Second Empire

(aka Mansard, Franco-American)

Peak Popularity ~ 1860 - 1880

Second Empire style is named after the reign of Napoleon III (1852-1870)

Architect Francois Mansart was born in 1598 in Renaissance France. He was destined to become a great architect, but a failure of a person.  Known to be headstrong, arrogant, and not particularly honest.  Worse yet, he loved to spend his client's money.  He once ordered a massive wing of a building to be torn down because it offended his eye.  His client felt that it should have offended his eye during the drawing board stage.  Mansart's genius brought classicism in architecture to France and he popularized what is now known as the Mansard roof.  Unfortunately, Mansart's reputation caught up with him.  He spent the final ten years of his life without commission and essentially penniless.

A surge of friendship towards the French helped to establish the popularity of the Mansard house.  Lafayette was still considered a great hero in the 1870's.  Soon the Statue of Liberty, a gift from the people of France was to be unveiled, and America was, at that time, quite fond of any fellow revolutionists.

Fact: A tax ruling in France where the amount of tax was determined by the number of floors a house had, inspired Mansart's roof design.  He simply pulled the exterior walls of the top floor in and wrapped the roof around the exterior face.  This roof design made the area inside an "attic" and therefore not subject to taxation.  Mansart was taken to court by tax officials, but won his greatly publicized case.  This greatly added to the popularity of his designs as it gave the owner a tax free floor.


Defining Features

  • Mansard Roof - This is the key architectural feature of these homes.  The room wraps around the top floor of the house - usually slate, with protruding decorative windows.

  • Two or three story tower in front
  • Elaborate window framing
  • Paneled frieze - usually under a bracketed cornice
  • Narrow and tall design - Popular in urban setting where light and space are at a premium - well suited for narrow lots








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