The peak period of the Queen Anne style was 1880–1900, although the style persisted for another decade. The style was named and popularized in England by the architect Richard Norman Shaw (1831-1912) and his followers. The term inaccurately implies aesthetic ideas from the reign of Queen Anne (1702-1714). However, its language was actually based on much earlier English buildings, mainly those constructed during the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras (Elizabeth I reigned 1558–1603; James I, 1603–1625). In 1874–75, the first important expression of the style by an American architect rose in Newport, Rhode Island, when H.H. Richardson designed the Watts-Sherman house. But many Americans first saw the Queen Anne style at the Philadelphia Centennial in 1875, where the British government built several houses in that style.
As with other ornate Victorian-era architecture, Queen Anne found its most complete expression in detached homes that showcased its sculptural shapes and ornamented skin. These houses were typically built of wood, allowing the designer unfettered artistic expression in the patterns and details that define the style. Bold and unconventional color schemes were also a Queen Anne trait, of which San Francisco’s famous Painted Ladies are an example. The decorative details on most Queen Annes in Washington and other large eastern cities tended to be more subdued because of the urban preference for patterned brick and carved stone. Thanks to a building boom during the later nineteenth century, many Queen Anne town houses were built in Washington, and fortunately, many of those buildings survive today. Round towers and broad decorative gables, as well as elaborate Queen Anne chimneys, dormers, and windows are showcased on homes in Capitol Hill, Georgetown, Dupont Circle, and elsewhere. There is a wonderful detached Queen Anne home at 36th Street NW on Macomb Street, N.W., and another at 3035 Newark Street, N.W., in the Cleveland Park area.
The historic district around West Montgomery Avenue in Rockville, Maryland, boasts excellent examples of detached Queen Anne homes sited on generous lots.
Eclecticism, asymmetry, contrast, and even excess, were the hallmarks of the Queen Anne style. Every building sported a variety of surface textures. Elaborate motifs decorated gables, spandrel panels and, indeed, almost any flat surface. Newark Street NW in Cleveland Park features many highly decorative examples.
The Queen Anne look was achieved in a variety of ways with an array of materials that included patterned brick or stone, wood shingles and clapboard, slate, occasionally stucco, and sometimes, terracotta panels. Decorative stone panels were frequently set into the wall, as were custom-molded and colored bricks, allowing some variation and detailing. Wood buildings could assume the full range of color and design with paint.
Steeply pitched and complex, Queen Anne roofs provided visual interest and variety with gables, dormers, and turrets or towers, often all in one roof.
Queen Anne towers—square, round, or polygonal—were a favorite feature among architects designing Queen Anne homes. Sometimes instead of a tower, a turret, supported by a corbel, projected from the second floor. The towers and turrets were capped with a conical, tent, domed, or other artfully shaped roof and finished off with slate shingles and a copper finial ornament.
Typically, Queen Anne homes were embellished with bay windows and oriels; sometimes the latter was part of a turret. Window surrounds were, as a rule, simple. Lower window sashes usually had only a single pane of glass. The upper sash may have followed suit, although it was frequently multi-paned or framed by small square panes. More elaborate window sashes featured stained glass in the upper portion of a double-hung window or in a transom.