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Get the Look: Queen Anne Architecture
Learn to recognize and appreciate Queen Anne architecture and all its exuberant Victorian features
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Queen Anne Style
Queen Anne-style architecture is sculptural, ornate, and often eccentric. And for 20 years—between 1890 and 1910—it was the most popular architectural style in the United States. So how did this building style named for an English queen take the United States by storm? And why is it named for Queen Anne (who reigned from 1702 to 1714) when it was introduced here during the reign of Queen Victoria (1837 to 1901)?
We can thank the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia—the first “world’s fair” held in this country. It was there that Americans admired buildings constructed by Great Britain. These buildings were in the Queen Anne style introduced in England by architect Richard Norman Shaw. As popularized by Shaw, the style was really a revival—intended to suggest the forms of England’s Elizabethan and Jacobean eras some 300 years prior.
Architects such as Henry Hobson Richardson began adapting the Queen Anne style to American taste, materials, and manufacturing methods. Half-timbered exteriors were replaced with textured shingles, for example. Soon Queen Anne style had little to do with its royal namesake; the style had evolved from those early English designs to a distinctly American version with exuberant variations.
Queen Anne Revival
Known in the United States as Queen Anne Revival, this romanticized style of architecture boasts all the excesses of the Victorian Age, made popular and prevalent by the manufacturing processes introduced by the Industrial Revolution. A new building method called balloon framing made it possible to create complicated house shapes. And mass-produced building materials (from pressed brick to intricate jigsawed wood elements) could be transported all over the United States, thanks to an ever-expanding railroad system. People began to clamor for the fancy houses they had seen in Philadelphia or now saw in builders’ books: radical designs with steep roofs, intricate chimneys, asymmetrical facades, corner towers, wraparound porches, patterned shingles, lacy ornamental woodwork, and, above all, vivacious personalities.
Multihued Color Schemes
Partially influenced by Gothic Revival and English Tudor styles, along with the work of architect Charles Eastlake, these picturesque Victorian homes are sometimes referred to as “painted ladies.” That’s because of the elaborate combinations of dark stains and newly available paint colors used to play up all the architectural details and surface textures. Back then, dark earth tones were all the rage for Queen Anne color palettes: hunter green, burnt yellow, sienna red, dark brown, and the like. Subsequent decades saw an interest in all-white paint treatments (see the following slide), followed by a return to richer paint colors in the latter part of the 20th century—albeit brighter hues than the ones favored by Victorians.
Queen Anne Cottages
Most Queen Anne homes are two or three stories tall. When only a single story, they're called Queen Anne cottages. Though small, they boast the same “more is more” approach to ornamentation as their more imposing cousins.
What features determine whether a house from the late 19th or early 20th century is Queen Anne? Unlike Colonial-style houses, which are essentially rectangular boxes, Queen Anne houses have complex, asymmetrical facades that set the tone for the rest of the design. Sometimes no two exterior walls on the same building are alike.
Queen Anne homes’ asymmetrical exteriors get even more visually interesting with the addition of elaborate porches (also called verandas). These structures are often accented with intricate latticework and wood architectural trim: incised, chamfered, sawn, carved, lathe-turned, and applied. These porches cover at least part of the front of the house (including the entrance). Sometimes, they extend around one or both sides of the home.
Not all porches ended up adorned with "gingerbread." This painted lady’s double-decker porch has classic ionic columns on the lower level.
Steeply pitched Queen Anne rooflines are every bit as asymmetrical as the facades below them. These roofs typically include some combination of forward-facing gables, side gables, cross gables (two gable roofs perpendicular to each other), dormers, balconies, towers, and turrets—often united beneath a continuous sheath of wood or slate shingles.
Speaking of gables, architects of Queen Anne houses applied their love of ornament here as well as everywhere else. For example, this house’s front-facing gable sports an applied bas relief design that complements the porch’s lacelike corner brackets.
Sometimes architects added vergeboards, which frame a gable by projecting from the edge of the roof. These ornately decorated boards might include details such as scroll-sawn cutouts, spindles, sunbursts, and even drop pendants.
Towers and Turrets
Polygonal towers (shown), square towers, and round towers and turrets are distinctive Queen Anne building features. The difference between towers and turrets? Size and point of origin. Towers start at ground level and usually extend the full height of the house. Turrets are smaller towers—supported by corbels—that cantilever out from a home’s upper level.
Towers and turrets come in a variety of shapes. So do their rooflines. The round tower shown here bears a modified onion-dome roof. The tower in the previous slide is capped by a tented roof with an octagonal base. Other variations include conical roofs, completely rounded dome roofs, and bell-shape roofs that flare out at the bottom.
Elaborate chimneys (this one is patterned masonry) enhance complex roof forms silhouetted against the sky. Sometimes Queen Anne chimneys include ornate ceramic chimney pots that add height and architectural interest.
Gilding the Lily
Queen Anne exteriors offered architects the opportunity to add all sorts of decorative elements. Some are structural: bay windows, oriel windows (smaller bay windows supported by brackets), towers, turrets, and deep overhangs. Other decorative elements are simply surface treatments: patterned shingles, patterned masonry, bricks laid in complex patterns, terra-cotta panels, and cut stone in rough and smooth textures.
The inclusion of decorative half-timbers, as shown here, is a feature borrowed from Queen Anne architecture’s more somber Tudor-style predecessors, on which the spaces between timbers are filled with plaster, stone, or brick.
The next two slides provide additional examples of exterior ornamentation.
Fish Scale Shingles
Fish scale shingles are a favorite surface treatment for Queen Anne houses. The use of patterned shingles like these allowed architects to wrap a home’s curves, angles, and flat surfaces in intricate texture. This particular house owes part of its charm to the contrast between blue-painted fish scale shingles and white-painted decorative half timbers.
More is More
Like any self-respecting Queen Anne house, this one abounds in decorative details. The corner tower has a round base clad in patterned shingles and turned columns leading to a conical roof clad in two shingle patterns, with a verdigris finial on top. Behind the tower, the facade of the house features a combination of clapboard siding and patterned shingles, verdigris railings, and double-hung windows with leaded-glass upper sashes.
When Queen Anne-style homes were constructed of masonry rather than wood, architects added pattern through the use of decorative stone, brick, or terra-cotta elements.
In contrast with their structural surroundings, windows on Queen Anne houses are relatively simple. Most are double-hung, with lower sashes built with a single pane. Upper sashes may be single- or multi-paned.
Queen Anne-style homes sometimes feature double-hung windows with leaded glass in the upper sash and/or leaded-glass transom windows (shown). Some Queen Anne homes include round towers with curved-glass windows, a feature found only in this style of architecture.
Like the windows, Queen Anne doorways tend to be simple. Doors are likely to include a single pane of glass in the upper half, along with some decorative detailing.
Modern-Day Queen Anne
Architects today continue to design homes with Victorian flair. This recently built lake home in Harbor Springs, Michigan, features an asymmetrical facade, a complex roofline with forward-facing gables, decorative chimneys with chimney pots, a shingled exterior, a polygonal turret topped with a copper finial, a bay window, and a gracious front porch—elements that together say “Queen Anne.”