Queen Anne: 1880 – 1910

by Hänsel Hernández-Navarro (photo by WindingRoad)

If there’s one thing we love about CIRCA, it’s the chance to “tour” the great vernacular architecture that makes America wonderful. Love Victorians? You’re most certainly not alone! Join Hänsel as he teaches us all about the Queen Anne style.
When one thinks of Victorian houses, the variety of architecture styles in America in the period 1840s -1900 runs the gamut. From the Gothic Revival, to the Romanesque, and even our own Shingle Style, the Queen Anne also forms part of this group of eclectic architectural styles.


This beautiful Queen Anne-style home in Plano, IL is for sale for $424,900. Full listing HERE.

But it is a misnomer. Ironically, the Queen Anne style is named for the early 18th-century British monarch and it was popularized in England in the 1860s by a group of 19th-century English architects led by Richard Norman Shaw. These men went back even further by undertaking the revival and reinterpretation of several stylistic currents prevalent in Britain from the late 15th- through the early 18th-centuries. Inspiration ranged from strictly medieval models, such as the half-timbered structures of the Tudor era, to the mixed styles of the later periods: either the Elizabethan and Jacobean styles, in which Renaissance classicism was beginning to influence traditional Gothic design, or provincial Late Stuart and Early Georgian architecture, which incorporated holdovers from the Gothic period. In contrast, during the 1880s the inventive American spindlework ornament interpretation became dominant.
I remember the very first time I saw one of these magnificent houses. I was a kid and my grandmother took me to see the 1968 film comedy, “Yours, Mine, and Ours.” This very large family had to find a house big enough to accommodate their eighteen children. The prize was the super-large and impressive, two-story Blankenhorn-Lamphear House. Designed in 1893 by the firm of Bradbeer and Ferris in Pasadena, California, the house features a typical asymmetrical facade comprised of three distinct bays. One has two stacked bay windows with a pedimented gable, a round tower on the other, and a pedimented entrance portico. The long side porch is like a skirt around the tower and it’s decorated with fine spindlework tracery and railing. The house stuck in my mind for I had never seen a house like this before. To me it was extraordinary in size, scale, and configuration.

The Blankenhorn-Lamphear House, which looks much less spooky today than it did in the 1968 film. Photo by I Am Not A Stalker, whose site also offers many more excellent photos of the house.

As happened with other styles in the United States, in the 1870s and 1880s the Queen Anne spread throughout the country by pattern books and by the leading architecture magazines, American Architect and Building News. The style also owed much of its popularity to the public’s enthusiasm and the mail order house plans that allowed them to build a Queen Anne house. The expanding railroad network speeded this process by making pre-cut architectural details available throughout much of the nation.

How to Identify Queen Anne Style Homes:

Since the Queen Anne style is so eclectic and so open to other historicist and cultural influences, it also features different subtypes depending on shape and configuration and on decorative program and ornamental detailing. These include: 1) Hipped roof with lower cross gable; 2) Crossed-gabled roof; 3) Front-gabled roof, and 4) Town house.
On the exterior, the American Queen Anne house is generally covered with several materials: stone, brick, slate,terra cotta, stucco,half-timber, clapboard, and shingle. Also patterned shingles, very common even on inexpensive houses, imitated in wood the sheathing of slates or tiles.


One feature which distinguishes American Queen Anne, and many American Victorian wood houses for that matter, is the ornament of spindlework. Queen Anne houses have delicate turned porch supports and spindlework ornamentation in various configurations made possible by machine lathes. Porch balustrades and railings are most common, but also one finds friezes suspended from the porch ceiling, in gables, and under the wall overhangs left by cutaway bay windows. Lacy, decorative spandrels and knob-like beads are also common ornamental elements in this subtype as is incised decorative detail. I am sure you have heard the term “gingerbread house.” It is spindlework detailing found in Queen Anne houses which originated this monicker. But the fancy houses which strike me the most are the Queen Annes featuring japonaiserie or chinoiserie spindlework inspired by those decorative currents popular in the late 19th – and early part of the 20th-century.

Fanciful spindlework on a Queen Anne-style house in Florida. Photo of “Henderson House Lake City detail02” by Ebyabe.


Prevalence + Decline

Except for resort areas, the northeastern Queen Anne is usually more restrained in decorative detailing and is more often executed in masonry. But in the south and west, the style increases steadily in dominance and liveliness. That is why California and the cotton-rich states of the south have some very fancy and elaborate Queen Annes.
The demise of the style began with the Chicago’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, when the “white city”, or Beaux Arts Style became widespread in America. The Colonial Revival and the Neo-Classical stylistic currents which came later replaced the Queen Anne style around 1910. But there were repeated bursts of activity here and there as contractors continued to build projecting bays and towers on residences until World War One and to use patterned shingle work on houses into the 1920s.

The stately “Birdwood Estate” in Glen Ellyn, IL is for sale for $798,900. Full listing HERE.

Hänsel Hernández-Navarro is an architectural conservator specializing in the preservation and rehabilitation of historic buildings and monuments, and cultural resource management. He received his Masters in Historic Preservation from Columbia University. He lives in New York City and has worked for the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, the Getty Conservation Institute, the National Park Service, The American Academy in Rome, and the Museum of the City of New York.

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