Carpenter Gothic: Architecture & Style

Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

Have you ever seen a small wooden house with steep roof lines and decorative flourishes? Did you know it's an example of a specific style? In this lesson, explore an architectural style known as Carpenter Gothic.

What is Carpenter Gothic Architecture?

Sometimes architects take elements of older styles and use them in different ways. A good example of this is Carpenter Gothic architecture.

Carpenter Gothic is a style of architecture found mostly in the United States. It developed as part of the larger Gothic Revival movement, which used elements of a medieval architecture style called Gothic to decorate homes and public structures like churches. Most Carpenter Gothic structures were built between the 1840s and the 1860s. They took Gothic characteristics and translated them from stone structures--most Gothic buildings had been massive stone cathedrals--into buildings made of wood.

Carpenter Gothic was used on residential buildings and small churches, often in more rural areas. In a way, it was sort of like a folk version of Gothic. It had Gothic elements like pointed arched windows and towers but didn't bother to follow more formal rules of Gothic architecture.

Example of Carpenter Gothic architecture. Notice the pointed arches on the windows and entrances
example of Carpenter Gothic

Two other situations made Carpenter Gothic architecture possible. One was technology. The development of tools like the fret or scroll saw, which could cut out very detailed curving patterns, enabled elaborate wood decorative panels. The other element was mass production. By the mid-19th century, industrial technology like steam-powered jigsaws meant decorative wooden parts could be pre-cut in large numbers. This made decorative architectural parts economical and easily available to more people.

Style Elements of Carpenter Gothic

You can recognize Carpenter Gothic architecture by several identifying features. Buildings using this style are usually houses or churches. They often have steeply pitched roofs with gables. This means two roof sections meet at a steep angle, and they often have a triangular part between them. Windows and doors are often in the form of pointed arches. The ends of the gables are sometimes decorated with bargeboards or vergeboards, sections of decorative trim with open scroll work.

Example of Carpenter Gothic with bargeboard on the gables

Carpenter Gothic structures often have carved porch posts and railings, and other elements that provide a strong vertical emphasis. Sometimes you'll also see these structures with board and batten siding, vertical wooden panels with small strips covering the gap between them.

Example of Carpenter Gothic with board and batten siding
Example of Carpenter Gothic

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