second Empire style. Down the street there is another
beautiful example that has, unfortunately, been improved over
The Mansard roof on this is still intact with
the fish scale shingles and shouldering on the trim. The iron
cresting, cornice brackets and window surrounds on the example
above have been removed either through misguided improvement
or because of the cost of maintaining them. The current owners
are slowly bringing this beauty back to its original charm.
Edifice magazine, the best Old Home magazine in
Canada, has a page called "What were they thinking' files.
This could be an example for that page. Someone actually painted
over dichromatic slate on the roof. Staggering. See below for
a detail of this slate. One can reasonably assume that these
two buildings were made by the same craftsmen.
The average life of an asphalt shingle is 20 years,
sometimes much less. Here we have slate
shingles that have been in place for over 100 years.
The wood trim on the windows might take a bit
of work every few years, but isn't it worth it?
The beauty of these homes
is in the finish materials and the propertions. This detail
of the bay and dormer shows the craftsmanship of the original
This Second Empire mansion is in the midst of
being remodeled. It has a tall tower
between two projecting bays. Both tower and bays have
Mansard roofs with high round-headed dormer
windows. There is an elaborate roof cornice
with large cornice brackets.
The second floor has tall segmentally arched windows
with central stone keystones.
The central tower is square with an iron balcony
atop the wooden entrance. The left
wing of the building has a similar wooden porch.
This brick building in
Waterdown is in much better repair. The roof has dormers
with very small windows but large cornice
returns. Under the roof is a large cornice
with heavy cornice brackets.
The second floor has segmentally arched windows
with eyebrow cornices and large keystones.
The size and quality of the glass in the sash
windows suggests that it is not original. There is a band
or string course separating the first and second floors.
The front door has a large segmental transom,
that is one solid piece of glass. The doors are also glass,
which suggests that they are not original either. Nonetheless,
this is a very well kept example of an urban Second Empire home.
Paris Ontario is lucky to have
a small nucleus of very informed architectural historians and
restoration people ( free plug for Andrew Skuse of Heritage
Restoration in Paris who could be even more neurotic than I
am about saving old buildings). In addition there is a ferocious
band of people trying to save the Gothic Revival city hall.
This kind of interest attracts
people who have both the will and the energy to restore buildings
that have been neglected. This lovely place in paris was owned
by an absentee landlord who did his best from a distance but
the property got neglected and was not in its best shape when
taken over by the current owners. Just look at the wonderful
job they have done.
The side of the building looks
like a Queen Anne with the sweeping verandah and textured surfaces.
The gently curved roof and solid foundation plantings really
makes it nestle into the property like an English cottage. The
dichromatic slate work on the roof and the dormers are definitely
Second Empire, but you can see how the builder molded the style
to fit the lot.
Speaking of molding, compared
to the moldings in the Second Empire residence in Burlingotn
seen above Ontario, these are huge. The inside of the bay window
on the front facade is virtually all molding; there is no room
for any wall between the windows; I wonder if there IS any wall
between the moldings.
The moldings are at least eight
inches wide. The owners of this house are as meticulous as those
In both cases the landlord was
an absentee. The houses were cut into smaller sections and abandoned
to the whims of transient occupants. The amount of work it takes
to restore these places cannot be overestimated. There were
once grants to help home owners restore properties. That was
when taxes were much lower. Before the government improved its
This staircase took many hours
of hard work to restore but isn't it worth it. Just look at
those lovely consoles and the elegant newel post.
Once you see what a young couple
in Paris Ontario can do with a staircase that was all but ruined,
and what another family in Belleville has done with a 130 year
old second floor coffee porch, the daunting task of having someone
refinish an old property for you, or of doing it yourself, seems
There are wonderful people around
who know how to restore buildings and have a lot of tricks up
their sleeves. Edifice magazine has many articles on the proper
methods of stripping wood and restoring trim. When you compare
this quality with what is often being presented as 'craftsmanship'
these days, a few hours of work surely seems to be worth the
Another window surround that
glitters like thick Cool Whip.
This photo taken 10 years ago
is the same house in the early morning in late summer. This
like so many others is simply timeless.
Like the example from Mallorytown, this building
has a tall, square tower. The roof of
the tower has high iron cresting and
an intricate cornice over a Mansard roof.
On four sides of the tower there are round dormers.
The roof cornice is very large with
heavy cornice brackets.
The main body of the building is quite Italianate,
with a large cornice, corner brackets, and brick molding under
the cornice. There are hoodmolds, keystones,
and label stops over the high windows
and large brick quoins on all corners.
A large lunette over the solid, wooden,
front door has an agraffe. Finally, on the right side, there
is an arcaded veranda with ornate
The building is of brick with wood detailing,
and it is beautifully maintained.
Also in Simcoe is a large residence that, because
of the tower, might easily be taken for an
Italian Villa style. A closer look, however, will show that
there are no elements of Italian design here other than the
square tower. There is a large balcony
on the tower over a veranda by the
front door as opposed to the very much smaller balconies or
even balconettes found in the Villa style. The windows are largely
segmental with simple cornices.
A bay window on the main building
has iron cresting, something not found
in Italianate designs.
The most obvious difference, however, is the Mansard
roofs and dormers that are strictly
French. Even the decorated cornices and cornice
brackets have a French flare.
Along with the Italian
influence came the French with the Second
Empire buildings of the late 19th century. Particularly
for residential architecture, people wanted a style that reflected
their cosmopolitan tastes and, unlike today, they were willing
to pay for craftsmen who would realize their architectural ambitions.
This detail from James Balfour's lovely terrace house on Herkimer
Street shows the kind of elaborate fretwork that was possible
at the time.
The trefoil patterns
in the spandrels over the doorway
illustrate a Gothic influence, as does
the lancet or gothic arch, while
the column capitals are verging on
a Renaissance style, like that
found in the French Chateaux. This
is not so much an entrance as a portal.
In the 1860s the Mansard
roof was introduced in Ontario as another venue for innovation.
This roof, found on all Second Empire buildings
was first popular with Louis XIV in his palaces. By opening
up the roof and adding dormers, you have far more space in which
you can house your servants.
In Ontario the curvedround
headed dormers of French derivation
are often finished in copper or iron to protect them from the
elements. The detail on top of this window would be cast iron.
There is the same attention to detail in the woodworking
that is found on the entrance above.Notice
how the cornice here is visible only from this dormer, which
would have been the dormitory for the servants, but it is still
adorned with a set of lovely brackets.
Inside the Mansard roof we can see the amount
of space that is actually available.
Some enterprising soul in Hamilton has restored
the Herkimer building and sold each floor as a condo. Just look
at the cool space inside the Mansard roof. Just look at the
view from the kitchen. Who wouldn't want to spend time here?
From the street the façade is a mixture
of many elements. The roof has two lovely dormers, completely
different in style. The orange brick is native to hamilton.
Stone quoins are used to accent the corners. The same stone
is used as a mold and skewback for the windows.
The street level has an ornate bay window with
a large bracketed cornice and decorative facings on the window
panels. The porch has Romanesque paired colonnetes, Gothic trefoils,
Italianate brackets and Renaissance panels.
It is truly eclectic and truly magnificent. Instead
of having the Building Department make people pass a test on
the Building Code, the tradesmen know what they're doing anyway
even if the designer doesn't, applicants for building permits
should need to pass a test on whether they can design a doorway.
If they come up with something as good as this, they no longer
need to apply. They should be given free reign to build what
Design teachers could no better than give students
a dormer and say 'make it work'. This breaks all the rules.....
but it works.
George Brown House
The larger Second Empire residences, once the
fine homes of the rich and famous, are either turned into museums
In Toronto the George Brown House, home of the
19th century Globe editor and namesake for the college, is a
National Historic Site.
It is well maintained and open to the public.
The proportions of the building are lovely. The windows in the
bay windows are slightly longer and more vertical than similar
windows in Italianate houses.
George Brown House
There is a complicated Mansard roof with lots
of finely detailed dormers and a lovely wooden trim along the
Dormer designs in Toronto are many and varied.
Toronto Dundas Street
By 1870 Toronto was becoming densely populated.
The George Brown house is a detached dwelling, but many of the
other Second Empire buildings are in row houses. They have the
Mansard roof and the classical/French detailing but, as you
can see, they do not resemble at all the regularized facades
of Paris France. The exterior finish is usually brick and there
are usually full bay windows on the buildings. Except for the
roof, they are really High Victorian.
Ghery reflects on the Second Empire
No other roof type would look quite so spectacular
reflected on the undulating glass surface of Ghery's spectacular
new entrance to the Art Gallery of Ontario.
The Second Empire style descended into disrepute
during the 1960s and 1970s when it was seen to be a 'monster
movie' film set style. The Addams family lived in a classic
Second Empire. The Munsters had a Victorian mansion with Second
Because they are large and filled with exotic detail, when seen
in the rain they are not as inviting as when seen with cheery
Christmas lights or spring blossoms. A gold brick with a Mansard
roof can look imposing as this one in Toronto or charming as
this ones in Belleville. It is all a matter of timing and sunlight.
I'll take another go at this when the sun comes out.
It is very difficult to find a building style
that isn't done to perfection in stone in Fergus.
The Mansard roof shown here is a double mansard
popular in the UK in the 18th century. It is found on the Royal
Circle and the Royal Crescent in Bath as well as the many of
the row houses in London, Edinburrough and Glasgow.
The dormers have wonderful vergeboarding. Stone
copestones are found on both edges of the roof. these were put
in to prevent the spread of fire.
One of the most endearing parts of this façade
are the carved scrolls on the second floor window surrounds.
The wooden cornices are also lovely.
On the street elevel there are Florentine arches
on the window and door. This place is just charming.
This is a very rare example
of a rowhouse built in the Second Empire style. Each unit has
a second storey bay window, at
least one fireplace, as can be seen by the chimneys,
and a separate entrance.
The curved Mansard
roof on this central pavilion has a dormer
and two roundels. Under this is an
entablature and an ornate cornice with
heavy brackets. A central bay window
and two high sash windows with coloured
lintels completes the second floor
of the pavilion. Across the front of the building is
a long, covered porch held in place by Doric
colonettes. The colour scheme
accentuates the design.
during its hayday between 1865 and 1880, many
commercial and civic buildings were built in the Second
Empire style. The Post Office in Toronto at Adelaide Street
East and Toronto Street is only one example.
Second Empire is very impressive for restaurants,
boutiques and high end shopping spots. Thank goodness Europe
has not been so quick to demolish its historic buildings
and the Champs Elysee remains intact.
Here is a completely different kind of Second
Empire building used for commercial purposes. The roof has the
standard Mansard slope and dormers.
In this case there are four dormers, two of which are roundels.
Beneath the roof are dentils
and a row of chevrons, then another
row of dentils making three decorative bands
all in brick.
The second storey windows have round-headed arches
and keystones. These windows are extremely
high, and suggest that a lot of light was needed in the interior.
On the ground floor are segmentally arched windows,
also with keystones, and dripmolds.
The pilasters separating the bays
of the windows have brick molding.
This is a very intriguing building.
Now the residences for the Brantford Campus of
Laurier University, this building is an example of a renovated
1880 Second Empire style. The building is white brick constructed
using the Flemish bond pattern with grey brick detailing. Above
each window are ornamental dripmoulds
with keystones and labels
stops. Five horizontal bands (or
string courses) accentuate the design.
The roof is a Mansard style
with dormers; the central dormer has
an elliptical pediment. As a federal
building, it lacks the iron cresting
and other fancy ornament found in residential applications.
Brantford Ontario - Renovated by Cianfrone architects
As Cameron and Wright have noted, the Osler block
'has been stripped of all its festive Second Empire dressresulting
in the present austere appearance.' As you can see, the roofline
is taken directly from the Louvre Napoleon III wings.
This commercial block in
Fergus has a mixture of the Mansard roof that curves gently
in and the Mansard roof that curves gently out. The dormers
on the turret are interesting as well.
Extra Reading and Films
Blumenson, John. Ontario
Architecture A Guide to Styles and Terms.
Cameron, Christina, Wright, Janet. Second
Empire Style in Canada. Ottawa, Parks Canada,
National Historic Parks and Sties branch, 1980
MacRae, Marion, and
Anthony Adamson. The
Ancestral Roof: Domestic Architecture of Upper Canada.
Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1963.
information on Second Empire architecture in specific areas
within Ontario there are some very good books listed under
the About page.
Becoming Jane -
East of Eden -
Pride and Prejudice,
Six Feet Under
(2000 - 2006)
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