Elaborate. Eclectic. Flamboyant. These are just a few of the words used to describe the Victorian era’s popular Queen Anne house style. When San Francisco’s iconic row of Painted Ladies along Alamo Square Park was pictured in the opening credits of TV sitcom “Full House,” it introduced wider audiences to these majestic homes. The “ladies” are among the city’s most popular tourist attractions. All hail the queens!
How can you spot a Queen Anne Victorian?
“Think gingerbread trim, towers, turrets, and wraparound porches with multi-angled roofs and fancy lead-glass windows,” says Tera Vessels of San Diego Vintage Homes.
Queen Anne homes come in varied sizes, shapes, and decorative styles, and can be found in cities, suburbs, and rural areas throughout the U.S.
A brief history of Queen Anne Victorian architecture
Victorian homes are named for Queen Victoria, who ruled Britain from 1837 until her death in 1901. You may be wondering, how can an architectural style be named after two queens? Queen Anne ruled more than a century before Queen Victoria, from 1701 to 1714.
In fact, Queen Anne Victorian homes were built during the latter part of Queen Victoria’s reign, from 1870 to 1910. The style was developed by architect Richard Norman Shaw in the 1860s in England. But even he wasn’t quite accurate in naming the style, which took inspiration from the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras that predated Queen Anne.
In any case, in America, Queen Anne architecture really took off in the last two decades of the 19th century. American architect Henry Hobson Richardson built the first Queen Anne home in the U.S. in 1874—the Watts Sherman house in Newport, RI.
Characteristics of Queen Anne Victorian architecture
Queen Anne homes are asymmetrical, with highly ornamented facades and more than one story. The Queen Anne style is all about decorative excess, with a variety of surface textures and materials like patterned brick, stone, wood, and occasionally stucco. Sometimes more than one material is used.
The homes usually have varied rooflines and trims, different types of shingles, and colorful palettes. There are stylistic subcategories as well, which range from the gingerbread-like Spindled Queen Anne to the more formal Free Classic Queen Anne.
Since Queen Anne homes encourage freedom of expression and creativity, it’s hard to find two homes that are exactly alike. But here are some typical features:
- Turrets, towers, and balconies
- Steep roofs with intersecting gables
- One-story wraparound porches
- Windows designed in different patterns, sizes, and styles with leaded or colored glass
- Rooms hidden in towers, bays, and dormers
- A fireplace or two, typically in the center of the house, by the kitchen, or in the dining room
Famous Queen Anne homes
In addition to the Watts Sherman house and the Painted Ladies, the Carson mansion in Eureka, CA, is considered one of the best examples of Queen Anne style in the U.S. The 18-room, three-story, fairy-tale house, completed in 1885, is said to have inspired the clock tower on the train station at Disneyland.
“There are a few really fine ones located in San Diego County,” says Vessels. “One very famous one is the Beach house, circa 1896, located in the Escondido Historic District.” It’s currently for sale for $2.5 million; it was previously listed at $3.3 million in January 2019.
The Beach House was originally built for real estate broker and insurance salesman Albert H. Beach and his wife. It is a 2.5-story house with four bedrooms and three baths.
Pros and cons of owning a Queen Anne Victorian
As beautiful as Queen Anne homes are, the eclectic style may not suit all tastes. Those in the market for a Queen Anne should consider the advantages and disadvantages of living in and/or owning this type of property.
Although the intricate detailing is part of the appeal of a Queen Anne home, the incredible level of craftsmanship means the cost of maintaining and/or restoring one can be considerable.
“It may be challenging to find a skilled craftsman familiar with the style of architecture,” says Jennifer Hibbard, co-owner of Twins & Co. Realty in Arizona.
Vessels says that some people may have issues with the house’s smaller rooms (the open floor plan was definitely not a thing back then), fireplaces located in the dining room, skinny and high windows, and doors that are taller than standard. But she advises homeowners to resist the urge to make major changes, adding that the worst thing a homeowner can do is to overly modernize a Queen Anne home.
“They are solid houses. Most remaining ones were built for well-to-do people and have wonderful history,” Vessels says.
However, she does believe in new foundations, modern plumbing, electricity, and functional kitchens.
“Just do it in a way that makes sense,” Vessels says. “Work with the house.”