Soundalikes: The Two Queen Annes

The difference between two styles, identically named but a century apart

The antique-furniture universe is filled with terms or phrases that sound similar, but actually refer to different things. Periodically we examine a pair of these "soundalikes," and give you succinct explanations of what they mean, how they differ, and how not to confuse them.

The Two Queen Annes

Once upon a time there lived a queen in England named Anne. Although her reign was rather short - from 1702 to 1714, to be precise - she lent her name to two influential styles of furniture and architecture, more than 100 years apart.

The 18th-Century Original

Developed in England, Queen Anne-style furniture flourished there throughout the first quarter of the 18th century; in the American colonies, it remained predominant even longer, until approximately 1750. It's a transitional style, bridging the Baroque designs of the 17th century and the Rococo designs of furniture-makers like Chippendale in the later 1800s. Early Queen Anne pieces have more of the massive shape, dramatic curves and decorative details (like finials) of their William and Mary style predecessors. Later designs, especially those of American origin, were lighter and simpler - pad feet replaced the older ball feet, for example, and scrolls supplanted double-domed tops on secretaries and cabinets.

But throughout its reign, the Queen Anne style was characterized by:

  • the cabriole leg
  • restrained carving (often just a shell or fan embellishment)
  • the use of walnut wood
  • balanced proportions and a general delicacy

The 19th-Century Comeback

Flash forward about 100 years, to 1860 or so. British architects such as Richard Norman Shaw move away from the various Classical Revival styles and develop a different trend in home design: sprawling and asymmetrical, adorned with gables and decorative elements galore. While this style's inspiration springs from country-house Tudor, Elizabethan and Dutch cottage styles, they call this new/old look "Queen Anne" (although Queen Anne herself probably wouldn't have recognized it - the building designs of her day emphasized fine red brickwork, symmetry, and simplicity).

As with the original Queen Anne furniture back in the 18th century, the Queen Anne architectural style hit U.S. shores a few decades later. Flourishing in the 1880s and 1890s - and even more elaborate than its British counterpart - it's what many people think of as "Victorian": tall, spiky, irregularly shaped buildings with turrets and towers, bay windows and porches; decorated with lacy gingerbread spindlework and shingles, half-timbered gables and elaborate masonry. All detailed and adorned without, full of nooks and crannies within.

Furniture, the Second Time Around

And speaking of within: Interior furnishings saw a Queen Anne revival as well. Proponents claimed to be influenced by the newly popular Aesthetic Movement and the design principles espoused by writer/architect Charles Lock Eastlake: simple, straight lines, less excessive ornamentation and "honest," undisguised construction. In reality, these ideals usually translated into "old-fashioned" decorative details such as spindles, galleries and tooth-like trim being slapped onto existing designs. Queen Anne Revival furniture is often a mish-mash of styles that both pre-date and post-date the 18th-century original, to which it bears at best a passing resemblance (generally, the earlier, heavier designs). What it does resemble, actually, is one of those contemporary Queen Anne-style mansions.

Other Elements of Queen Anne Revival Furniture

  • angular shapes, especially square
  • turned pilasters and legs
  • cabriole legs
  • realistic but shallow carving and engraving
  • use of walnut or oak wood

The 19th-century version of Queen Anne furniture seems ornate to modern eyes, but at the time it was praised for its straightforwardness and lack of excess. Although most pieces were mass-produced, the work of better manufacturers, such as England's Collinson & Lock, did achieve a sense of proportion, balance and grace. In addition, by hearkening back to a pre-Industrial Revolution era of handcrafted work, the style paved the way for the simpler designs of Gustav Stickley and other adherents of the American Art and Crafts movement towards the end of the century.

So, despite their differences, the two Queen Annes do have one thing in common: both are transitional styles, hearkening to the past, but bearing elements of the future.