Italianate Style Homes

    A Distinct Nineteenth-Century Phase in the History of Classical Architecture

    Italianate homes, which appeared in Midwest, East Coast, and San Francisco areas between 1850 and 1880, can be quite ornate despite their solid square shape. Features include symmetrical bay windows in front; small chimneys set in irregular locations; tall, narrow, windows; and towers, in some cases. The elaborate window designs reappear in the supports, columns, and door frames.

    The Italianate style of architecture was a distinct nineteenth-century phase in the history of Classical architecture. In the Italianate style, the models and architectural vocabulary of sixteenth-century Italian architecture, which had served as inspiration for both Palladianism and Neoclassicism, were synthesized with picturesque aesthetics. The style of architecture that was thus created, though also characterized as "Neo-Renaissance", was essentially of its own time. "The backward look transforms its object," Siegfried Giedion wrote of historicist architectural styles; "every spectator at every period—at every moment, indeed—inevitably transforms the past according to his own nature."

    The Italianate style was first developed in Britain about 1802 by John Nash, with the construction of Cronkhill in Shropshire. This small country house is generally accepted to be the first Italianate villa in England, from which is derived the Italianate architecture of the late Regency and early Victorian eras.

    The Italianate style was further developed and popularized by the architect Sir Charles Barry in the 1830s. Barry's Italianate style drew heavily for its motifs on the buildings of the Italian Renaissance, this concept, sometimes at odds with Nash's semi-rustic Italianate villas, produced what came to be accepted as the Italianate style. The style was not confined to England and was employed in varying forms, long after its decline in popularity in Britain, throughout northern Europe and the British Empire. From the late 1840s to 1890 it achieved huge popularity in the United States, where it was promoted by the architect Alexander Jackson Davis.

    Italianate style in England and Wales

    A late intimation of Nash's development of the Italianate style was his 1805 design of Sandridge Park at Stoke Gabriel in Devon. Commissioned by the dowager Lady Ashburton as a country retreat, this small country house clearly shows the transition between the picturesque of William Gilpin and Nash's yet to be fully evolved Italianism. While this house can still be described as Regency, its informal asymmetrical plan together with its loggias and balconies of both stone and wrought iron; tower and low pitched roof clearly are very similar to the fully Italianate design of Cronkhill, the house generally considered to be the first example of the Italianate style in Britain. The homes were typically two to three stories in height, with flat or hip roofs, bay windows with inset wooden panels, corner boards and two over two double-hung windows.

    Later examples of the Italianate style in England tend to take the form of Palladian style building often enhanced by a belvedere tower complete with renaissance type ballustrading at the roof level. This is generally a more stylistic interpretation of what architects and patrons imagined to be the case in Italy, and utilises more obviously the Italian Renaissance motifs than those earlier examples of the Italianate style by Nash.

    Sir Charles Barry, most notable for his works on the Tudor and Gothic styles at the Houses of Parliament in London, was a great promoter of the style. Unlike Nash he found his inspiration in Italy itself. Barry drew heavily on the designs of the original Renaissance villas of Rome, the Lazio and the Veneto or as he put it: "...the charming character of the irregular villas of Italy." His most defining work in this style was the large Neo-Renaissance mansion Cliveden (illustrated above). Although it has been claimed that one third of early Victorian country houses in England used classical styles, mostly Italianate, by 1855 the style was falling from favour and Cliveden came to be regarded as "a declining essay in a declining fashion."

    Thomas Cubitt, a London building contractor, incorporated simple classical lines of the Italianate style as defined by Sir Charles Barry into many of his London terraces. Cubitt designed Osbourne House under the direction of Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, and it is Cubitt's reworking of his two dimensional street architecture into this free standing mansion which was to be the inspiration for countless Italianate villas throughout the British Empire.

    Following the completion of Osbourne House in 1851, the style became a popular choice of design for the small mansions built by the new and wealthy industrialists of the era. These were mostly built in cities surrounded by large but not extensive gardens, often laid out in a terrace Tuscan style as well. On occasions very similar, if not identical, designs to these Italianate villas would be topped by mansard roofs, and then termed chateauesque. However, "after a modest spate of Italianate villas, and French chateaux" by 1855 the most favoured style of an English country house was Gothic, Tudor, or Elizabethan.

    An example of vast Italianate architecture is the resort village of Portmeirion, Gwynedd, North Wales. The village is located near Penrhyndeudraeth, on the estuary of the River Dwyryd, two miles southeast of Porthmadog, and one mile from the railway station at Minffordd, which serves both the narrow gauge Ffestiniog Railway and Arriva Trains Wales (Cambrian Line).

    Italianate style in Lebanon

    The Italian, specifically, Tuscan, influence on architecture in Lebanon dates back to the Renaissance when Fakhreddine, the first Lebanese ruler who truly unified Mount Lebanon with its Mediterranean coast executed an ambitious plan to develop his country.

    When the Ottomans exiled Fakhreddine to Tuscany in 1613, he entered an alliance with the Medicis. Upon his return to Lebanon in 1618, he began modernizing Lebanon. He developed a silk industry, upgraded olive-oil production, and brought with him numerous Italian engineers who began the construction of mansions and civil building throughout the country. The cities of Beirut and Sidon were especially built in the Italianate style. The influence of these buildings, such as the ones in Deir el Qamar, influenced building in Lebanon for many centuries and continues to the present time. For example, streets like Rue Gouraud continues to have numerous, historic houses with Italianate influence. Buildings like the Nicolas Sursock mansion on Rue Sursock, which is today a major museum, attest to the continuous influence of Italianate architecture in Lebanon.

    Italianate style in the United States

    The Italianate style was popularized in the United States by Alexander Jackson Davis in the 1840s as an alternative to Gothic or Greek Revival styles. Davis' 1854 Litchfield Villa in what has become Prospect Park, Brooklyn is a splendid example of the style. It was initially referred to as the "Italian Villa" or "Tuscan Villa" style. Blandwood, the former residence of North Carolina Governor John Motley Morehead, is the oldest, surviving example of Italianate architecture in the United States. An early example of Italianate architecture, it is closer in ethos to the Italianate works of Nash than the more Renaissance inspired designs of Barry. Richard Upjohn used the style extensively, beginning in 1845 with the Edward King House. Other leading practitioners of the style were John Notman, by many the first to bring the style to the United States, and Henry Austin. Notman designed "Riverside," the first "Italian Villa" style house in Burlington, New Jersey in 1837.

    Italianate was reinterpreted again and became an indigenous style. It is distinctive by its pronounced exaggeration of many Italian Renaissance characteristics: emphatic eaves supported by corbels, low-pitched roofs barely discernible from the ground, or even flat roofs with a wide projection. A tower is often incorporated hinting at the Italian belvedere or even campanile tower.

    Motifs drawn from the Italianate style were incorporated into the commercial builders' vocabulary, and appear in Victorian architecture dating from the mid to late 1800s.

    This architectural style became more popular than Greek Revival by the late 1860s. Its popularity was due to its being suitable for many different building materials and budgets, as well as the development of cast-iron and press-metal technology making the production of decorative elements like the brackets and cornices more efficient. However, the style was superseded in popularity in the late 1870s by the Queen Anne style and Colonial Revival style.

    The Breakers (illustrated above), located on Ochre Point Avenue, Newport, Rhode Island, is a 70-room mansion designed by the architect Richard Morris Hunt for Cornelius Vanderbilt II. Constructed between 1893 and 1895, it is the epitome of the Italianate style in the United States. While to all outward appearances it is a complete Renaissance palazzo, its construction with steel trusses and no wooden parts made use of the most modern building techniques the late 19th century had to offer. The tall chimneys, juxtaposed wings, and the exaggeratedly large corbels supporting the pitched and visible roof are all indicative signs of the American interpretation of the Italianate style. "The Breakers" and its style of architecture has been described rather disparagingly by architectural commentators as "Europe's obsession with the historical styles paralleled in the American idea of a Renaissance palazzo adapted to a private house." However, by the time of its completion "The Breakers" was more an expression of its owners' personal taste, cultivation, and wealth than a popular architectural style.

    The popularity of Italianate architecture in the time period following 1845 can be seen in Cincinnati, Ohio, the United States' first boomtown west of the Appalachian Mountains. This city, which grew along with the traffic on the Ohio River, features arguably one of the largest single collections of Italianate buildings in the United States in its Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, built primarily by German-American immigrants that lived in the densely populated area. In recent years increased attention has been called to the preservation of this impressive collection, with large-scale renovation efforts beginning to repair urban blight. Cincinnati's neighboring cities of Newport and Covington, Kentucky also contain an impressive collection of Italianate architecture.

    The Garden District of New Orleans features examples of the Italianate style. 1331 First Street, designed by Samuel Jamison, the Van Benthuysen-Elms Mansion at 3029 St. Charles Avenue and 2805 Carondelet Street (technically located a block outside the garden district).

    Additionally, the United States Lighthouse Board through the work of Colonel Orlando M. Poe produced a number of Italianate lighthouses and associated structures, chief among them being the Grosse Point Light in Evanston, Illinois.

    Italianate style in Australia

    The Italianate style proved to be immensely popular in Australia as a domestic style. The architect William Wardell designed Government House in Melbourne — now the official residence of the Governor of Victoria — as an example of his "newly discovered love for Italianate, Palladian and Venetian architecture." Cream-colored, with many Palladian features; except for its machicolated signorial tower that Wardell crowned with a belvedere—it would not be out of place among the unified streets and squares in Thomas Cubitt's Belgravia, London.

    The hipped roof is concealed by a balustraded parapet. The principal block is flanked by two lower asymmetrical secondary wings that contribute picturesque massing, best appreciated from an angled view. The larger of these being divided from the principal block by the belvedere tower. The smaller, the ballroom block, is entered through a columned porte-cochere designed as a single storey prostyle portico.

    The Italianate style of architecture continued to be built in outposts of the British Empire long after it had ceased to be in fashion in Britain itself. The Railway station of Albury, New South Wales, completed in 1881, is an example of this further evolution of the style.

    Interior decoration

    In interior decoration there were direct parallels to "Italianate" architecture with free recombinations of decorative features drawn from Italian 16th-century architecture and objects, which were applied to purely 19th-century forms. Wardrobes and dressers could be dressed in Italianate detailing as well as row houses.

    The spur to such commercial designs can be found in the "free Renaissance" style that was espoused by Charles Eastlake. In 1868 he published Hints on Household Taste in Furniture, Upholstery and other Details which was very influential in Britain and later in the United States, where the book was published in 1872. Although the archeology of Mr. Eastlake's volume was always careful, most of the principles in it are beyond question, and can be generally stated in a few words. The Italianate style would have no carving or molding or other ornament glued on — such work must be done in the solid; no mitered joints, but joints made at the right angle, and secured by mortise, tenon, and pin; woods in their native color, and unvarnished, or else painted in flat color, with a contrasting line and a stenciled ornament at the angles; unconcealed construction everywhere, and purposes plainly proclaimed; and with veneering, round corners, and all curves weakening the grain of the wood being absolutely forbidden. The furniture that he thus proposed has straight, strong, squarely cut members equal to their intention. Its ornament is painted panels, porcelain plaques and tiles, metal trimmings, and conventionalized carvings in sunk relief, a part of the construction entering into the ornament, also in the shape of narrow striated strips of wood radiating in opposite lines, after a fashion not altogether unknown in the time of Henry III. It has the honesty and solidity, but not the attraction, of the Medieval; and if it is stiff and somewhat heavy, and fails entirely to please, it has yet a wholesome and healthy air.

    Today "Italianate" furnishings are often called "Eastlake" by North American collectors and dealers, but contemporary terms for such broadly classicizing designs ranged imaginatively, and included "Neo-Grec".

    Elements of the style

    Key visual components of this style include:
    • Low-pitched or flat roofs; roof is frequently hipped
    • Projecting eaves supported by corbels
    • Imposing cornice structures
    • Pedimented windows and doors
    • Arch-headed, pedimented or Serlian windows with pronounced architraves and archivolts
    • Tall first floor windows suggesting a piano nobile
    • Angled bay windows
    • Attics with a row of awning windows between the eave brackets
    • Glazed doors
    • Belvedere or machicolated signorial towers
    • Cupolas
    • Quoins
    • Loggias
    • Balconies with wrought-iron railings, or Renaissance balustrading
    • Balustrades concealing the roof-scapes
    • About 15% of Italianate houses in the United States include a tower

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