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Anthony Grumbine: Late Victorian Architecture Experiences a New Revival

Queen Anne's distinctive style finds a match in California

[Noozhawk’s note: This article is one in an occasional series exploring Santa Barbara’s distinct architectural styles. Click here for a previous article on Santa Barbara’s French Second Empire architecture.]

Late Victorian Architecture

It is good to be queen. When it comes to Victorian architecture, the grand finale of them all was Queen Anne Revival. The previous styles of the Victorian Gothic Revival, Italianate, Stick and Second Empire all took a back seat to the fanciful and highly decorative Queen Anne. The queen had arrived in all of her pomp and glory.

Massively popular in America from its entrance in 1876 (Philadelphia Centennial), Queen Anne Revival spread across the nation at a rapid pace. Much of its success was due to its affordable wood construction (as opposed to the stone and brick of its main rival, the Romanesque), as well as its adaptability.

Eccentric Eclectic

Although it had little to do with its namesake Anne of Great Britain (1665-1714), Queen Anne Revival architecture did look to the past. In fact, it looked to many pasts. Whether it was ancient Rome with its swags, garlands and high-classical columns, or its richly patterned walls of the earlier High Victorian Gothic, Queen Anne Revival combined a wide variety of architecture features into one, decorative whole.

A watercolor sketch of a typical Tower Queen Anne with asymmetrical plan and wrap-around porch.
A watercolor sketch of a typical Tower Queen Anne with asymmetrical plan and wrap-around porch. (Anthony Grumbine rendering)

Queen Anne also looks to sources of inspiration in its plan. Borrowing from the Italianate Tuscan villa, the Queen Anne house is asymmetrical in layout. Although it still has a formal program of entry hall, fully enclosed parlor, dining room, etc, it has embraced a rambling asymmetrical layout that makes for a greater flexibility of room sizes and locations.

How Can You Tell She’s a Queen?

Although related to the other Victorian styles, Queen Anne Revival has its own distinctive elements that help to separate it from other Victorian styles. These include corner towers (round, square or octagon), large wrap-around porches, intricate spindlework, ornate gables and leaded windows.

Detail of a Queen Anne Revival house with fanciful shingles, siding and turned posts.
Detail of a Queen Anne Revival house with fanciful shingles, siding and turned posts. (Marc Compton photo)

Also fundamental to Queen Anne architecture is the decorative nature of the building’s skin. Rather than a simple continuous building material, the wall is broken into a variety of shingle and siding patterns. Multiple forms, from diamond to round fish-scale shaped shingles, decorate the walls of a Victorian Queen Anne.

While similar in wall embellishment to its predecessor, the Victorian Stick style, Queen Anne buildings take wall patterning to a whole new level of decoration and variety. Where the Stick Style varied its patterning with one or two fairly simple patterns of siding and shingle, the Queen Anne brought together a wide variety of shingle shapes and siding treatments.

Five colors comprise the palette of this fanciful Painted Lady.
Five colors comprise the palette of this fanciful Painted Lady. (Marc Compton photo)

The Colors of Royalty

Unfortunately, many people think of the Queen Anne Revival as highly intricate, white houses. This could not be further from the truth. Victorian houses, and Queen Anne Revival in particular, were known for their great variety of complex color palettes. Nowadays, our houses tend to have two exterior colors: a wall color and a trim color. Queen Anne houses started their palettes at three colors, with many using up to seven colors!

The Queen in Santa Barbara

Queen Anne Revival was a colorful and prolific style with a strong presence in California. This was due to the rapid growth of California’s towns and cities at the turn of the 20th century. In Santa Barbara, Queen Anne houses often had low garden walls and even foundations of sandstone, giving each house local charm and character. Like the other Victorian era styles, Queen Anne took a few years to spread to the West Coast, and a few additional years to leave it. This made it a popular style well into the early 1900s.

Large sandstone blocks with a white picket fence add charm.
Large sandstone blocks with a white picket fence add charm. (Marc Compton photo)

The Queen is Dead, Long Live the Decoratively Lean

As the 20th century gathered steam, the reign of Queen Anne Revival (and the Victorian era as a whole) was coming to an end. A new architecture era was beginning. It was the age of simplicity, of unpretentiousness and of craft. What soon became known as Craftsman Style entered the American scene and wrested control from the long-lived Victorian era of architecture.

The legacy of these elegant Painted Ladies, however, lives on to this very day. Renewed interest in these fascinating and complex figures from the past has been rekindled. Many owners of Queen Anne houses are now treating them with a renewed respect by restoring broken or missing elements with historically accurate detailing, and repainting the houses back to their original colors.

Life and strength has once more returned to these wonderful reminders of a bygone era.

— Anthony Grumbine is a project designer at Harrison Design Associates, an architecture firm in Santa Barbara (as well as Beverly Hills and Atlanta) specializing in high-quality architecture in a range of styles. Harrison Design Associates is dedicated to the improvement of the field of architecture through study, education and leadership. Anthony can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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