When we imagine a Victorian home most of us have an image of a Queen Anne Style in our mind’s eye. The Queen Anne certainly is the most common and flamboyant of the 19th century building styles although its origins aren’t commonly understood. Indeed, people from the United Kingdom find the term Queen Anne quite confusing as it doesn’t seem to have much to do with the actual Queen Anne (1702-1714) of England. In this post I will describe some of the distinguishing characteristics of the Queen Anne, discuss two important sub-types and try to make some sense of its history.
Unlike earlier building styles that had regular massing, symmetry, classical ornament and order, the Queen Anne featured irregular shapes, varied ornament and asymmetrical façades. Queen Anne houses are complex, with towers, bay windows and lots of spindles, trim and brackets. Wall surfaces are often divided into sections with differently shaped shingles, contrasting siding, trim and colors. Roofs generally had a steep pitch with many valleys for the bays, wings and towers.
This is a great example of the prototypical Queen Anne. Although the massing here is fairly simple with a square-shaped central mass and a hipped roof, the house has an asymmetrical appearance. The projecting bay on the right with its gabled roof and a tower on the left give it a look that is quite different than the regular and symmetrical Greek Revival. The façade is balanced, however, as the different components do not look uneven or out of scale to each other. The wall surfaces on the left side are divided by flat trim boards to mark the first and second stories. There is plenty of ornament, including brackets, elaborate door and window casing, gable trim and turned porch posts with a spindled frieze on the off-center porch. Queen Anne homes with lots of spindles and complex, angular ornament are sometimes called Eastlakes (to learn more about the Eastlake, please look at this post on the Historic Design blog).
Another type of Queen Anne is the Free Classic. The Free Classic appeared somewhat later and had a more refined and simplified appearance that featured classical ornament. The Free Classic’s use of classical columns and Palladian windows presaged the Colonial Revival and Neo-Classical styles which appeared at the very end of the 19th century. This example also has an asymmetrical appearance, although it too is balanced. However, its look is much simpler. The window casings are shaped like a classical architraves and the eaves have a dentals and modillions rather than Eastlake style brackets. The porch has beautiful ionic columns rather than turned porch posts and spindles. Although both houses are clearly related in shape and effect, their ornament and styles are quite different.
Where did the Queen Anne come from? Most historians attribute the style to Richard Norman Shaw. Shaw was an English architect who looked to Late Medieval and Tudor/Stuart England for his inspiration. Curiously, the building style common during the actual Queen Anne’s reign was the classicism of Inigo Jones and Christopher Wren which did not resemble Shaw’s medieval aesthetic. Shaw’s early Queen Anne style was popularized after the Philadelphia Centennial in 1875, where the British government built several model homes as an exhibition of English design. The style was subsequently featured in many style books and developed its own, unique American expression. The popularity of the Queen Anne also grew due to the availability of cheap, machine-made brackets, molding and other millwork following the Civil War.