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Queen Anne architecture

September 4, 2011

Queen Anne of England (1665 – 1714) would not recognize the architectural style named in her honor. The only thing about it that she would understand is the baroque impulse to leave no plain surface unadorned.

The Carson Mansion of Eureka, California, personifies over-the-top Queen Anne style.

American Queen Anne buildings are a housepainter’s nightmare—or job security, if one chooses to look on the upside. The owner of a Bloomington Queen Anne home told me that it cost ten thousand dollars to paint her house (and this was five or six years ago, so it would cost significantly more today) and so she could only afford to have it painted every decade.

Bloomington's Morgan House is a far more restrained version of Queen Anne.

Looking at these two photographs, some might not even consider these houses to be the same style. The only real difference is one of cost: the Carson mansion’s owners could afford to flaunt every architectural extra that could be dreamed of, whereas the Morgan House’s owner was a small-town Midwesterner whose home suited his wallet.



Closeup of a gable end of the restored house on Vernal Pike.

Typical Queen Anne features include ornamental brackets beneath the eaves, complex cut-out wooden “gingerbread” along porches and rails, decorative panels set into the exterior walls, contrasting patterns of shaped shingles, shaped columns, and multi-colored paint jobs.  Because this is a very high-upkeep architectural style, the embellishments of many of these houses have been lost over the years as owners gave up the struggle to keep wooden gingerbread on porches and eaves from rotting. Many homeowners welcomed the opportunity to encase multicolored shingles beneath vinyl or aluminum siding, viewing it as a way to get out of having to constantly repaint.



Interior newel-work of the Augusta Rose B&B, Napoleon, Ohio.

Some high-style Queen Anne homes  had decorative wooden grilles between rooms, or in entryways. I don’t know of any homes in Bloomington that still have this detail, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t exist. Many of Bloomington’s elaborate Queen Anne homes were eventually cobbled up into apartments, and dainty newel work cannot withstand the rough treatment that invariably follows an influx of tenants.


Architectural gingerbread is constantly eroded by the seasons and is difficult to maintain.

Queen Anne style was fashionable from the 1880s to the end of the century. You didn’t need to be rich to afford a Queen Anne; in Bloomington even little cottages often had decorative  shingling and newel work on porches. By the ’20s Queen Annes were seen as the height of bad taste. Collective distaste for them reached so deep that numerous horror films were set in decrepit old Queen Anne homes.



These posts seem too dainty to hold up the weight of the porch roof.

This Queen Anne porch is incongruously set on the front of a house that has been encased in aluminum siding. Who knows what kind of wonderful shingling is hidden beneath the siding? This home probably had wooden gingerbread beneath the eaves and in the gable ends that was intentionally pulled off and discarded.



Porch detail in Prospect Hill.

I would not want to own the Carson mansion because the style is too extreme. But a little bit of Queen Anne trim on an old house can make a plain home into one that is distinctive.





More Queen Anne homes can be found in my previous post on gable-ell architecture (

From → Houses

  1. I enjoyed your post… Having a Queen Anne that’s close to needing to be painted I must say that it’s a daunting but exciting prospect

    • Thanks for commenting, and good luck with painting it! A well-tended Queen Anne with a fine paint job is indisputably an architectural glory.

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