Queen Anne became an architectural fashion in the 1880s and 1890s, when the industrial revolution was building up steam. North America was caught up in the excitement of new technologies. Factory-made, pre-cut architectural parts were shuttled across the country on a rapidly expanding train network. Exuberant builders combined these pieces to create innovative, and sometimes excessive, homes.
Also, widely-published pattern books touted spindles and towers and other flourishes we associate with Queen Anne architecture. Country folk yearned for fancy city trappings. Wealthy industrialists pulled out all stops as they built lavish "castles" using Queen Anne ideas.
Although easy to spot, America's Queen Anne style is difficult to define. Some Queen Anne houses are lavished with gingerbread, but some are made of brick or stone. Many have turrets, but this crowning touch is not necessary to make a house a queen. So, what is Queen Anne?
What Makes a Queen?
Fanciful and flamboyant, America's Queen Anne architecture takes on many shapes. Some Queen Anne houses are lavishly decorated. Others are restrained in their embellishments. Yet the flashy painted ladies of San Francisco and the refined Brooklyn brownstones share many of the same features. There is an element of surprise to the typical Queen Anne home. The roof is steeply pitched and irregular. The overall shape of the house is asymmetrical. In general, a Queen Anne house is likely to have these features:
- Steep roof
- Complicated, asymmetrical shape
- Front-facing gable
- One-story porch that extends across one or two sides of the house
- Round or square towers
- Wall surfaces textured with decorative shingles, patterned masonry, or half-timbering
- Ornamental spindles and brackets
- Bay windows
Queen Anne DetailsVirginia and Lee McAlester, authors of A Field Guide to American Houses, identify four types of detailing found on Queen Anne homes.
1. Spindled (See photo)
This is the style we most frequently think of when we hear the term "Queen Anne." These are "gingerbread" houses with delicate turned porch posts and lacy, ornamental spindles. This type of decoration is often called Eastlake because it resembles the work of the famous English furniture designer, Charles Eastlake.
2. Free Classic (See photo)
Instead of delicate turned spindles, these homes have classical columns, often raised on brick or stone piers. Like the Colonial Revival houses that would soon become fashionable, Free Classic Queen Anne homes may have Palladian windows and dentil moldings.
Like the early Tudor style houses, these Queen Annes have decorative half-timbering in the gables. Porch posts are often thick.
4. Patterned Masonry (See photo)
Most frequently found in the city, these Queen Annes have brick, stone, or terra-cotta walls. The masonry may be beautifully patterned, but there are few decorative details in wood.
Mixed-Up QueensA list of Queen Anne features can be deceptive. Queen Anne architecture is not an orderly or easily classified. Bay windows, balconies, stained glass, turrets, porches, brackets, and an abundance of decorative details combine in unexpected ways.
Moreover, Queen Anne details can be found on less pretentious houses. In American cities, smaller working-class homes were given patterned shingles, spindlework, extensive porches, and bay windows. Many turn-of-the-century houses are in fact hybrids, combining Queen Anne motifs with features from earlier and later fashions.
About the name "Queen Anne"Queen Anne architecture in North America is very different from the slightly earlier English versions of the style. Moreover, in both the USA and England, Victorian Queen Anne architecture has little do with the British Queen Anne who ruled during the 1700s. So, why are some Victorian houses called Queen Anne?
Anne was the Queen of England, Scotland, and Ireland in the early 1700s. Art and science flourished during her reign. One hundred and fifty years later, British architect Richard Norman Shaw and his followers used the term Queen Anne to describe their work. Their buildings didn't resemble the formal architecture of the Queen Anne period, but the name stuck.
In the USA, builders began constructing homes with half-timbering and patterned masonry. These houses may have been inspired by the work of Richard Norman Shaw. Like Shaw's buildings, they were called Queen Anne. As builders added spindlework and other flourishes, America's Queen Anne houses grew increasingly elaborate. So it happened that the Queen Anne style in the United States became entirely different from the Queen Anne style in England, and both styles were nothing like the formal, symmetrical architecture found during the time of Queen Anne's reign.
Endangered QueensIronically, the very qualities that made Queen Anne architecture so regal also made it fragile. These expansive and expressive buildings proved expensive and difficult to maintain. By the turn of the century, Queen Annes had fallen out of favor. In the early 1900s, American builders favored smaller Edwardian ("Princess Anne") and more austere Colonial Revival styles.
While many Queen Annes have been preserved as private homes, others have been converted into apartment houses, offices and inns. In San Francisco, flamboyant homeowners have painted their Queen Annes a rainbow of psychedelic colors. Purists protest that bright colors are not historically authentic. But the owners of these "Painted Ladies" claim that Victorian architects would be pleased.
Queen Anne designers did, after all, relish decorative excesses.
See Photos of Queen Anne Houses
Watch a Video About Queen Anne Houses
- A Field Guide to American Houses. Read a Review | Compare Prices
- American Shelter: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of the American Home. Compare Prices
- American House Styles: A Concise Guide. Compare Prices
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