The architecture of Italy inspired the building style that enjoyed immense popularity in the 10 years before the Civil War. Also known as Tuscan, Lombard, Round, Bracketed and even the American style, the Italianate could be as picturesque as the Gothic or as restrained as the classical. This adaptability made it nearly a national style in the 1850s. (Poppeliers, 46)
Italinate villa design was borrowed from the rural architecture of northern Italy and introduced by way of England in the late 1830s. Again, it was the plans of Alexander Jackson Davis circulated in Andrew Jackson Downing’s books that helped popularize the style. (Poppeliers, 46)
At its most elaborate, the Italianate house had a low roof, overhanging eaves with decorative brackets, an entrance tower, round-headed windows with hood moldings, corner quoins, arcaded porches and balustraded balconies. At its simplest, it was a square house with low pyramidal roof, bracketed eaves and perhaps a cupola or lantern. Both the round-headed windows of Tuscan villas and the classical architraves of Renaissance palaces frequently were used to ornament the facades of urban row houses and commercial buildings. (Poppeliers, 46-47)
The development of cast iron and pressed metal technology in the mid-19th century permitted the economical mass production of decorative features that few merchants could have afforded in carved stone. New York City, St. Louis and Portland, Oregon, all had districts of cast-iron buildings, and towns across the country still boast stores with cast-iron fronts masquerading as Italian palaces. (Poppeliers, 47)
Patrick Barry House (1857, Gervase Wheeler), Rochester, New York.
The Main House, James Lick Mill complex (ca. 1860), Santa Clara, California.
- Poppeliers, John C.S., et al. What Style Is It? A Guide to American Architecture. Washington, D.C.: The Preservation Press, 1983.
Also see Architecture / Style index.