What is Carpenter Gothic Architecture?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Carpenter Gothic architecture is a style of architecture which became very popular in the United States in the mid-1800s. Numerous examples of Carpenter Gothic homes can be found in many regions of the United States, and some of them are on the National Register of Historic Places, reflecting their cultural value. Homes built in the Carpenter Gothic style can also be found outside the United States, especially in New Zealand and Australia, although they may be referred to more generally as “Gothic Revival” homes.

Woman with hand on her hip
Woman with hand on her hip

The Gothic Revival movement got its start in the 1700s, when architects began to play with themes from medieval architecture. In the United States, the Carpenter Gothic architecture genre was promoted by Alexander Jackson Davis, who put out a number of collections of house plans in the Carpenter Gothic style. He suggested that one of the selling points of this architectural style is that it could be used to make homes economically accessible to all classes, ranging from frothy confections for the wealthy to more austere homes for people with less money.

Several characteristics can be used to identify Carpenter Gothic architecture. The first is that this style tends to be confined to homes and churches, and the structures are made from wood. A typical Carpenter Gothic structure also has an asymmetrical floorplan, along with features like deep gables, towers, wraparound porches, pointed arched windows like those found in cathedrals, and an abundance of wooden scrollwork details. It is also common to see board and batten siding in Carpenter Gothic architecture, although this is by no means required.

One famous example of Carpenter Gothic architecture can be seen in the iconic painting American Gothic, illustrating the more plain end of the spectrum, but the peaked windows and steep gables characteristic of the style can be clearly seen. Carpenter Gothic architecture is also sometimes referred to as Rural Gothic, although plenty of Carpenter Gothic structures can be seen in more settled regions.

One reason that Carpenter Gothic Architecture took off was the development of the scroll saw, which allowed lumber companies to mass-produce scrolled woodwork. Prior to the development of steam-powered saws, this woodwork would have been carved by hand at tremendous expense; mass produced scrollwork made it possible to add decorative trim in lavish amounts to all sorts of homes. Turned woodwork also showed up indoors, on pillars, trim, and supportive beams, turning structures into works of art as well as functional buildings.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


Love all things Carpenter Gothic. My husband has designed and built an authentic replica in Sonoma, California. We have a 2000 square foot main house and a 400 square foot guest house.

Post your comments
Forgot password?