"It just feels right," Jeff Morehouse said, looking out from the shady front porch of his house. Behind him, his nine-year-old daughter Katy bounced on the porch swing, her feet thumping the wooden floor. A fresh breeze scrapes pine needles across the tin roof above her.
A typical country scene -- except that the wood-sided house with its cedar shake roof, looking for all the world like that cozy place where Grandma used to bake oatmeal cookies, is only eight months old and is in the middle of a gleaming new Vienna subdivision.
The Morehouse residence is one of a slowly growing number of "Victorian reproductions," houses being built in the area in an effort to recapture elements of the styles popularized a century ago during the reign of England's Queen Victoria.
Within the last three years, builders who offer such designs have built more than 50 Victorianesque houses in this area, and they say they are planning to build more. Buyers are paying from $100,000 for an ordinary box house with an added gable and a porch to as much as $600,000 for the turrets and skylights of a meticulous three-story Victorian reproduction.
Housing experts say Washington isn't alone in seeing a budding Victorian housing trend. "It seems to be cropping up all over the country," said Martin Mintz, an architect with the National Association of Home Builders.
In Philadelphia, officials of the Victorian Society in America report a recent influx of requests for Victorian-era building plans and exterior color schemes. Speciality mail-order firms are starting to market such century-old gadgets as gingerbread decorations and ceiling fans for home decorators and for the growing number of Victorian restoration buffs.
"I've been a real Victorian nut for years," confessed builder Bruce Brownell, co-developer of Colvin Glen, the subdivision five miles west of Tyson's Corner where the Morehouses live. More than a dozen other Victorian-style houses have been built there. Brownell, who started offering the steep-roofed houses three years ago, has sold more than 25; his prices average just under $200,000.
Brownell sheathes the structures with beveled cypress siding, tops the wraparound porches with copper and has gone so far as to bring old log cabins from the hills of Pennsylvania and meld the weathered beams with his new "farmhouse"-style homes.
John Neill, 53, owner of Fairfield Homes Inc., has sold a half-dozen of his $120,000 Green Gables houses in the past six months and is developing a complete line of similiar Victorian-exterior homes. Neill said his Victorian model house 16 miles south of the Beltway in Virginia was visited by "literally hundreds" of viewers when he advertised it three months ago.
Elsewhere in the Washington area, the CI/Mitchell and Best Co. is sprinkling more than a dozen of its $200,000 shake-roofed farmhouses throughout developments in Potomac and Vienna. Also, the $100,000 "Leesburg" model of the large Pulte Home Corp. features such hints of Victoriana as a full-length front porch and a small gable roof.
Most of the Victorian touches are limited to houses' exteriors. Not so, however, with Washington builder J. W. Kaempfer, who, in a "labor of love," built four elaborate $350,000- to $600,000 Victorian revival houses off Chain Bridge Road NW last year.
Few of the would-be Victorian revivalists promote the complicated style as an economy measure. "If the trend nationally is to make housing more affordable, this is bucking the trend," said Brownell, who estimated that the fussy touches of Victoriana add as much as $15,000 in costs to a house exterior. Neil said he spends $1,000 per house just for the lathe-turned porch posts.
Builders and historians call upon everything from ideology to technology to explain the seemingly growing popularity of Victorian revivals.
Brownell notes many of his buyers are new to the area and are "not used to seeing all those damn colonials and they want something different."
"We looked from one end of the Potomac to the other and this was the first house we saw that didn't look like the others," said Shirley Steinmetz, 33, who, with her husband and daughter, last month moved from a California contemporary to the large new farmhouse next to the Morehouses in Colvin Glen. "We walked in the door and that was it," said Steinmetz, a veteran of five moves in 10 years.
Builders and homeowners cite a longing for a sense of community as another reason for choosing the old-fashioned houses. "This is very conducive to getting out and talking to the people around you. . . . It forces you out," said Morehouse, pointing to the four porches facing each other at the end of his cul-de-sac lane. Each porch, unlike the rear patio of the modern home, is at the front of the house. "People drive by and wave," said Morehouse, an engineer for Science Applications, Inc. at Tyson's Corner.
"That porch is such a homey thing," said Fairfield's Neill, who thinks home buyers "picture themselves swinging in a hammock or rocking on the porch drinking lemonade."
Other observers of revivalist movements speculate that modern home buyers are attracted to old-looking houses because they associate bygone products with higher quality.
On the other hand, Richard Howland, president of the Victorian Society in America, said Victorian house reproduction simply is part of a cyclical revival in the Victorian period in general.
"It's part of the cycle of taste. . . . It was inevitable," said Howland, who is a special assistant to the secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. He said architectural styles fluctuate in cycles of roughly 100 years. In light of that theory, he said, the 1880's rage is due to reappear.
Howland said part of the return to the architecturally antique may be a reaction to the starkness of modern architecture's "cult of no ornament" that he says originated from pre-World War II Germany's Bauhaus school of building design.
The Washington area still is greatly affected by the 1930's colonial revival, Howland said, adding "We're the only major metropolitan area in the country where the colonial style lingers on."
No one, of course, pretends that the neo-Victorian houses that are competing with the colonials are authenic replicas of the century-old styles. They're mostly "vernacular Victorian," said Mickey Lutz, an architectural historian employed at the National Building Museum in the District. Lutz said the revival houses contain portions of the many styles that are grouped together loosely under the term, "Victorian."
Admittedly no lover of architectural reproductions, Howland lambastes the "Victorian kitsch" he says he sees in new buildings in the Georgetown area. He said the Victorian frills of the new Georgetown Park shopping center near M Street and Wisconsin Avenue NW are examples of "showmanship rather than scholarship." CAPTION: Pictures 1 and 2, New houses in the Vienna Subdivision of Colvin Glen have Victorian touches, including porches and steep roofs. Prices average just under$200,000.; Picture 3, The Moorehouse family likes the porch on their house on Yellow Pine Drive, Vienna. Photos by James A. Parcell -- The Washington Post