Octagonal House Style

A very unusual house style was briefly popular in the late 1800’s – the Octagon Style. If you’ve never seen an octagonal house or even heard of such a thing, that’s not surprising – only a few thousand Octagonal Style homes were ever built.

Most were in New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, and only a few hundred (if that many) survive today.

A house shaped like an octagon doesn’t seem like it would be very practical on the inside. Four-cornered rooms have 90-degree angles, which fits square and rectangular furniture well, but rooms with 45-degree angles – not so much. And when you look at an octagonal floor plan – like the one below – you’ll see the left-over spaces and awkward corners that can result from putting a square room in an octagonal plan.

Fowler floor plan

So what was Octagonal Style all about and why was it popular? The credit goes to a Phrenologist from New York, Orson Squire Fowler.

Phrenology – the study of bumps on the skull – was Fowler’s profession but he also had passions for vegetarianism and architecture. He came to believe that octagonal homes were superior to square and rectangular homes, and in 1848 published a widely read book, The Octagon House: A Home For All, which launched a small but significant period of octagonal home building.

Some of the few remaining octagonal homes have been restored and are open to the public, including this one in Watertown, Wisconsin, and considered a particularly well-planned octagon house.

octagonal house

Here’s an incredible high-style Victorian example, the Armour-Stiner house in Irvington, New York. To me this almost looks like the dome of the U.S. Capitol was cut off and plopped on the ground!

victorian octagonal house

Closer to my home in central Ohio is this octagon, which was rescued from the wrecking ball and moved to a new site. A local organization took possession of the house and is planning a restoration – read more about the house here.

octagonal house

Octagon house style influenced other building types as well. The bank building in the two photos below was recently brought to my attention. On the outside it’s a half-octagon, but inside shows all eight sides. Interestingly, the bank was recently converted into a residence, and is up for sale! See more pictures of it here.

octagonal bank
octagonal cupola

I’ve never designed an octagonal house, and probably never will – although a few years ago, I might have said I’d never design a circular house

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Rick S
Rick S
2 years ago

The Octagon House in Watertown Wisconsin is stunning. It seems more quietly elegant than the Armour-Styner House.
Longwood Plantation in Natchez Mississippi is a beautiful, unfinished, octagon house with two story porches on four sides. It was started before the Civil War and the workers dropped everything and left when the war started. You can imagine the house being completed.

Cindy Rasche
Cindy Rasche
2 years ago

This was very interesting! I know of one down in Kentucky, in Bowling Green, KY. I’m hoping to go see it when Covid calms down.
Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Octagon_Hall
address: 6040 Bowling Green Rd, Franklin, KY 42134