The Second Empire style takes its name from the reign of Napoleon III (1852-1870) – a period known as the Second Empire. During this time, Paris was transformed into a city of grand boulevards and monumental buildings.
The Second Empire style is eclectic, drawing from Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque. Émile Zola, in one of his novels, described a Second Empire mansion as “the opulent bastard child of all the styles.”
- Massive free-standing structures
- Often highly decorated
- Elaborate entrance with a canopy, often elevated.
- The main identifying feature is a mansard roof. In Second Empire buildings, the mansard roof must be its dominant feature. Even though it could be placed on almost any house, if it’s not a primary feature, it’s not Second Empire.
The mansard roof is a double-pitched roof with a steep lower slope. The 17th-century French architect François Mansart used double-sloped roofs so extensively that they received his name, alas slightly misspelled. The imposing steep roofs were not merely decorative: installing such a roof became a practical way to provide additional living space in the attic without changing the facade’s proportions.
The style was very popular in the United States during the Victorian era, in the 1860s – 70s.