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Queen Anne Style vs. Victorian Architecture

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Victorian architecture was eclectic, to say the least. In this lesson, we're going to check out a Victorian style that really took this eclecticism to heart and see how it compared to other styles of the era.

Queen Anne in the Age of Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria ruled the United Kingdom from 1837 to 1901. In that time, quite a bit happened. The British Empire cemented its place as the most powerful in the world, the Crown formally took control of India, and the world looked to England as the leader in Western economics, politics, and even culture. Why do women today wear white wedding dresses? Because Queen Victoria did. Why do Americans and the English keep Christmas trees in December? Because Queen Victoria did. Why is plaid so popular around the world today? Yep, you can largely thank Victoria for that one as well.

Britain set the trends of the world in this time, and this is true of architecture as well. Victorian architecture was not a single style, but a wide set of styles that were popularized first in England under Victoria, and which then spread around the world. While these styles were diverse, Victorian architecture can be characterized by one notable trend: eclectic revivalism. The Victorian styles all sought to revive the aesthetics of past styles, largely from English history. All Victorian styles were decorative and eclectic, but the one that may take the cake was the Queen Anne Revival. In the late 19th-century, Queen Anne was about as Victorian as you could get.

A Queen Anne Revival home in the USA
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Characteristics of the Queen Anne Style

To start, let's get to know the Queen Anne style. The floor plan of a Queen Anne structure was irregular and asymmetrical, something we call picturesque in Victorian architecture. The goal was to emulate folk architecture from England's past, when people would simply build on additions to their old family homes over time, giving them unique layouts.

This layout resulted in visually complex roofs, which became some of the main visual focal points of these buildings. Queen Anne roofs were steeply pitched and asymmetrical, and often featured multiple gables or dormers as well as towers or turrets.

The other definitive feature of a Queen Anne structure was the treatment of the walls, both interior and exterior. Practically every flat surface was ornamented in ways that created physical, textured contrasts. This could be achieved using colored bricks, stonework, patterned shingles, stucco, wood beams set into plaster, terracotta, or any combination of these together. The result was a colorful, polychromatic, and extremely decorative style that was ultimately one of the most eccentric of the entire Victorian era, and that's saying something.

Although somewhat simpler, this Queen Anne house is still identifiable by its asymmetrical roof, the patterned shingles on the walls, and the polychromatic facade
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History of the Queen Anne Style

To fully appreciate the Queen Anne style, however, we need to contextualize it within the wider scope of Victorian architecture. So, where'd this style come from? It was first developed in England by architect Richard Norman Shaw around the 1860s. It was used in some churches, but was most pronounced in residential architecture. The style spread to the United States and flourished there from the 1880s through 1900.

The fact that this style appears in the later decades of the Victorian era is significant, as it built upon the earlier experiments of Victorian-era revivalism. Earlier Victorian architecture picked specific moments from history (again, generally English history) and recreated the aesthetics of those styles in modern architecture. As a result, you've got a number of Gothic-inspired revival styles, as well as those that revived the English Renaissance, English Baroque, and other eras. The Queen Anne style, however, breaks from the tradition of taking from one moment in time, and draws from a number of influences. That's why it's considered to be even more eclectic than most Victorian architecture.

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