Posts Tagged ‘queen anne style’

If you are like me, you love the Queen Anne style for its bigness, its brashness, and, despite all that, its warm, embracing hominess. So before beginning the story, let’s take a moment to see where those things come from.

Origins of the Queen Anne style

The Queen Anne style originated in England in the 1860’s, by which time industrialization had led to a decline in traditional craftsmanship and a widespread destruction of Medieval buildings. A desire to return to an authentic English style of architecture launched a search for pre-industrial forms. Gothic was English enough, but too formal for the prevailing mood. A countrified English vernacular was a more interesting antidote to the rhythms and rigors of life in the Machine Age. The brief reign of Queen Anne around 1710 came to be seen as a high point of indigenous building styles, and gave this emerging style its name.


“A countrified English vernacular was an interesting antidote to the rhythms and rigors of life in the Machine Age.”

The surviving examples of this era were eclectic by Victorian standards, with “half-timbering, casement windows, irregular rooflines and asymmetric elevations,” and the second floor often overhanging the first, according to Janet W. Foster in “The Queen Anne House: America’s Victorian Vernacular”. They were informal by design. But in the intervening century and a half, the additions, updates, and repairs that were made, using whatever materials were handy and whatever styling was popular gave them a quaintness and charm that must have delighted the nostalgic yearnings of the hyper-industrial present.


“The surviving examples of this era were eclectic by Victorian standards.”


“In the intervening century and a half, additions, updates, and repairs gave them a quaintness and charm…”

Here is what the style originally looked like in England:

English version of the Queen Anne style

An English architect’s rendering of the Queen Anne style, 1866 (Richard Norman Shaw). From Foster, “The Queen Anne House”

And here is the style in its debut before an American audience:

America's first glimpe of the style

Mainstream America’s first glimpse of the style. The Brittish exhibit at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, 1876. From Foster, “The Queen Anne House”

But after the style came to America, things really got interesting.

To American architects and their clients, “the willful irregularity of the exterior massing of a Queen Anne house allowed a great deal of informality and flexibility in the arrangement of interiors. This freedom from a formal plan was perhaps the most desirable element of all, expressing a new way of domestic living that valued function over form,” writes Foster.

The irregularity of exterior massing allowed flexibility in the arrangement of interiors

In America, the flexibility in the floor plan that resulted from the irregular exterior massing made the new style enormously popular. From Foster, “The Queen Anne House”

And then the builders got hold of it.

In America, balloon frame construction was revolutionizing the homebuilding trade.

“Balloon framing allowed a house frame to be constructed faster, and with a crew of less-skilled workmen than the joiners who had once made mortise-and-tenon joints for connecting huge, heavy timbers into a frame.” It also offered “great freedom and ease in the construction of varied forms,” meaning the shapes and sizes of things.

Balloon framing revolutionized the homebuilding trade

Balloon framing allowed greater flexibility at lower cost. From Foster, “The Queen Anne House”

As a result, this new way of building houses allowed “more expressive plans and elevations, practically inviting construction of projecting bays and turrets, gables and cross-gables, all of which fit perfectly with the Queen Anne style.”

A new way of building houses

“This new way of building houses invited construction of projecting bays and turrets, gables and cross-gables.” From Foster, “The Queen Anne House”

Innovations of the Industrial Age

Several technological advances were also changing the way houses were built. By the 1880’s, according to Foster, ornamental millwork was no longer made by local craftsmen, but could instead be catalog-ordered from millwork factories, which copied and mass-produced architectural designs as they became popular. The domestic production of white lead paint meant that ready-mixed paint was widely available and easily affordable in a rainbow of colors. And advances in indoor plumbing, lighting and home heating were offering unprecedented comforts and conveniences. The water closet, gas – and later electric – lighting, and central heating, including steam boilers and radiators, began to be incorporated into homes at this time.

An iconic American style

In the Industrial Age, the Queen Anne style combined a nostalgic look backward, in its informal aesthetics and relaxed spatial arrangements, with a forward-looking taste for innovations that improved comfort and convenience, selection and efficiency. And all of it was put within reach of the average household. The Queen Anne house was thus uniquely suited to the American temperament of the late 1800’s.

Early house history

For the first dwellers in my neighborhood, the spaces for living and working were smaller, more dense, intertwined. In some cases, the builder-owner actually lived in the house as it was built. In others, people operated cottage industries out of their homes. And in the present case, the homeowner actually operated a factory, built on the premises.

In 1887, Thomas W. Galvin, an Irish immigrant, bought one of the last undeveloped lots in the neighborhood, and moved his soda water factory from its downtown location, into a small building at the rear of the lot. The next year, he and his wife Nellie moved the family into the new house at the front of the lot. Both family and factory grew, but while an addition or two to the house was enough to keep up with the family (by 1900 there were 7 children, ranging in age from 3 to 19 – we count 4 bedrooms and 2 common rooms upstairs), the business eventually was moved to a larger operation on Hudson Avenue.

Galvin 1888 plat

View of T. W. Galvin house, from Rochester plat map, 1888

The family lived at the house for at least 30 years.

Evidence of the factory

Here is how the factory complex grew over the years:

Galvin 19-- plat1

View of T. W. Galvin house, showing additions to factory complex

Galvin 19-- plat2

View of T. W. Galvin house, showing additions to factory complex

And some views of what is there now:

soda water factory

Driveway ends at ‘loading dock’, a late addition to the complex of buildings

soda water factory

View of entire site. The ribbon marks the front of the added wing along the side lot line.

soda water factory

The front walkway found under 4 inches of sod helps to locate the front face of the structure.

soda water factory

View of site of the original 2 structures – the inside corner where they met.

soda water factory

View of original building – rear section. The slight rise suggests that some backfilling was done following demolition.

Uncovering the exterior

This is what the Galvin house looked like a while before we bought it. Do you see the aluminum flashing under the roofline?

Front of Galvin house before restoration.

Front of Galvin house before restoration.

Underneath, we discovered a stunning Victorian cornice molding. Take a look…

Cornice molding

The cornice molding was hidden beneath modern materials.

The flashing had to go. Besides hiding the Victorian molding, it also retained heat and moisture, harboring bees and other pests, and accelerating deterioration of the house.

View of house during restoration

View of house during restoration of the exterior.

The siding behind the 2nd floor porch was white, which made the porch ‘jump off’ the house. Being the same color should integrate that space and return the focus to the central mass of the structure.

Here is a view of the house with the front nearly restored.

exterior painting

Restoration is nearly completed

exterior painting

The original appearance is beginning to emerge.

We’ve cleaned up the porch, removed the modern shingles and painted. Before we decide on a color scheme, we like to take samples of paint chips from the house, looking for the layer that’s next to the wood, trying to understand what colors were used when the house was built. In this case, we used the original color scheme without any adjustments.

Uncovering the interior

Entry halls are always a pleasure to restore. The cathedral ceiling here made it necessary to use a ladder to reach the high spots.

entry hall stairs

Coats of paint had covered peeling wallpaper and failing plaster, and obscured detailing in the woodwork. Count on plenty of updates as we restore this once-beautiful space to its former glory.

entry hall stairs

An interesting little stained glass window illuminates the stairwell

entry hall wallpaper

I exposed some of the original wallpaper at the bottom of the stairs, next to the parlor doorway.

Front stair landing

The view from the landing. The double entry door leaning against the wall was bought at ReHouse on East Main Street in Rochester. It’s a perfect fit!

The parlor

A proper restoration of the parlor would require deconverting the house back to a single family dwelling. Here is the problem…

No central hallway! You went through the house by going from room to room to room. The floor plan doesn’t work well as apartments.

parlor door

View through the house shows the lack of a central hallway.

Ditto on the east side of the house…

living room doorway

Again, rooms connected directly – no hallway.


View of parlor showing veneer paneling covering the plaster walls.

1st floor parlor - ceiling detail

View of ornamental plasterwork in need of restoration.

Wallpaper and finishes

One rather frustrating aspect of our work is the original interior surface treatments – the wallpaper and finishes. You can expose patches of it, you can document it – but you really can’t restore it. It has to be removed and redone.


Detail of middle bedroom showing floral patterns in the wallpaper and frieze


Detail showing ceiling paper. The silvery color must have cast a warm glow in the gaslight of the period.

Victorian woodwork was often grain-painted, which was a way of making ordinary lumber look like fancy hardwood – a painstaking process. (Grain-painting, or graining, is one of a set of techniques called ‘faux finishing’, which includes such things as marbeling, sponging and ragging. Graining was widely used in Victorian residential work, unlike the others.)

The “secret staircase”

Yes, we even have a staircase to nowhere. It goes up, turns, …

secret staircase

And bumps into a bathroom floor upstairs!

secret staircase


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