Italianate Architecture: Characteristics & Materials

Instructor: Amy Jackson

Amy has a BFA in Interior Design as well as 19 years teaching experience and a doctorate in education.

Want to live in an Italian villa but you don't want to learn to speak Italian? Look for a house built in the Italianate style. This style mimics an Italian villa. This lesson will focus on the history, characteristics of and materials used in Italianate architecture.

What is Italianate Architecture?

The Italianate architectural style was popular in the United States from around 1840 to 1885. As the landscape surrounding the home became an important part of the architectural design, gardens and the natural world inspired recreations of Italian Renaissance villas. As with many architectural styles that began in Britain, American architects reinterpreted British Italianate designs to create a unique American style. The Italianate architectural style peaked in the United States during the Civil War. With the economy of the South destroyed during the war, Italianate architecture isn't as prominent as other building styles south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

What made this style so popular? The Industrial Revolution, which lasted from 1820 to 1870, created new prosperity for the United States. Italianate architecture could span the social classes. High towers and lofty structures made impressive homes for the newly rich, while new mass production methods made the architectural details of the Italianate style available for simple homes. Because Italianate structures could be built from a variety of materials, the structures were adaptable for even a limited budget.

Crocker House, Macomb County, Michigan
crocker house

Characteristics

Italianate design is typically balanced, symmetrical and rectangular in shape with a flat or hipped roof, one that slants on all four sides. Smaller homes might be constructed in an L or U shape indicating the shape of the building if viewed from the top. Homes typically used hipped or front gabled, or peaked, rooflines. Rooflines were low pitched with wide, overhanging eaves. The eaves had the appearance of being supported by large, decorative brackets. A square cupola, or dome, often topped off the roof.

Heavy double-door entryways are flanked by single story columns that support the roofline or a second story porch. Windows are narrow with arched moldings that stick out from the façade, some incorporating curved or triangular pediments, or low-pitched gable. A side or front bay window might be added to the overall shape mimicking towers.

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