Queen Anne style homes are often easy to spot, but hard to define. It's partially that elusivity combined with distinctness that makes the style so attractive to buyers and preservationists across the nation. Queen Anne homes are often referred to as the most ornate buildings of the Victorian era, and combine a variety of aesthetics and building methods from the late 1800s and early 1900s.
One of the reasons Queen Anne architecture looks so different from other styles is that it was generally only used on houses. While other styles like Gothic Revival and Federal were being adapted for commercial buildings, churches, and public institutions, Queen Anne architecture was specifically made for upscale houses and mansions, using the latest materials and methods of the machine age. Another developmental difference between Queen Anne and other styles is that it didn't tend to draw on past eras, but instead produced a new building school that helped set the stage for 20th century homes.
The defining characteristics of the Queen Anne style are many and not always consistent, but there are a few key elements. In general, Queen Anne homes use high-pitched, irregular roofs, spindles and lookouts, decorative structure elements such as columns, and covered balconies. Many Queen Anne homes also employ stained glass, turrets, half timbering in the gables similar to the Tudor style, and patterned masonry. Different sub-styles of the Queen Anne movement include Spindled, Free Classic, Half-Timbered, and Patterned Masonry.
While generally very attractive, Queen Anne homes are often derided as being excessive, or "ginger-bread" like. It's true that Queen Anne architecture was the product of a rapidly changing era, and many of the homes included features never seen before, so the criticism holds some weight.
The name for the Queen Anne style is often attributed to an 1852 novel by William Makepeace Thackeray entitled "The History of Henry Esmond, Esq., A Colonel in the Service of Her Majesty Queen Anne," which was popular for decades in the English speaking world. By contrast, stylish and modern furnishings from the historical reign of England's Queen Anne, came to be classified in a style known as "William and Mary."