The art of architecture in a colorful page-turner |

A two-minute walk in Flushing from Main Street and Roosevelt Avenue to Kingsland Homestead is like stepping back in time. The commerce and the bustle subside, replaced by an eerie calm. Fewer bus stops, more trees.

Most strikingly, tall apartment buildings suddenly give way to smaller, older homes, demonstrating that Queens and its architecture cannot be singularly defined.

It was fitting for architect Rafael Herrin-Ferri to discuss his book “All the Queens Houses: An Architectural Portrait of New York’s Largest and Most Diverse Borough” at the Kingsland Homestead, an 18th-century farmhouse that houses the Queens Historical Society and its museum, Saturday August 27.

The 272-page book, which was published in October 2021 by Jovis Verlag, is a photographic study of unconventional and eye-catching homes in Queens. Like many books, it was born out of a small project and the author’s insatiable curiosity.

After moving from Manhattan to Sunnyside in 2009, Spanish-born Herrin-Ferri, who graduated from Cornell University with a bachelor’s degree in architecture in 1996, was immediately struck by the distinctive architecture of his new neighborhood.

He quickly learned that quirky homes could be found all over Queens. The author started taking pictures of these houses as he came across them. In 2013, however, he began to take a more organized approach, going block by block throughout the 108-square-mile borough.

Without a car, he usually hopped on the subway with his folding bike to reach his destination. When he was in a neighborhood, he cycled through the streets, trying to spot the unique among the commonplace with his camera.

Technology has helped tremendously. Google Street View has proven invaluable in locating desirable homes. The architect also used geographic tracking computer programs to chart his course.

Herrin-Ferri chose to focus on the “non-traditional, idiosyncratic and authentic” architecture of Queens, which occurs almost entirely in the form of low-rise housing: single-family homes, semi-detached and converted two-family homes, townhouses and duplex. He is attracted to brightly colored houses, as well as those that “charmingly” violate architectural and aesthetic rules. The fronts of houses “engaging the street” particularly piqued his interest. Most of the houses he knocked down had been modified over the past two decades. At the lecture, he noted two major recent trends in Queens: the rise of polychrome brick and stucco.

After taking thousands of photos, Herrin-Ferri finished surveying the borough in February 2020. He then selected around 230 of his best photos for “All the Queens Houses.” Three-quarters of the photos in the book are accompanied by short descriptions that provide a fun architectural assessment. He searched the websites of the city’s Department of Urban Planning and Department of Buildings, as well as ZoLa — the NYC Zoning and Land Use Map — to research the architectural history of homes. He even reviewed tax photos through the city’s Department of Finance.

The format is primarily one house per page, which was intentional. “When you open the book, the houses are paired together to create a somewhat cinematic shot, like you’re walking with me,” Herrin-Ferri said.

Homes range from unconventionally colored brick townhouses in Jackson Heights to a minimalist mission-style two-family home in Elmhurst and what Herrin-Ferri calls the “Bilateral Banner House,” a converted two-family home in North Corona with a distinctive “birdcage-shaped balcony”.

He was aware that some residents may view these homes as neighborhood-ruining eyesores. In response to this concern, he shared a quote from Louis Comfort Tiffany, the famous decorative artist who had built a stained glass factory in Corona: “Color is to the eye what music is to the ear.”

So what does Herrin-Ferri think of the Kingsland Homestead? “I love the Dutch Colonial hipped facade and asymmetrical quarter-round attic window, and that yellow color.”